How To Start Writing Online: The Ship 30 for 30 Ultimate Guide

Ship 30 Captains Nicolas Cole and Dickie Bush

There are two types of writers in the world today.

The first are legacy writers. These are people who still believe in the days of Hemingway, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, and Bukowski (among others). To become a writer, they believe, you must wear a chapeau, smoke a corn cob pipe, stare out the window and wait for inspiration to strike. Better yet, you must detach yourself from the world, find a cabin in the woods (God forbid it has Internet), and dedicate the next 10 years of your life to writing the next Great American Novel. And if you die doing it, even better. You have lived, and suffered, the life of a true "writer."

We think that's a bunch of bologna.

The second are Digital Writers. These are people who, in the age of the Internet, have realized the inefficiencies that kept so many talented writers from being heard 30, 40, 50, 100+ years ago. Digital Writers don't run away from life and seek refuge in a cabin—they incorporate their writing into their daily lives. Digital Writers don't write by themselves (hiding away in their apartment)—they Practice In Public using social publishing platforms like Twitter, Quora, Medium, etc. Digital Writers don't guess what readers want to read about—they gather data, learn what works in real time, and iterate on a daily basis.

We believe there has never been a better time in human history to be a writer.

As long as you're a Digital Writer.

Whether you are a legacy writer looking to transport yourself into the future and become a Digital Writer, or you understand the benefits of writing online but are brand new to writing, this document will give you everything you need to know in order to get STARTED. Becoming a Digital Writer is a journey, but it's one we have lived ourselves. We have also helped thousands of writers   start publishing online with our program, Ship 30 for 30—co-founded by Dickie Bush and Nicolas Cole.

Ship 30 for 30 is a 30-day cruise from legacy land (Hemingway Harbor), taking writers on a 5-week journey up the Digital Coast. Together, we will sail to 8 ports, each one allowing you to learn the fundamental building blocks of writing online. By the end of the journey, you will no longer live in the legacy writing world. You will live in the digital world, and your entire writing trajectory will change forever.

Once you sail Ship 30 for 30, there's no going back.

Everything we are about to share with you, we have tested, proven, and continue to use & teach every single day.

These are the fundamental principles and frameworks for writing online and becoming a writer in the digital age.

Unfortunately, all beginner writers face the same 10 overarching problems:

  • Distractions: "I need to do my laundry" is a common one. So is, "I need to give my friend a call" or "I've been working so hard lately, I could use a night watching Netflix." There are an infinite number of distractions, and writers tend to be masters at finding distractions to keep them at bay.
  • Over-editing: Writers love switching out adjectives, debating, "Should I say 'amazing' or 'astounding?'" The short answer is: it doesn't matter. In fact, one of the first big principles we teach in Ship 30 for 30 is that, in your first year of writing online, you shouldn't worry about editing at all (and we'll explain why further in this guide).
  • Perfectionism: Ah, a writer's favorite excuse. "It's not ready yet." OK, when will it be ready, then? One of the biggest obstacles writers need to overcome early on is realizing that "perfect" is an unreasonable milestone. More importantly, aiming for "perfect" slows you down—so much so, that other writers who aren't aiming for perfect end up zooming right by you. (Here, we encourage writers to create "junk," and we'll explain what that means a bit later.)
  • Procrastination: "I'll start writing tomorrow." We have a saying in Ship 30 for 30, and it goes like this: If you fall off the ship, that's fine, but just make sure you don't stay swimming for 2 days in a row (because your writing habit will drown and die). The secret to writing is to train and nurture your Daily Writing Habit. And in order to build a Daily Writing Habit, that means you need to get back on the ship every single day. If you miss a day, that's fine. Don't beat yourself up. But climb aboard and get back at it tomorrow. Otherwise, too many "tomorrows" will go by.
  • Self-confidence: How do you build confidence in yourself as a writer? You write. It's so simple that it's complicated. The reason why writers struggle with self-confidence at the beginning of their journey is because they are still sitting on the dock, waiting, imagining. They haven't yet confronted the brutal reality that, once they begin, they probably aren't going to be great at writing. It's going to take practice. So in order to overcome this fear and START gaining self-confidence, you need to rip the band-aid off and begin.
  • Generating ideas: A lot of writers have this fear that someone is going to "steal their ideas." But writers who are afraid of other writers stealing their ideas are afraid because they don't know how to create more ideas. Said differently: they value the ideas they have SO MUCH because they don't have the skill of creating more ideas on command. Well, that's why we created an Endless Idea Generator for writers to use anytime they feel stuck. (We still use the Endless Idea Generator every single day with our own writing. Why? Because it works.)
  • Impostor syndrome: The reason writers experience Imposter Syndrome is because we are taught that writing is all about "fitting in" where readers already are. It's about becoming a "better" writer than the next person—which is what leads to the feeling of being an imposter. We don't believe this is a productive path forward for writers, and instead, we are going to show you how you can CREATE your own category as a writer (not compete against someone else in their category). After all, how can you be an imposter if you created something completely different for yourself?
  • Writing consistently: Consistency is the key to success as a writer—and it's a cliché because it's true. Look at any successful writer, author, or even YouTuber, content creator, musician, artist, etc. Anyone who has stood the test of time did so because they were able to create prolifically over a prolonged period of time. Consistency, in itself, is a powerful differentiator. So if you have trouble being consistent, don't worry: we have plenty of exercises that will help you (and if you know yourself and feel like you need a community to help you stay motivated, then we encourage you to sign up for Ship 30 for 30).
  • Choosing a platform: Where's the best place to write online? The honest answer to this question is: anywhere except your own blog. Why? Because your own blog doesn't have a distribution flywheel. No one knows it exists, and you are 100% responsible for driving traffic there yourself. Instead, you want to write in social publishing environments like Twitter, Quora, Medium. Or, if you want to set up a Social Blog, we encourage you to use Typeshare (so you get the benefits of both a personal blog and social distribution). If you want more insight into why starting with a blog is NOT the best place to begin writing online, grab a copy of Nicolas Cole's, The Art & Business of Online Writing.
  • Finding time to write: And of course, one of the biggest reasons writers don't write is because they "don't have time." Well, here's the thing—not just about writing, but about anything in life: when it comes to making progress on things that are important to us, you don't "find" time. You make time. We call these hours your Sacred Hours, and encourage writers to make time where they are a) most likely to be productive, but b) least likely to be disturbed by the outside world. Your Sacred Hours might be early in the morning, at lunch, or at night. But it's on you to pinpoint them, and then protect them.

If you resonate with any of the above, don't worry. You're not alone. In fact, you are part of the majority. These are the issues keeping MOST people from clarifying their thoughts, writing them down, and hitting publish. The good news is, they're all easy to fix—once you learn a few basic frameworks for writing in the digital age.

The question is, where are you in your journey?

1. Sitting On The Dock

Have you wanted to start writing online, but aren't sure the first step to take? Are you overwhelmed with the number of different platforms, topics, and strategies out there for writing online?

2. Sailing A Boat With A Leak

Have you already started writing online, but now feel stuck? Are you hacking away at blog posts, publishing into the void, never gaining any traction?

3. Afraid To Go Sailing!

Or maybe you have plenty of ideas, but struggle to put yourself out there. Do you find yourself creating draft after draft, never hitting publish?

If you are feeling ready to start taking ACTION, there's no better way than to dive right into Ship 30 for 30: our cohort-based online course & community teaching you the fundamentals of becoming a Digital Writer. But unlike other writing courses, you will put your learnings into practice by writing and publishing online every day for 30 days.

