Why Learning Is The Best Motivation For Writing Online
Photo by Dostoevsky on Behance
Writing for learning is a great fuel but anything else sucks the joy out of my soul
Content marketing. SEO. Backlinks. Mobile pages. Formatting.
Every time I hear one of those words, I act like I’m cool but inside my soul is screaming — “This is not what I signed up for!”
You see, the reason I started writing was not to build an audience, get a lot of traffic and sell a digital product. I may have to do that to monetize my writing. But every time I think about monetization, I have butterflies in my stomach.
Recently in one of my conversations with Jordan Gross, he said how every time he asks people to buy things or help him sell something, it makes him incredibly uncomfortable because he feels like his “true identity and purpose is not as a salesman, but rather as a storyteller.”
This is also why I’m not psyched about roles like ‘Content Marketer’ in most companies. What they want to do is write a specific type of content after doing keyword research which let’s be honest, only produces derivative ideas. You can’t come up with something exciting and original to write about if you only rely on keyword research.
This was a huge problem for me. Or so I thought. Early on, when I discovered my love for writing, I worked for various companies to write content. But they sucked the passion out for me. All I had to do is find a list of topics that would surely get traffic to the website, list them in a spreadsheet, sort them according to difficulty/CPC/traffic and then execute by copy-paste existing content from the web.
I did that with full devotion — thinking this is what writing must be like. But I couldn’t continue with it for long.
Soon, I wondered why. Why was I super motivated to write about topics like self-help and not something that a marketing manager tells me to write about? Because I wanted to write to learn. Not to drive traffic. Not to build an audience. Not to put clever CTAs in between to sell something.
I wanted to write about things that excite me. That I couldn’t stop thinking about. Things that I implement in my life. Philosophies that I die for. Concepts that I know like the back of my hand because I’ve spent hours studying them in solitude. And let me tell you one thing. It feels a helluva lot better than writing about “12 SEO tips to improve your website in 30 days”
Writing to learn is the best motivation
A few days ago, I wrote an article about celibacy and its role in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. I never thought I’d write on this subject. If you see my other articles, they are nowhere related to it.
So why did I write about it? Again, I wanted to learn.
Given my interest in meditation and yoga, I’m always looking for things that will help me deepen my practices and raise my consciousness. As a result, I ventured to the unknown land of celibacy and found Gandhi’s strong opinions on the matter. Frankly, I couldn’t stop reading articles about his view on topics like celibacy, truth, sex, honesty, and so on.
Writing about that topic was just a way for me to summarise what I’d been trying to learn. What’s more? I didn’t need to make myself sit to write the article, it just happened. I woke up in the morning pumped about the fact that later in the day, I’d get a chance to write about that subject.
I did all this even though I knew that no major publication may accept this pointless article. That no one in my current audience would care about celibacy. As I guessed, the article barely got any traction as compared to the others I’ve written. But I still wrote it. Because I wanted to.
When you write to learn, you don’t need productivity hacks. It’s not a means to some other end. It’s an end in itself. You don’t care about what will happen with the article. The fact that you’ve written it is enough. You publish it and fuhgedaboutit.
Your readers grow with you
Today, none of my readers may want to read about esoteric topics like celibacy. But as I evolve as a person, they also will evolve.
I will take them through my journey. That in fact is all that the readers are paying for. **They pay for the writer’s worldview. **They’re paying to read how the writer thinks.
If you keep writing about one topic for years, people can’t help but get bored. You’ll sound like an AI who’s just been trained by consuming millions of pieces on that topic and producing inhuman content on autopilot. Readers don’t like that. They want to see the human behind the screen. (Hey, that’s you!)
When you grow, your readers want to know how you grow. They want to know about your setbacks, breakups, the moment you were fired, your heartbreaks, when you lost a loved one, when you were bedridden with a disease, and everything else in between.
When I started writing, I wrote about self-help and productivity. You can see the earliest articles in my Medium backlog. Heck, I used to write on Medium even in 2017 under a different name (that I’m not going to tell ya!). My writing was laughable. I was a high school kid with ambitions to be in Forbes 20 under 20, make a lot of money, have schools named after me and God knows what other nonsense dreams.
