7 Tips for College Student Writers to Succeed in the Online Writing World

7 Tips for College Student Writers to Succeed in the Online Writing World
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

If you're like me, you have posted content for years on your blogging website while in college.

You have spent hours writing, rewriting, and proofreading your content before putting it online. You're excited by the idea of earning passive income while studying. But nobody is reading.

You don't know what you're doing wrong.

For two years, I was stuck in this content black hole.

Until I came across The Art and Business of Online Writing by Nicolas Cole. Using the strategies he teaches in his book Nicolas Cole went from addicted World Of Warcraft gamer to the number 1 writer on Quora and co-founder of Ship 30 For 30.

Here are the eight tips I learned from the book which changed everything:

Don't Start A Blog

The first tip was the most counterintuitive, but the most insightful: don't start a blog.

Writing solely on a blog is a losing game. You must compete for Google search traffic with companies with hundreds of employees working daily to target a certain keyword. Google wants to promote content that will keep people on Google.

Why would they promote your writing among others?

This was a hard tip for me to follow because of my ego.

I believe my writing deserved getting seen by others. I had spent tens of hours writing this post. People should be reading it!

Unfortunately, your audience doesn't care how long it took you to write something, only how well it helps them with their problems.

Instead of writing solely on a blog, Cole recommends writing online through a social blog like Quora, Medium, Twitter, etc.

These platforms have native audiences and are designed to show the most engaging articles to their audiences. That means you have a much higher chance of your article getting shown than if you compete through google search traffic.

You play a winning game instead of a losing one.

This doesn't mean you can't post your articles to your blog to serve as a home base for your content; just that you use a social blog too.

Discover Your Category

If you're like me, when starting your blog you went out to a cabin in the woods, lit a cigarette, stared out the window, and wrote for a year and a half before coming out with your writing masterpiece.

The issue with this strategy is you have no idea if your readers care about what you are writing about!

You have no feedback.

This is where the value of the social blog comes back in; you can get data on what resonates with people. In the first six months after reading this post, you should be less concerned with "establishing" yourself and more focused on "discovering" yourself. Analyze the data and come to an understanding of what readers want from your content.

Think smarter, not harder.

Outline Your Content Creation Flywheel

Before reading Cole's book, I could easily spend 25 hours writing the "perfect" blog post without even understanding if any of my readers wanted to read it in the first place.

A lot of time I could have spent playing Minecraft, gone. The solution Cole preaches is to create a content creation flywheel, a progression of your content creation mediums from lowest effort to highest effort. When creating content, you start from the bottom of the flywheel to the top, analyzing data the whole way to see what users want from you.

This stops you from wasting time writing something nobody wants to read.

Here is my current content creation flywheel: Twitter Tweet --> Twitter Thread --> Blog Post --> YouTube Video --> PDF Worksheet or Free Email Newsletter Course --> Service Business --> Product.

I remember I once Tweeted something about the Zettelkasten system of notetaking, not expecting much from it. That Tweet blew up. Today, my Zettelkasten video based on it is still the most popular video on my channel.

It's because I used data to see what my audience wanted.

This strategy involves treating your writing like a lean start-up.

Your Twitter tweets are your Minimum Viable Products that you bring to market to test if there is any demand for them. If there is demand, you continue making your way up each step of the flywheel, spending only as much time writing as the idea deserves.

You stop writing inside of a black hole.

Create More Than You Consume

I have a rule I live by, which goes: "The number of hours I spend consuming should never equal or exceed the number of hours I spend creating."

Unless it's peanut butter, I could consume that for days. Writing gets better with more writing. As much as I wish reading this blog post made you turn into a god-tier writer, it won't.

To write better, you must write more.

Yesterday I spent 45 minutes consuming content on how to make better YT titles and thumbnails. It took me three hours to implement. I felt like I was wasting my time. "I know this, I don't have to act on it."

But acting on it made me find holes in my skills to truly learn.

Consumption feels productive in the moment, but we don't truly learn without application and creations.

Write Like A Blogger, Not Like A Dead Academic

As a college student, you know how dead some academic writing can be.

Online writing isn't like that. To stand out online, you have to write like a blogger, not like an academic. There are a ton of frameworks in the book for how to do this, but the 1/3/1 framework is the most time-tested and important one for you to know. In 1/3/1, you have one strong opening sentence, three description sentences, and one conclusion sentence.

Visually it signals to your reader you aren't going to make them suffer through the long blocks of awful academic text you might have to suffer through.

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.

Understand this framework, and you will be golden for most of your online writing.

I have used it for literally every tip in this entire article.

How To Win The Game Of Online Writing

Succeeding in the online writing world as a college student is a game.

It's a game of learning how to find your categories, manage your time, and build your writing skill. My and your blog didn't work these last few years because we were playing the game wrong. But like any game, failure only illuminates the path to success.

If you want to win the game of online writing and acquire all the achievements Nicolas Cole got, all you need to do is this.

  1. Publish something new every single day on one of your content creation flywheels
  2. Write fast-paced articles that use short paragraphs, declarative language, and subheads for every main point.
  3. Combine actionable advice for the reader with personal stories from your own life that illustrate how you gained the insight you're sharing in the first place.
  4. Collaborate with professional photographers, build your personal brand, and attach pictures of yourself with the articles you write.
  5. Publish more than 3,000 articles online over the next five years.

It's time to play the game the right way.