Otherwise, we have put together this master document for you to get started on your own.

This is the Ultimate Guide to START Writing Online.


Framework #1: The Mindset Of A Digital Writer

But first, here are the 5 big benefits of becoming a Digital Writer:

Rapid-fire Feedback Loops

Before the Internet, writers had to try to figure out what worked and what didn't within their writing with very slow, manual, squeaky wheel feedback loops. A writer would work on a draft of their novel or short story, bring it to the local pub, and see if any drunkards would be willing to listen to them read a page or two. How they learned if the writing was "working" was whether audience members doubled over laughing or crying, or found the work so boring and repulsive they forcibly shoved a mug o' ale in their faces and told them to shut it. (Not exactly an easy way to learn.)

As a result, writers would spend months or years working a piece of material. Then wait months (or years) for a magazine or publishing house to consider it. Then wait months for editors to comb through it. Then wait months for the piece to finally be published. Then wait some more to gauge the public's reaction.

One entire cycle of feedback could take anywhere from a year all the way up to a decade.

In the Digital Age, writers don't have to suffer this way anymore.

Digital Writers can publish a 280-character Tweet and instantly get feedback as to whether or not their idea has merit. If it does, and readers are clearly engaging with it, they know that idea is worth exploring. And if readers don't, and their idea falls on deaf ears, they know to move on. These rapid-fire feedback loops have transformed the way writers learn what works in their writing and what is engaging audiences.

In fact, there's no reason to spend 1-5+ years working on a piece of writing today, wondering whether or not readers will like it. With rapid-fire, digital feedback loops, you should be able to validate every single one of your ideas as you write—allowing you to learn faster, grow your audience faster, and create a writing style that engages readers, faster.

Build Your Audience As You Write Online

The second major benefit to writing online and living as a Digital Writer is that instead of working on a piece of writing and then trying to figure out how to get people to read it, you can find your readers as you explore and refine your ideas.

We call this Practicing In Public.

While most legacy writers focus on creating a piece of work and then (in the final hour) scrambling to put a marketing plan together to attract readers, Digital Writers build their audiences as they go. They share snippets on Twitter. They test excerpts on Quora and Medium. They turn pieces that clearly engaged readers online into new book chapters or long-form blog posts (like this ultimate guide here). They write, publish, gather data, and double-down on what's working—and attract readers the whole way.

For example, when Nicolas Cole started writing a business book with two other business leaders, they didn't go the conventional route, seek out a publisher, and lock themselves in a room for a year to write their book in private. They brought their business book idea into the digital age and started writing book chapters online as newsletter excerpts. The result? Their paid newsletter, Category Pirates, has generated the same amount of revenue as they would have received from a book deal, while simultaneously building an audience of thousands of readers. By the time the book comes out, die-hard readers will be ready to buy it.

This is the power of building an audience as you write online.

"Scaling Yourself"

Writing online is the most effective way to scale who you are as a human being.

Think about how many times you meet up with someone for coffee and repeat the same stories, the same life details. Think about how many times you jump on a call with someone (a friend of a friend, or a networking opportunity) and give them the same 30-second background info. Think about how many times you manually explain to people—on the phone, on Zoom, over lunch or dinner—aspects of who you are, your past, your experience, how you think, how you solve problems, etc.

Every time you write and publish one of those stories or insights online, what you're really doing is "scaling yourself."

You're taking a detail of your life you would otherwise have to manually explain to someone in conversation and making it accessible for anyone and everyone online.

The result?

You are giving people a fundamentally different understanding of who you are, how you think, and how you became "you," from the very beginning. The more people who know things about you (to whatever degree you feel comfortable sharing), the more opportunities will come your way. The more people will say, "Wow, I didn't know you did that type or work" or "Wow, I didn't know you had that experience," which will prompt them to a) reach out to you directly in hopes of bonding over a shared interest/experience, or b) introduce you to someone they feel would get a lot out of connecting with you, and vice versa.

We can't tell you how many times we hear from Shippers, halfway through Ship 30 for 30, how the simple act of writing and publishing online prompted someone in their network to reach out with a job offer, a potential client, a new friend they should meet, a speaking opportunity, and so on.

All of these rewards come as a result of "scaling yourself."

Which is as easy as writing & publishing stories and insights online.

Clarifying Your Thoughts

If writing is a forcing function for thinking, then writing online is a forcing function for measuring how your thinking resonates with readers.

While we certainly believe there are benefits to using writing to think more clearly, the real "stress test" happens once you publish your thinking in the world. That's when people have an opportunity to follow your train of thought, think about it themselves, and then share their own interpretations. And you arguably learn more by listening to the way your writing/thinking resonates with other people than you do by writing and thinking about the topic all by yourself.

Which is why we are such huge advocates for Practicing In Public.

Building A Library Of Content (That Pays Dividends)

And finally, writing online has compounding effects that legacy writing does not.

Every time you hit publish, you are "spinning the wheel" and playing the game of Digital Distribution. You have no idea whether the thing you write & publish today will fall flat—or if it will be your most viral, most-read piece of writing in history. Wouldn't you like to find out?

Furthermore, when your long-term focus is on building a library of content that can stand the test of time, your daily average number of views goes up, the bigger your web becomes, the easier it is for new readers to get exposed to your work, and on and on the flywheel spins. At a certain point, your library will get to be so big that any reader who steps foot in or around your category of topic will inevitably come across your work.

You will "own" that part of the Internet.

Treat Your Writing Like A Startup

The other way we like thinking about online writing is like this:

As a Digital Writer, you are (essentially) an entrepreneur.

And your writing is your startup.

Digital Writers iterate quickly:

  • Make small bets
  • Listen to the data
  • Double-down on what's working
  • Repeat

As a result, Digital Writers are usually the ones who go from never having written anything online before to suddenly accumulating hundreds of thousands, even millions of views—and more importantly, turning those views and proven content buckets into paid products, newsletters, services, and businesses. Why? Because they're the ones with the data. They don't have to guess what readers want. The data is telling them, objectively, "When you write about X, readers fall off. But when you write about Y, readers go crazy. Do more of Y, and less of X." They treat their writing like a science experiment.

It's no longer sufficient to just say, "Someone will spot my genius," and go on writing by yourself, alone in your apartment.

If you are a writer in the digital age, you are an entrepreneur, and your writing is a startup.

Which means you need to get your product out in front of customers, gather feedback, and iterate.

Becoming A Prolific Digital Writer

Finally, becoming a Digital Writer is all about letting go of perfectionism.

Forget holding yourself to The Michelangelo Standard or believing anything you publish must warrant praise from The United States Library Of Congress. Digital Writers understand that progress is more important than "perfection," because progress gives them data, and data gives them confidence in what they should write next.

If you want to learn how to become a prolific Digital Writer, then keep reading.

These are the frameworks you need—to come up with new ideas (every single day), to publish consistently, to make your writing easy to read (and easy to fall in love with), and to build a timeless library of content. And if you are ready to take ACTION and want to put all these frameworks into practice, grab a seat aboard the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30.

Grab your sailing gear, Shippers.

It's time to sail up the Digital Coast.


Framework #2: The Endless Idea Generator

At the beginning of every Ship 30 for 30 cohort, we encourage writers to pick 3 Content Buckets they'd like to explore over the next 30 days.

