How New York Times Bestselling Author James Clear Learned to Write
Reading Time: 4 minutes
How You Can Go From Unknown Writer to Bestselling Author

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wasn’t always a writer.

He was a second-team ESPN Academic All-American pitcher in college. James took one English Class while attending Denison and majored in biomechanics.

So, how did he become a bestselling author?

He followed a process.

Process comes before outcome.

The process you follow can make you into the person you want to be. James Clear is proof. Without half of the resources we have available to us today, he still did it.

And you can too.

You can follow the process he used and reach your writing goals.

From Unknown Writer To Bestselling Author

Examine

Study your favorite author or bloggers.

Benjamin Franklin taught himself how to write this way. He imitated the style of writing he liked.

I did this too. I wrote out the first four chapters of On Writing Well by hand.

You don’t have to rewrite a whole chapter.

Don’t copy and write.

What made Benjamin Franklin’s process special is he looked at a sentence or paragraph and tried to rewrite it from memory.

Find a paragraph, study it then rewrite from memory.

You’ll be become a better writer by deconstructing and copying your favorite writers’ style.

Take Action

Write. The best way to learn how to write is to write. James, published new content every Monday and Thursday.

If you’re beginning, write one or two articles a week.

Some writers will tell you to publish an article every day. You can do it if you want. But you don’t have to.

The internet isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t rush your growth by burning yourself out trying to do what some random person on the internet said. Be yourself and take your time. Learn the principles of good writing.

Break it down

Written content has a ton of moving pieces — the headline, subheadings, the first sentence, the opening, closing, and more.

Practice each element. Create a swipefile of articles with headlines, openings, and closing you like. 

Focus on writing headlines

The headline is the most important part of your article.

It will make or break your content. Good headlines get clicked. Bad ones don’t.

The best headlines give people a strong reason why they should click.

Study the headlines you click on to practice writing headlines.

What made you click?

  • Did it speak to a fear you have?
  • Did it mention someone famous you like?
  • Did it promise to solve a problem you have?

Take what you like from other headlines and apply it to your headlines.

Try writing 10 different headlines a day.

Breaking down and practicing each element of an article will make you a better writer.

6 tips for better writing from James Clear

  • Write about what fascinates you
  • Make one point per sentence
  • Use stories to make your point
  • Cut extra words like “really” and “very”
  • Read the whole thing out loud
  • Post publicly

Feedback

Getting feedback from others can be easy. Publish your online in front of the eyes of millions. Writing groups can be a great way to get feedback. But be careful. Writing groups can turn people into whiners.

Don’t complain if nobody is reading your work. Stay focused on the process and keep getting better.

Don’t take feedback personally. The feedback you receive is no indication of who you are. Look at your writing objectively. Feedback is used to develop your skill and make you a better writer.

Two ways to ask for feedback

One way to obtain feedback is to use David Perell’s CRIBS system

CRIBS stands for confusing, repeated, interesting, boring, surprising. 

Have someone read your work and answer the following:

  • What’s Confusing?
  • What’s Repeated?
  • What’s Interesting?
  • What’s Boring?
  • What’s Surprising? 

Mary Robinette’s ABCD method is a second way to get feedback.

Get someone to answer the following:

  • What’s Amazing?
  • What’s Boring?
  • What’s Confusing?
  • What Didn’t you believe?

You get specific feedback on your writing when you ask these questions. 

Instead of having people tell you they like it or not, without giving a reason.
Once you have gotten feedback you can edit your writing using my self editing process.

The Process Works

This is the same process Scott Young used to learn the MIT computer science undergraduate curriculum in 12 months. It is also the same process he teaches in his book Ultralearning.

In how to learn and take on anything, I suggested reading Ultralearning.

The Advantage You Have Today

James Clear started writing in 2012, on Jamesclear.com. Medium was just getting started in 2012. In 2020, platforms like Medium give writers an edge they didn’t have before. Publishing your work on sites with a built-in audience makes it easy to build a following.

You don’t need to know SEO if you’re writing on Medium. SEO can help you if you plan to build your brand on a domain you own. Learn to write before you build a personal site.

Master The Art of Writing

Following this learning process can help you become a better writer. Start the process by reading articles from your writers. Take notes on what you like and dislike about their writing. You can practice more deliberately when you know what you like and dislike. This is to get you started.

Stay with the process. Keep getting better. Who knows someday we might see your book on the New York Times bestselling list.

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