Now I’m a completely different person who realizes that the true purpose in life is to find God — to know God and expand to your full potential as His child. No one would’ve guessed this change. And that’s what makes the story interesting.
Readers like these plot changes.
I like writers and content creators who’ve reinvented themselves since I’ve been following them. But those who kept on creating the same kind of content and do the same thing in their lives? I lost interest.
Readers need your life to be interesting. They need you to grow so they can grow with you. This brings me to my next point.
You’re only as interesting as your life is
“It’s called the best-selling author, not the best author.” — Robert Kiyosaki
When I read Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad” or the “Cashflow Quadrant” I see not just money-making tips and ideas. After all, he didn’t do his keyword research to come up with “101 Tricks To Make Money and Achieve Financial Freedom.”
He had his own setbacks in life. He was broke with his wife at one point. He had no idea about selling. But he soon learned the principles of wealth from his Rich Dad. In fact, that’s what gives the story its meat.
The concept of Rich Dad and Poor Dad coming straight from his life is the central idea of the book. It helps to contrast and show readers the mindset differences between the rich and the not-so-rich.
Similarly, your writing needs to be a bit more than that. I’ve realized this truth only recently and I’m also learning. The problem is most writing seems lifeless. Lifeless doesn’t get people to share, appreciate or remember your work. Your emotions, experiences, and personality do.
These are what give context to your writing. You may write about “12 Stoic Principles That Can Change Your Life.” But if you just regurgitate what’s written in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Seneca’s letters, you won’t get anywhere.
What I and everyone else care about is how you benefitted from the principles. What problems did you solve, what challenges did you overcome with that philosophy? How did you come to know about it, how has your life changed? etc.
In other words, set the scene a little. Take the reader inside your mind and let them see why you think what you think. Teleport them from their world into your world. If the readers can escape into your writing then you’ve done a great job.
Learning makes your life interesting
Lee Gutkind, author of “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction” explains that the writer is only as interesting as his life.
“Most young people haven’t experienced enough to have something significant to say about life, especially to readers who are older than they are,” says Gutkind. “I’m not contending here that young people can’t write with power and beauty or that they haven’t suffered. But it’s often better to join the Peace Corps, take a job driving a taxi, or interact with a different culture before studying on a master’s degree level.”
After reading this, Isaiah McCall went crazy. He ran 30 miles straight and became an ultramarathoner. He joined the army for six months before COVID forced him out. He became a writer at USA Today Network. And if all this wasn’t enough, he began his stand-up comedy career.
But let’s be honest, very few people would do that. That doesn’t mean that your life can’t be interesting. You don’t need to necessarily become an ultramarathoner to make your life and writing interesting.
Just tweak your writing here and there to get started.
Write about topics you’ve never thought of before.
Take up meditation; explore yourself.
Give it your all in one aspect of your life and tell that story; share the lessons learned.
Talk to people you don’t know online and learn from their experience.
Serve — volunteer wherever you feel like. Give your time selflessly to others, be kind and see what you feel. Does your perception of life change? Mine did.
Be on the lookout for interesting chats every day. Convert one conversation into a whole article. Try to connect dots and make something unique.
These are just top-of-the-head examples that may even seem absurd right now. But you get the point, right? Think of small ways to stretch the boundaries of your life. Learn a new skill. Read a new book. Anything would work. Even the smallest action can make your writing more interesting.
The best motivation for writing online is learning. So many of us write to build an audience and to call ourselves “content marketers.”
Don’t get me wrong, those motivations do have their place. But if you’re not careful they can suck the joy out of your writing.
When you’re only writing posts with the motive of ranking high on Google, getting visitors and more subscribers, it no longer remains a creative expression. It turns into an act of copying what works and then regurgitating what’s available.
When you write to learn:
The quality of your content improves
Your writing is more personal and anecdotal
You can produce more content and not burnout
You are satisfied even if the content doesn’t do well — because learning was your primary motivation, everything else is secondary.
My life as a writer has become a lot less stressful since I started focusing on writing with the aim of learning.
I hope yours does too.