  • General Audience: For example, if you are interested in writing about Productivity, then the Productivity is a massive category that can appeal to lots of different types of readers. This would be your General Audience.
  • Niche Audience: Then, under the umbrella of "Productivity" you would pick a niche to explore. Maybe it's "Productivity Hacks For New Moms Trying To Find Work-Life Balance" or "How To Be A Productive Manager In A Large Organization." These clarified audiences are, by definition, "smaller" than your big General audience—and that's a good thing. Your Niche audience should be smaller, more specific, and hyper-targeted to a certain type of reader.
  • Industry Audience: Your Industry audience is then content designed to speak to the future of whatever industry you are writing about—General and/or Niche. For example, if you are writing about Productivity, you would write content here about "How We Will Define Productivity 20 Years From Now" or "These X Software Tools Will Change The Way We Measure Productivity In 2030." This futurism content is a great way of establishing yourself as a leading voice in your category/industry.

Now, of course, everyone's big question right out the gate here is:

"Well what if I don't know who my audience is? What if I can't pick a niche? What if I don't want to pick a niche?"

That's fine.

But let's start somewhere.

By going through the exercise and forcing yourself to commit to 3 defined Content Buckets for 30 days, you will learn (very quickly) what's working and what's not. Then, as your flywheel starts to spin, and as you start to gather data on your writing, you will be able to make conscious decisions as to how you want to pivot your writing over time—and what audiences are clearly engaging with your work. But you have to plant your flag and start somewhere.

Now, with your 3 Content Buckets defined (again, you can change these later), here's how to start generating ideas.

We call this our Endless Idea Generator.

Step 1: The 4A Framework

When most writers sit down to write, they usually say to themselves, "I want to write about X."

Well, X is usually a pretty broad topic. And there are lots of different ways of approaching X.

For example, let's say you sit down and say, "I want to write about achieving financial freedom." OK, well that's a pretty big topic—so how do you want to slice the pie? Do you want to explain to readers how they can start saving & investing money to achieve financial freedom (actionable)? Did you just read a study about financial freedom in the United States and do you want to explain what the numbers mean for people who are afraid they don't have enough money saved up for retirement (analytical)? Did you overcome a mountain of debt to become financially free yourself, and do you want to motivate others to do the same (aspirational)? Or do you want to explain to readers why the root cause of financial illiteracy, and why so many people struggle to achieve financial freedom, is because of the emotional relationship they have with money (anthropological)?

When you slow down and really break a topic down, you start to realize there isn't enough clarity in saying, "I want to write about X." And the reason so many writers sit down to write, only to give up 5 minutes later, is because this is the first BIG realization they have to confront. They thought they knew what they wanted to write about, only to get into the writing and realize, "Wait, there are a hundred different ways I could say this—and I don't know which one is right."

Which is why we encourage writers to start here, first.

Take your topic, and then challenge yourself to pick a direction.

  • Actionable (here's how)
  • Analytical (here are the numbers)
  • Aspirational (yes, you can)
  • Anthropological (here's why)

The idea here isn't to write about one topic, one time. The idea is to take whatever you want to write about and write about it over and over again using different frameworks: you should write about it through an actionable lens, an analytical lens, an aspirational lens, and an anthropological lens (because each piece will yield a different result). Then, as you write and publish each kind, you will start to learn which ones readers enjoy the most. You'll learn (objectively through data), "Oh, when I write actionable pieces about how to achieve financial freedom, readers love that. But when I try to write aspirational pieces, readers don't seem to engage with that content very much."

This is how you start growing exponentially as a Digital Writer.

Step 2: Testing Different Proven Approaches

Once you've chosen a direction, the second step is to figure out how you want to organize your writing.

  • Is this a "How To" article? Then it should be organized in steps (Step 1, Step 2, etc...).
  • Is this a "Lessons Learned" essay? Then it should be organized in lessons (Lesson #1, Lesson #2, etc...).
  • Is this a "Mistakes" Twitter thread? Then it should be organized in mistakes (Mistake #1, Mistake #2, etc...).

The key here is to structure your piece in a way where all the main points & subheadings follow the same pattern. What you don't want to do is write a "How To" piece, but then have your first main point be a "Step," and your second main point be a "lesson," and your third main point be a "mistake," etc. This makes it very hard for readers to know what they're reading and follow your train of thought. (Now, you can combine Steps, Mistakes, Lessons, etc., in each section, but how you ORGANIZE the piece should all follow the same overarching pattern.)

The other reason we encourage writers to make this decision at the beginning (before you even start writing) is because it will give you a skeleton to fill in.

After all, it's always harder to start writing with a 100% blank page.

It's much easier to create an outline (list out the 7 mistakes, or 5 steps, or 10 lessons you want to share) and then fill each one in with a story, example, or advice for the reader.

Step 3: Telling The Reader Your Credibility

The big question readers ask themselves when opening a new piece is, "Where is this information coming from? Why should I trust you?"

The mistake writers make here (which keeps them from writing anything at all) is thinking they need to be some big, fancy expert in order to write about a subject. You don't. You don't need to be Tony Robbins or Jeff Bezos or Barack Obama. You just need to tell readers why you are writing what you're writing, and why they should consider your perspective on the subject.

There are three big ways to do this.

The first is to tell the reader why you actually are the expert—and do so explicitly. For example, if you are writing about real estate, and you've built a real estate portfolio (however big or small), you should tell readers, "Over the course of my career, I've bought and sold X number of buildings. And I want to teach you how you can buy and sell your first piece of real estate too." Writers struggle here because they fear talking about themselves will come off as "bragging" to readers, but it doesn't. Readers want context. They want to know why they should listen to you. And if you don't give them a reason, they're going to assume you have no idea what you're talking about.

The second is to tell the reader who the real expert is, and how you went out and curated their advice. If you want to write about real estate, but you aren't actually an expert on the subject, then the next-best thing you can do is go curate what other experts have said and make it easy for readers to find the information they're looking for. For example, go curate the 10 best pieces of real estate advice from industry leaders and share that. Then, tell readers, "I went out and found the 10 best pieces of real estate advice from industry leaders who have bought and sold more than $5 billion worth of real estate." Congrats! Now you're "the expert of curating real estate experts."

The third is to tell the reader you aren't an expert, but are just sharing something from personal experience. The simple fact you experienced something makes you an expert in it. You lived it. You know what it's like—what it feels like, smells like, tastes like, looks like, sounds like, etc. Which means, to anyone who hasn't experienced what you've experienced, you are "an expert." And they are ready to hear what you have to say on the topic.

Put It All Together: The Endless Idea Generator

4A + Proven Approach + Credibility = The Endless Idea Generator

All of a sudden, what originally started as "I have an idea" becomes "I have TOO MANY ideas."

With The Endless Idea Generator, you'll have the opposite problem: instead of not knowing what to write about, you'll experience "the burden of opportunity." You'll start seeing how easy it is to turn one thing into 100 things, and you'll never run out of things to write about again.

Just take a look at how many ideas we can engineer for a topic like "Quitting Your 9-5 To Pursue Your Dreams" using this framework:

  • [Actionable + How To + I'm The Expert] I Just Quit My 9-5 And Doubled My Monthly Earnings. Here Are 5 Steps You Can Take To Do The Same
  • [Analytical + How To + Curated Experts] A New Study Shows Millennials Are The Poorest Generation. Here's The Advice The 10 Biggest Financial Planners Gave About Saving For Retirement
  • [Aspirational + How To + Personal Story] I Used To Have $150,000 Of Debt. Here's My Step-By-Step Guide For Achieving Financial Freedom—And How You Can Do It Too
  • [Anthropological + How To + Curated Experts] Mark Cuban Just Said Something In An Interview With CNBC That Reveals The Real Reason So Many People Never Achieve Financial Freedom

And so on, and so on.

Using this framework, we could take one idea and turn it into hundreds and hundreds of essays, articles, Twitter threads, long-form blog posts, eBooks, email newsletters, products, courses, and so on.

General Audiences vs Niche Audiences

The next big question you need to ask yourself when writing online is, "Who is this piece of writing for, specifically?"

While The Endless Idea Generator can be a powerful way of coming up with new ideas, there's a second piece that is equally as important—and that's deciding whether your actionable, analytical, aspirational, or anthropological content is for a General audience or a Niche audience (going back to the 3 Content Buckets).

The mistake writers make here is thinking their job is to write what they want to write about, and then figuring out how to get their writing in front of "millions of people."

But that's making a pretty big assumption. That's assuming "millions of people" are interested in the topic you just wrote about. And especially with more niche topics, that's probably not the case.

Instead, we encourage writers to start with the end in mind:

Every single piece of writing, in some way or another, is answering a question for the reader. That's why they clicked in the first place—"I want to know the answer."

So, if your Atomic Essay or article or long-form blog post or book is answering a big, overarching, universal question ("How do I make more money?"), you are going to have an easier time reaching readers because that's a question a LOT of people have. Whereas if your writing is answering a smaller, more niche question ("What are tax laws in Illinois?), you are probably going to reach less readers—but the ones you do reach are going to be much more engaged.

And this is the trade-off.

General topics tend to attract larger audiences, but the engagement you receive will not translate into long-term readers. You'll see comments like, "Nice job!" or "Love it!" But that's about it. Views are high, but loyalty is low.

Niche topics, on the other hand, tend to attract smaller audiences, but the engagement you receive will be potent. Niche topics are usually exactly what a reader is looking for, prompting them to respond with thoughtful comments or questions, or bookmark the piece to come back to again and again. Views are low, but loyalty and engagement is high.

Neither one is right or wrong.

It's just worth understanding which goal you are trying to work toward.

Otherwise, you'll write something for a Niche audience, and then get frustrated when views are low. Well, that's because you're measuring the wrong outcome!

How To Make General Topics, Niche—And How To Make Niche Topics, General

As you begin writing and publishing online, you will learn which types of content engage your target readers.

However, there are benefits to writing both for General and Niche versions of your audience.

  • General: Introduces new potential readers to your category.
  • Niche: Engages current readers in your category.

Think of General & Niche audiences as a dial, and in everything you write, you are choosing how far you'd like to twist the dial in either direction.

For example, let's say you want to write actionable pieces about how to become a better designer.

Here are a few ways to make your content accessible to a wider number of people (General):

  • These 4 Drawing Exercises Won't Just Make You A Better Designer—They'll Help You See The World More Clearly
  • 7 Timeless Examples Of How Light Can Change The Mood Of A Room
  • The 10 Most Beautiful Car Designs In Human History

Each one of these headlines is attracting more than just designers. You might be a car fanatic who wants to see beautiful, timeless car designs. Or you might be an architect who wants to learn how to better utilize light. Or you might be an art student who has no idea what to do as a career long-term. The point is, your content is not singularly focused on a Niche, but still has to do with the general category of "design." As a result, wider audiences are able to get introduced to your work.

Now, let's flip it.

Here are a few ways to take these same exact headline ideas and rewrite them through a more "niche" lens—let's say "building a career as a designer."

  • If You Practice These 4 Drawing Exercises Every Morning, You Will Have No Problem Getting Hired As A Designer Anywhere
  • Why Every Designer Should Master How Light Can Change The Mood Of A Room: 7 Timeless Examples
  • Want A Career As A Luxury Car Designer? Study These 10 Timeless Designs

All of a sudden, the same "ideas" become much more niche, much more targeted to a specific type of reader, and in many ways exclude the general audiences you're likely to attract in the first set of headlines. This is a good thing.

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is thinking they need to "create something for everyone." In reality, creating something for everyone means making something for no one. You do not want to try to appeal to EVERY type of reader in the world. Instead, your goal is to use specificity to force a binary decision: either this piece is exactly what the reader is looking for, or it's not. And the more binary you can make that decision, the more likely you are to attract the readers you want, and repel the ones you don't.

Other Ways You Can Make General Topics More Niche:

  • Name the audience: If you write something like, "How To Make More Money," that's aiming to answer a pretty general, universal question. But this topic immediately becomes Niche if you name the audience specifically: "How To Make More Money As A Writer." Or, even more Niche: "How To Make More Money As A Multilingual Translator." If you aren't a writer or a multilingual translator, you aren't going to click & read this sort of content (and again, that's a good thing). Same goes for naming places and demographics: "How To Make More Money As A Writer In Chicago." Or, "How To Make More Money As A Millennial Writer."
  • Name the outcome: Sticking with the above example, if "How To Make More Money" is General, then a different Niche version might be, "How To Make More Money So You Can Buy Your First House." Or, even more Niche: "How To Make More Money So You Can Build A Music Studio In Your Backyard." Naming the outcome is another way of very clearly telling readers WHO this is for and who this isn't for.
  • Name the process: If the audience is who you're writing for, and the outcome is what the audience gets in return, then there's another opportunity for specificity here by naming the process by which that outcome gets unlocked. For example, "How To Make More Money As A Writer Without Leaving Your Couch." Or, "How To Make More Money As A Writer Ghostwriting For CEOs." Naming the process gives readers another point of context, helping them decide whether this is something they'd be interested in reading or not.

All of these things are decisions you have to make as a writer.

And will become the foundation of your headline.


Framework #3: Writing Headlines Readers Can't Help But Click On

Before readers click and read anything on the Internet, they need to know the answer to 3 very important questions:

  • WHO is this for?
  • WHAT is this about?
  • WHY should they read it? (What are you PROMISING, and what do they get in exchange?)

Instead, what many writers (both beginner and advanced) do is they write headlines that attempt to be "mysterious" or "creative" (whatever that means), but in no way answer these questions for the reader. As a result, headlines look something like this:

"A Forgotten Moon"

"The Trees"

"Don't You?"

And so on.

What these writers fail to realize is these types of headlines are actually quite selfish.

They expect the reader to adjust to the writer, to give the writer their attention without knowing what they're going to get in return.

Instead, we encourage writers to write headlines that answer these questions directly. Over time, you can certainly shape your headlines to create your own distinct style, however it's important to learn the building blocks of effective headline writing from the beginning. Make no mistake, even the most "artistic" or "creative" essays, articles, and stories follow these same underlying principles.

Just take a look at the front page of The Atlantic.

Each article title, minimalist as it might be, is still hinting at a) WHO this is for, b) WHAT this is about, and c) WHY you should read it.

So, in order to learn how to do this on your own, we encourage writers to start with longer, more descriptive headlines. Answer these 3 questions directly. And then, over time, whittle your headlines down into your own distinct style (while still answering these questions for the reader).

Let's walk through how to write headlines readers can't help but click on.

The 5 Pieces Of Every Headline

Every single headline is composed of the same 6 pieces (some of which are optional, some of which are absolutely necessary).

  • How Many? All "listicle" articles and essays start with a number. 6 Ways... 7 Reasons... 8 Brutal Truths... 9 Heartbreaking Movies... That's because readers love containers, and numbers/lists make it easy for a reader to understand exactly what they're "getting" in return for their time spent reading. Words on a page are a "product," and so the clearer the container (the "box" your words arrive in), the more likely readers are to be excited to open it up. (If an article or essay doesn't have a number in it, that means the number is the invisible "1." The article or essay is talking about one thing, one topic, one overarching idea.)
  • WHAT? This is an essential piece of every headline. Before the reader clicks to read, they need to know what it is. What are they looking at? What's inside this black box? Is this an essay about political arguments? Entrepreneurial mistakes? Cooking recipes? WHAT is it? (If your headline doesn't have a clear WHAT, your ability to attract readers is going to go down exponentially.)
  • WHO? Not every headline has to have a WHO, but when you are writing for a Niche there are benefits to naming the audience directly. "How To Start Your First Side Hustle As A College Student." The WHO here would be "College Students." And if you aren't a college student, you probably aren't going to click and read this piece. (Writing that aims to attract General audiences tends to not name any audience directly—because the goal is to attract lots of different types of audiences, not just one. Whereas writing that aims to engage with a Niche audience tends to mention that niche audience directly.)
  • FEEL: Another crucial piece in your headline is how you want the reader to FEEL about the topic. For example, "I Just Ate An Entire Barrel Of Ice Cream" doesn't really tell the reader how you want them to FEEL. Should they be happy for you? Sad? Should they feel your shame? Or should they feel your love and self-acceptance? Notice how dramatically different this headline becomes when we tell the reader how to FEEL: "I Just Ate An Entire Barrel Of Ice Cream. Here's What I Learned About Loving Myself Through My Mistakes."
  • Outcome/The PROMISE: The final piece of your headline is what the reader gets in exchange for reading. Your headline is a proposal to readers trying to "hook" their attention and convince them this thing you've written is worth their time. So, what do they get in return? "7 Ways To Cook Healthy Lunches" is a good headline. But "7 Ways To Cook Healthy Lunches, Lose Weight, And Give Up Fast Food Once And For All" is way better. The end of your headline is your PROMISE, and it's essential for readers to understand what they're going to learn, feel, and/or receive as a result of the 30 seconds or 3 minutes they spend reading your writing.

The Curiosity Gap

These 5 pieces of your headline, together, create what we like to call The Curiosity Gap.

All great headlines give the reader enough information so they understand WHAT this piece of writing is about, WHO it's for, and WHY they should consider reading it—but not enough where the headline reveals the final answer (requiring them to click). Said differently, great headlines tell readers the beginning of the story & the end of the story, but not the middle.

For example, take a look at the headline below. The bold line chopping the headline in half is showing the beginning and end of the story—but notice how there's no "middle." In order to learn what the "9 reasons writers suffer from writer's block & give up writing forever" are, you have to click and read the article—and that's the point.

"Isn't That Clickbait?"

The BIG question we get from writers here is, "Well then isn't that clickbait?" And the answer is no—as long as you keep your promise.

Clickbait is when a reader clicks on an essay or article thinking they are going to get one thing, but then the writer fails to keep their promise. They use language that implies some big, massively transformational outcome for the reader, and then the reader starts reading and the information turns out to be vague, cliché, and nothing new. "I've been baited," the reader says to themselves—not because of the way the headline was written, but because the content of the piece didn't live up to the headline's PROMISE.

Clear > Clever

If there is one overarching rule we want to encourage you to live by, it's to aim for "clear" instead of "clever."

Headlines that try to be clever almost always end up falling short. The point doesn't get through to the reader. The joke or pun falls flat. And as a result, readers end up confused—and if the reader is confused, their default answer is, "No," as they scroll past your content and move on to someone else's.

Instead, it's far more effective to practice the art of clarity in your writing—especially when it comes to headlines. Try to be as specific as possible. "This is what it's about. This is who it's for. And this is what you're going to learn/get out of reading this as a result." Don't overthink it. If you are writing How To articles for Project Managers, name the audience in the headline: "7 Productivity Tips For Project Managers." This is a far better strategy than hoping your target audience will discover your content via their own curiosity.

10 Proven Headline Formats

Not sure where to start?

Here are some of the most common formats when it comes to crafting headlines that make readers stop in their tracks, pause, and decide whether or not they want to click and read.

  • BIG Numbers: "3,000 People Just Filed For Unemployment In This Small Town In Arkansas. Here's Why"
  • Dollar Signs: "$400 Million Is How Much You Need To Make In Order To Afford This Insane Mansion In Malibu"
  • Credible Names: "Will Smith's Advice On How To Live A Fulfilling Life Will Change The Way You See The World Forever"
  • "This Just Happened": "Michael Jordan Just Gave A Press Conference And NBA Executives Are Furious"
  • Question/Answer: "Can't Be Productive In The Office? Try Organizing Your Calendar Like This"
  • The Success Story: "How This Small Team Managed To Secure A Six-Figure Investment In Less Than 1 Week"
  • Things That Shouldn't Go Together: "7 Things KFC And Miley Cyrus Have In Common"
  • For The Industry: "3 Things All Successful Small Business Owners Do To Stay Profitable"
  • Topic Within The Topic: "7 Ways The Real Estate Industry Is Changing (And How You Should Be Investing Your Money)"
  • X Number: "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do"

The Golden Intersection: Answering The Reader's Question x Telling A Personal Story

The final framework we share with writers when it comes to writing headlines and content that speaks directly to readers is what we like to call The Golden Intersection.

If you notice, the best content on the Internet does two things simultaneously:

  • Answers the reader's question
  • Tells a personal story

For example, if you write an article or essay titled, "The 7 Secrets To Becoming A Millionaire," and you give readers actionable steps they can take to become a millionaire themselves, that's great. But what makes that essay or article 10x more memorable is if you pair that actionable advice with a personal story (even if it's only a few sentences in the introduction): "When I was 19 years old, I was broke as broke could be. I was living with my mom, who was unemployed. My dad had left when I was a kid. And I grew up on food stamps. Fast-forward to today, I just turned 30 years old and have a little more than $1,000,000 in liquid assets. The path I took to becoming a millionaire is something anyone can do. Which is why I want to share the steps I took with you. My goal is to shorten your own growth curve so that you can get out of whatever bad situation you're in, become a millionaire, and achieve financial freedom yourself."

Those few sentences immediately make the content more relatable, more trustworthy, and more memorable. They also act as a doorway for readers to connect directly with the author's personal story. They will remember those details.

Similarly, if you are writing about achieving financial freedom but going on and on about your personal story (without giving the reader anything they can do themselves), your content might be emotionally engaged but it isn't very actionable.

Readers want both.

So, answer their question, and then tell them a (short) story about how you learned what you're explaining to them, or how you overcame the obstacle you're encouraging them to overcome, etc.

Readers usually come for the actionable advice, but stay for the personal stories.


Framework #4: Formatting Your Writing For Skimmability

Here's a brutal truth that takes new Digital Writers a long time to learn:

Readers on the Internet don't read—at first.

What they do is they skim. And then, once they've decided whether or not this piece of writing speaks to their interests, then they go back and start reading.

As a result, what separates content that attracts millions of readers versus content that falls on deaf ears (even if the words on the page are identical) usually comes down to formatting. If your online writing is full of big, blocky paragraphs and no subheads, readers are going to think, "Wow, this looks taxing. I have no idea what this is even about—or if it's going to be worth my time." Whereas content that alternates between big paragraphs and short, single-sentence lines, and is organized with bolded subheads makes it very easy for readers to get a sense of what the piece is about before they even start reading. Visually the piece looks actionable, easy to follow, and quick to read.

Skimmability = Readability

If your online writing isn't skimmable, it's not readable.

For legacy writers and "purists," this is a hard pill to swallow. Legacy writers want to believe they are the one who is important (not the reader), and that readers should adjust to their expectations. If you want to know why so few writers from the legacy world succeed on the Internet, this is why.

Digital Writers, on the other hand, are masters at formatting. They understand how to present information in a way that makes it easy to understand at a glance—without "dumbing down" the content. Again, the idea here isn't to write Buzzfeed-style listicles all day long. The idea is to take your content (however complicated) and organize it in a way where readers can quickly skim, figure out what's going on, and latch onto the pieces of information that most grab their attention.

So, how do you do that?

Skeleton Your Piece (Before You Write It)

The easiest way to nail formatting is to create a skeleton of your essay or article before you start writing.

  • Headline: What is this piece about? Who is it for? What will the reader get in exchange for reading through to the end? AND, why should they trust you (what's your credibility)?
  • Introduction: (Repeat the information from the headline with slightly more detail.) What is this piece about? Who is it for? What will the reader get in exchange for reading through to the end? AND, why should they trust you (what's your credibility)?
  • Main Points: What "proven approach" are you using to organize this piece? (Is this piece organized by Steps, Lessons, Mistakes, Tips, etc.?) How many do you plan on including? 3 Steps? 4 Lessons? 5 Mistakes?
  • Conclusion: What's the final takeaway? What do you want readers to walk away with after reading this piece? What's the morale of the story?

By creating a skeleton of your piece in advance, it becomes significantly easier to know where to start.

Nobody likes staring at a blank page.

The 2 Most Important Uses For Subheads: Wheels & Spokes

When organizing your content, there are two different types of headings you should use.

  • Wheels: Big headings (H1) that signify the beginning of a new overarching section.
  • Spokes: Small headings/subheads (H2 or H3) that separate important sections within the overarching section.

Since most essays and articles online fall between the 300-800 word range, you usually don't need to use both Headings & smaller subheads (because there's only so much room). For example, in the "Prep The Page" example above, each "reason" in the article is listed out using a heading. In this case, it really doesn't matter if your headings are big (H1) or smaller (H2 or H3) because they are all fulfilling the same purpose: separating ideas.

However, in longer-form blog posts and ultimate guides (like this piece here), it makes sense to use both to make sure readers are following your train of thought. Each major section would open with a big heading (H1), signifying the purpose of this overarching section. And then each sub-section within would be separated by subheads (H2 or H3), signifying where one idea stops and the next idea begins.

Using headings are an easy way to make your writing more "skimmable," and to also make it easy for readers to scroll and find a section that hooks their attention. If they find a section that speaks to their wants, needs, desires, or questions, that's where they are going to start reading. And if, when they start reading, they find your content valuable, insightful, memorable, etc., they that's when they are going to scroll back to the beginning and start reading.

Here's what Wheels & Spokes look like in action:

Lists, Bullets, and Bolded Sentences

Ah, but the fun has just begun.

Once you have your essay or article (or book) organized in Wheels & Spokes, you can then start adding decorations: lists, bullets, bolded sentences, italics, etc. These smaller lists make it even easier for readers to quickly get an idea of what you're writing about and, more importantly, what's in it for them.

For example, anytime you find yourself writing a paragraph that is "listing" things out, it's worth questioning whether that paragraph can be re-formatting in the form of a bulleted list. "The first thing you want to do when writing online is prep the page. Then, once you've prepped the page, see where you can turn long paragraphs into short bulleted lists. Third, get rid of any excess description—readers don't want to hear you say the same thing eight times."

Instead of writing all of that out, you can compress it by turning it into a quick bulleted list.

Proven Writing Rhythms

Improving the way you format your writing is the fastest way to accelerating your growth as a digital writer. You would be astounded at how many people write and publish content online that is really great, but never gets read simply because of the way it is presented.

But formatting is only the beginning.

Headings, subheads, and bulleted lists are the visual cues that are easiest to spot. But there is another aspect to formatting that rarely gets talked about and is equally important.

Rhythm.

What separates writing that is fun, easy to read, even musical, is writing that alternates rhythms—fast vs slow, quick vs descriptive, etc. The more your writing alternates between opposites, the more movement it has, and the more the reader feels like they are being taken on a journey (opposed to hacking their way through a textbook).

Here are some of the most common writing rhythms and how you can immediately put them into practice.

1/3/1

This first sentence is your opener.

This second sentence clarifies your opener. This third sentence reinforces the point you're making with some sort of credibility or amplified description. And this fourth sentence rounds out your argument, guiding the reader toward your conclusion.

This fifth sentence is your strong conclusion.

What makes this 1/3/1 sequence "work" is that the first sentence and the last sentence act as bookends to the bulk of the content in the middle. These single-sentence lines make the reader feel as though they've reached a checkpoint, which acts as a small dopamine hit encouraging them to continue reading.

1/3/1 is an especially great framework for introductions and openers, but the truth is, it can be used anytime, anywhere within your writing. In fact, you could write an entire essay or article (or even book) using the 1/3/1 sequence and readers wouldn't realize you were following a pattern. They would just think to themselves, "Wow, this thing flows so well! It's so easy to read."

Here's an example of the 1/3/1 sequence in action:

You can read the piece in full here.

1/5/1

The 1/5/1 sequence is the exact same as the 1/3/1 sequence, except with two more sentences in the middle for added description and/or explanation.

Here's how it works:

This first sentence is your opener.

This second sentence clarifies your opener. This third sentence reinforces the point you're making with some sort of credibility or amplified description. This fourth sentence builds on that credibility or description, giving added context or new information. This fifth sentence explains to the reader why you're telling them what you're telling them. And this sixth sentence drives home the point.

This seventh sentence is your strong conclusion.

If you notice, the part of the sequence that is being expanded in the middle—not the beginning and not the end. That's because you want readers to have easy "on-ramps" and "off-ramps" to the most important parts of your content (which is usually in those big, bulky paragraphs). So, to make those big, bulky paragraphs feel more accessible, make the sentence leading in and the sentence leading out clear, concise, and most of all, short.

Here's an example of the 1/5/1 sequence in action:

You can read the full piece here.

1/2/5/2/1

Now, if you want to start getting fancy with things, you can expand the middle of your sequence to add even more dynamics into your writing.

The key here is to build up, and then build back down. In music, this would be called creating a "crescendo" (gradually increasing in loudness) and then creating a "decrescendo" (gradually decreasing in loudness). Notice again how the first sentence and the last sentence remains short, whereas the middle is slowly building.

1/3/1 + 1/3/1

With any of these writing rhythm sequences, you can then start to copy/paste them on top of each other, creating "stacks."

Here's how it works:

This first sentence is your opener.

This second sentence clarifies your opener. This third sentence reinforces the point you're making with some sort of credibility or amplified description. And this fourth sentence rounds out your argument, guiding the reader toward your conclusion.

This fifth sentence is your strong conclusion.

Now, here's a new first sentence as a second opener.

This second sentence clarifies your opener. This third sentence reinforces the point you're making with some sort of credibility or amplified description. And this fourth sentence rounds out your argument, guiding the reader toward your conclusion.

This fifth sentence is your strong conclusion.

Here's an example of the 1/3/1 + 1/3/1 sequence in action:

You can read the full piece here.

Writing Rhythms That Sound BAD!

  • 1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1
  • 2/2/2
  • 5/5/5

Writing rhythms that sound BAD are ones that don't alternate between short sentences and long sentences or paragraphs. For example, online writing where every single sentence is its own paragraph tends to read like the author drank too much coffee. Writing where every single paragraph is 5+ sentences sounds like it's tired of itself. And writing where every paragraph is two sentences sounds monotone.

The way you solve this is by alternating between fast and slow, long and short.

For more writing rhythms, grab a copy of The Art & Business of Online Writing by Nicolas Cole. There is an entire chapter dedicated to writing rhythms with dozens of templates you can use in your own writing.

Rate Of Revelation

The final formatting piece we encourage writers to think about in Ship 30 for 30 is what we like to call Rate of Revelation.

This is how quickly you are revealing new information to the reader.

On the Internet, writing that optimizes for SPEED tends to be the writing that gets the most traction. If you notice, the essays or articles or Twitter threads that go viral aren't the ones that spend 7 paragraphs describing the details on a doorknob. Readers don't have the patience for that. Instead, readers want every single sentence to push the story or point forward.

For example, here's what a SLOW Rate of Revelation might look like:

When it comes to building a daily writing habit, the hardest thing for most writers is remembering the importance of just sitting down and writing. It can be difficult to get yourself to write, but that’s part of the name of the game. And in moments you can’t write, you have to remember that all writers go through this—it’s just part of the craft.

Now, here's what a FAST Rate of Revelation looks like:

When it comes to building a daily writing habit, there are three things that usually get in a writer’s way. First, they over-edit. Second, they talk themselves out of the idea (“This will never work. I’m better off just doing laundry.”) And third, their laptop runs out of battery at the coffee shop (this happens more often than you might think).

Notice how in the second example, every single sentence is moving the idea forward.

A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself, "Am I continuing to describe and repeat something I already said? Or am I moving on and saying something new?"

Aim for the latter.


Framework #5: Content Differentiation

Writers will see a 10x improvement in their writing (and their ability to get the attention of readers) just by learning how to write engaging headlines and formatting their online writing using headings, subheads, and bulleted lists.

But the real growth happens when you learn how to write things that are different.

Content differentiation is all about one thing and one thing only, and that's mastering the skill of saying what hasn't been said yet. On the surface, this might seem like a futile aim considering how much content there is in the world, but we've come up with a fun exercise that immediately reveals just how easy content differentiation can be.

We call it...

"The Tequila Test"

The Holy Grail for writers is to learn how to say what everyone else isn't. So, how do you do that?

A fun exercise we like doing with Shippers is asking them to think of all the things they might say in an article about how to build an effective morning routine.

Here are the most popular answers:

  • Wake up early
  • Drink coffee
  • Stretch
  • Workout / go for a run
  • Meditate
  • Journal
  • And so on.

When we do this exercise (usually with 150+ Shippers), what immediately starts to happen is that people's answers begin to overlap. 27 people all say, "Journal." 24 people all say, "Stretch." 35 people all say, "Meditate." And so on.

As a result, everyone's answers "sound the same."

The idea here is for writers to realize that when they are saying "the same thing(s)" as everyone else, their content isn't actually differentiated. They might format it differently. They might throw in a personal story. But the root of what they're saying, their message, is the same as everyone else's.

So, how do you fix this?

We call it "The Tequila Test" because if everyone else is saying, "Meditate, journal, workout, drink coffee," etc., your job is to figure out how to say something DIFFERENT. For example, "First thing when I wake up? Take a shot of tequila."

That's DIFFERENT.

Because that's not the same thing everyone else is saying.

The way you put The Tequila Test into practice is to start by writing down all the things most people would say about your topic. Make a list. What are all the things you've heard people talk about? What's the conventional wisdom? What are the cliché answers? Write them all down.

Now, don't use anything on that list.

What ELSE could you write about?

This is the secret to content differentiation.

Write The Ship

After writers complete Ship 30 for 30, we have an exclusive video course in our Member Ship area called Write The Ship, which is a masterclass in content differentiation and category creation. We walk through the three sides of The Magic Triangle for writers, and how you can differentiate via Voice, Format, and Content.

The Magic Triangle

Framework #6: Twitter Threads

Ship 30 for 30 takes place on Twitter.

The reason we use Twitter as the primary publishing platform is because Twitter is the largest social publishing platform on the Internet for written content. Quora and Medium are other great publishing platforms for written content, and we have mini-masterclasses on these other publishing platforms in our Member Ship for writers who would like to branch out and start publishing elsewhere.

Twitter also has the fastest feedback loops of any written publishing platform online, and is the easiest way for writers to start learning (by gathering data) what’s resonating with readers.

However, Twitter is its own language.

The most common question we hear from writers is, “What do I do if I’m staring with zero followers on Twitter?”

The reason we use Twitter as a publishing platform, and why we encourage writers not to start writing on their own personal blog (at first) is because these social platforms are designed to get your content in front of the right people. That’s how these social algorithms work. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 Follower or 100,000 Followers—if the algorithm sees people engaging with your content, it is going to serve it up to more and more people. The number of followers you have is sort of irrelevant.

For example: here’s a Tweet Dickie wrote when he had around ~20,000 followers.

enter image description here

How was he able to reach 4.6 million people if he only had 20,000 followers?

Because the social algorithm saw people engaging with his content and decided to keep serving it up to more and more people (and Twitter has ~600 million users).

For new writers, this should be inspiring. You don’t need a million followers in order to be heard. Everyone starts at zero, and algorithms reward you based on your ability to engage readers with your words. As we’ve said many times: online writing is a game.

So, how do you beat the game on Twitter?

Let’s dive in.

The Lead-In Tweet

enter image description here


Your lead-in Tweet is what introduces readers to your writing.

If you are writing and publishing Atomic Essays as part of Ship 30 for 30, your lead-in Tweet is going to be the “hook” you use to get people to read your 250-word essay. If you are writing Threads on Twitter, your lead-in Tweet is going to be the “hook” you use to get people to read your Thread. And so on.

The secret to writing effective lead-in Tweets is to answer three very important questions for the reader (going back to our Headline framework):

  • WHO is this for?
  • WHAT is this about?
  • WHY should you read this? (What PROMISE are you making to the reader? What do they get in return?)

Readers on Twitter, in particular, love essays and threads that:

  • Tell a story
  • Share a framework
  • Provide actionable takeaways (teaching the reader how to do something)

Notice, not every idea you have is going to fit nicely into one of those two buckets. And that’s fine. But if your only goal is to figure out how to “go viral” on Twitter, it’s worth thinking about how you can fall into one of these three formats.

Let’s walk through each one.

Stories

Screen Shot 2021-08-24 at 8.23.27 PM.png

Stories are, without question, the hardest content format to execute on Twitter.

First of all, it’s hard telling stories lots of people find interesting. Most of the time, the stories that “go viral” on Twitter are curated stories of famous people, little-known moments of success, unlikely outcomes in the public, etc. It’s much harder for a personal story to go viral.

That said, regardless of what type of story you are telling, your lead-in Tweet should be structured like this:

  • Here’s the end of the story (big, crazy outcome)
  • Here’s the start of the story (humble beginnings)
  • Read to find out the middle

All great lead-in Tweets follow this structure in some way or another. They tease the ending, they show you the beginning, and then they encourage you (the reader) to click and read to find out how someone down there got all the way up here.

Frameworks

Screen Shot 2021-08-24 at 8.27.33 PM.png

The second content format that performs best on Twitter is any kind of framework readers would find valuable and applicable to their daily lives.

The vast majority of the time, framework-style Threads on Twitter aren’t original frameworks, but curated frameworks from people readers want to be like.

For example:

  • Elon Musk’s Frameworks For Making Decisions
  • Steve Jobs’ Frameworks For Building Next-Generation Products
  • Stephen Kings’ Frameworks For Writing Best-Selling Thriller Novels
  • Etc.

The idea here is to take one way of thinking pioneered by someone successful, break it down, and make it accessible to the average reader.

That said, you can also create your own frameworks as well—however, it’s important to be very clear about what the reader can expect to unlock in their own lives in using your framework. Remember: what are you PROMISING them, and what they can expect to get in return for reading?

Actionable Takeaways

Screen Shot 2021-08-24 at 8.31.37 PM.png

The final content format that performs best on Twitter is creating a list of actionable takeaways with the purpose of achieving some sort of end goal.

For example:

  • 15 Marketing Tips To Help You Jumpstart Your Paid Newsletter
  • 11 Copywriting Secrets To Help You Sell More Products
  • 12 Meditation Mantras That Will Connect You With Your Highest Self
  • And so on.

The reason readers love this type of content is because it feels immediately actionable. “If I read this Thread, I will know how to do X to achieve Y.” As a result, “actionable takeaway” Threads and content tend to be some of the most-viral within niche communities. For example, a thread on copywriting might not be as universal of a topic as “happiness” or “how to make more money,” but within the copywriting community, it will spread like wildfire. So if you are focused on writing for a niche, consider writing more about actionable takeaways for people within your chosen category.

Formatting Matters

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Regardless of what type of content format you choose (Story, Framework, Actionable Takeaways), the formatting of the Thread itself should follow a few basic rules:

  1. Give each Tweet its own “mini headline.” The first sentence of each Tweet is the most important. If you are writing an “actionable takeaways” Thread, the first sentence of each Tweet should be the actionable takeaway. This allows readers to quickly scroll through your Thread, skim the mini-headlines, and then decide if they want to dig deeper and read the entire thing straight through (remember: skimmability = readability).
  2. Uses lists and bullets whenever possible. Tweets are small, which means you need to figure out how to compress a lot of information into a teeny tiny container. One of the easiest ways to do this is to swap prose for lists. Besides, readers enjoy “skimming” bullets way more than they do sifting through prose. As a rule of thumb: anytime you have a paragraph of 3+ lines on Twitter, consider turning it into some sort of list (or axing it altogether).
  3. Play with the 1/3/1 framework to make your Tweets clean and presentable. The 1/3/1 writing rhythm is terrific for writing individual Tweets. The single-sentence opener can act as your “mini-headline,” the three sentences in the middle can be turned into a bulleted list, and the one-sentence closer acts as a strong conclusion.

The CTA

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At the end of your Thread, there are a few things you can do to wrap up the experience for readers.

The first is the CTA: Call To Action.

Your CTA should direct readers to more of your great content. If they just finished reading a Thread about writing advice, consider linking them to your BEST Thread about writing advice. If they just finished reading a Thread about a business story, consider linking them to your BEST business story—or, better yet, a master Thread you’ve created curating ALL your business stories. Think of your CTA as your Twitter Thread Gift Shop: “Thank you for shopping, can I interest you in a souvenir?”

The TL;DR

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The TL;DR is our favorite Twitter growth hack.

Think of this final Tweet as a super-compressed version of everything the reader just read.

Take your list of actionable takeaways, or framework steps, or story, and distill it down to a handful of bullets. The reason the TL;DR is so effective is because when Twitter distributes content in people’s feeds, it presents readers with your first Tweet and your last two Tweets. That means readers see your lead-in Tweet, and your “here’s the nutshell” TL;DR conclusion. These two, together, increase the likelihood of someone deciding they want to click and read (because they caught a glimpse of the end).

More times than not, you’ll find readers end up engaging with your closing TL;DR Tweet just as much (if not more) than they do with your lead-in Tweet.

Recommended Tool: Typeshare

This is our own software product designed specifically for Ship 30 for 30 members.

Typeshare is the hub for online writing, allowing writers to create a Social Blog, connect their social accounts, track their performance and engagement, and learn what works and what doesn’t about their writing. We also provide writers with dozens of online writing templates to get started on Twitter, Medium, etc.

Whether you participate in Ship 30 for 30 or not, we encourage you to use Typeshare and all its tools to begin your online writing journey.


Framework #7: Rewriting Your Bio

If you stick with writing online consistently for just a few weeks, you will learn so much about yourself, your audience, and what you want to write (and what resonates with your target readers), that you will need to rewrite your bio.

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One of the most common mistakes writers make when presenting themselves online is they write their bio as if they’re talking with their friends. I like reading, cats, and Spongebob Squarepants. Well that’s great—but readers have no idea what to expect from you.

The key to writing a great bio is to say, very clearly:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Why readers should trust you

That’s it.

Going back to our “Clever vs. Clear” framework, a great bio is not about being funny, or witty, or “punchy,” or cool. Your bio is, quite literally, the most important piece of real estate you have on the Internet. And because social bios are short, it’s your job to get the point across quickly, clearly, and efficiently.

Your Bio Checklist

You’re probably noticing a trend: clarity in your headline, clarity in your lead-in Tweet, clarity in your bio

So much of writing online (and becoming a digital writer) is learning how to present 100% clarity to readers. Confusion is the enemy. If a reader is ever confused about what you are presenting them, their default answer is, “No.” Within a millisecond, they’ve moved on. They’ve scrolled past you—or swiped back to TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube.

Which means the way you present yourself in your bio is crucial.

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Readers make snap judgements about whether or not you are someone worth reading, listening to, and following based on your bio. They really don’t care whether you like cats, or what your favorite show on Netflix is. The only question they’re asking themselves is, “Am I interested in this type of person?” And the fastest, most effective way to answer that question for readers is to make it very clear what you write about—and, even better, what readers can expect to learn or experience in return.

  • If the reader is interested in that topic, they follow.
  • If the reader is not interested in that topic, they don’t follow.

This sort of binary decision is what you want.


Framework #8: Naming & Claiming Your Category

One of our goals within Ship 30 for 30 is to help writers gain clarity over their category.

If throughout your 30 days of shipping you feel like you’ve figured out what niche you want to create for yourself, that’s great. Then that niche should be “Named & Claimed” in your bio. And if not, no worries—most people repeat Ship 30 for 30 multiple times, each cohort learning more and more about what they enjoy writing about and what readers are clearly engaging with.

However, once you gain some clarity over what your niche is, it’s important that you Name & Claim that niche in your bio—along with telling readers who you are and what you do, what makes you credible, and what your category is (“data-driven online writing & category design”).

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Using Data To Refine Your Category Over Time

That said, one of the most important lessons we strive to instill in writers is that your category & niche can (and most likely will) change as time goes on.

Or, as we like to say: The more you write, the more you write.

The more you write online, the more you learn what works and what doesn’t. The more you learn what works (for you), the more clarity you will have around what specifically readers resonate with—and what sort of content you feel is most valuable to create. The more clarity you have, the easier it becomes for you to explain, “This is what I write about,” which makes it easier for readers to decide whether or not they want to follow you and give you their attention.

And round and round your flywheel spins.

If you found this Ultimate Guide helpful, we can’t stress enough how much we are only scratching the surface here. Ship 30 for 30 is a cohort-based masterclass in online writing, and the entry point for anyone who wants to become a Digital Writer.

We hope to see you in the next cohort!

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