Stop right there.  Before you read any further, get the notion out of your head that I’m an ego-driven maniac who thinks he’s better than everyone else. I’m not. But I am a better writer than almost everyone I know. And while you might think that’s my ego talking, if you give me a couple of hundred words I’ll explain.

Everyone does something really well. I am a lousy cook. I kill every plant I’ve ever tried growing. And despite a carpentry gene that flows through my veins, I can’t build shit. But I am a good writer. And it used to be ok to be ok with that. Only now when you say things like this, the rest of the world looks at you like a freak. Why? Because everyone writes. How many illiterate people do you know within your social networks? Exactly. Everyone writes. But not everyone is a good writer. Most people just type and publish, as far as I can tell.

A repeating theme you hear from bloggers who have managed to make a living from their writing by selling advertising space based on blog posts with headlines featuring tips and tricks is, ‘Just write. All the time. Constantly.’ And because these people have become successful at writing blogs on micro-specific subject matter, telling everyone to write like they’re getting paid for it gives people the false sense that everyone is capable of writing and getting paid for it.

Over the past year I’ve been approached a few times by people attempting to find their voice in writing. People who have heard these successful bloggers tell them that the more they write, the better chance they have of making a living doing it. That’s akin to stating that the more lottery tickets you buy, the closer you are to becoming a millionaire.

Not everyone is a good writer. No matter how much you write. Sorry. Sure, you can become a better writer in terms of grammar use – absolutely. And frankly, if you want to make grammar and structure the primary criteria for being a good writer, then I’m probably nowhere near as good a writer as you. My writing is routinely riddled with grammatical inconsistencies. Don’t mistake writing well with being a good writer.

That said, there’s one critical reason why I’m a better writer than you: Empathy.

Empathy is something you’re either born with or you’re not. Yes, you can become more or less empathetic over time, but you can’t learn to be naturally moved by things. Combine a hysterical sense of empathy with a clear understanding of how to string words together and you’ve got a dangerous combination that doesn’t often account for much. Except maybe in advertising.

As an advertising copywriter, empathy is the only reason I’ve been able to connect with so many different audiences, and why I’m absolutely confident that I can make a meaningful connection with any human on the planet when tasked. All I have to do is call on my empathy.

I do not have a blog with thousands of subscribers, so you really have no reason to believe what I’m telling you. Besides, I’m not going to tell you the things you want to hear. That’s manipulation, and I reserve manipulation for advertising. If I were to tell you to write as much as possible so that you too can make a living from it, then I’d also ask you for your credit card number. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent writers in the blogosphere who are truly empathetic and who understand how to use empathy so that even the most boring business post dances around in your chest. They’re out there. They’re just rare.

For me – I’m a writer first, and blogger second. I don’t specialize in topics like WordPress, Social Media or even Advertising. In fact, the name of my blog (Obsessed with Conformity) is intended to be ironic. Empathy flings itself in many directions. Sometimes it latches onto brilliant little moments in daily life that resonate enough for me to sit down and write about it. Other times it treads on life’s inequities. But in reality, I don’t really control most of the things I truly care about. I’ve tried writing to specialized subject matter on my blog, but it comes out so stale and homogenized that I feel dirty afterward. And even when I have tried to write about topics like Social Media, when I interject empathy, it sounds so different than the guys who get paid to write about topics like Social Media that it fails miserably. Ironically, some of the best posts I think I’ve written over the past few years were on business topics but, based on the numbers, you guys didn’t think so. No, my most popular posts are those that deal with real life experiences – moments when my empathy latches onto something mundane and materializes as meaningful dialogue in your heart.

So yes, write. Write your ass off. You can become a better writer with practice, just as you can become a better free-throw shooter with practice. Only, you may never make it to the pros because of variables you don’t control. Things like size, quickness, speed and age. If you practice writing, but lack true empathy that you have little control over, then you’re likely to become a serviceable writer. If you’re determined to become a paid writer in this space, I suggest finding a popular niche to focus on and exploit instead of relying on empathy to light your way. Besides, there’s really not much money in writing otherwise.


Jim Mitchem

How I Used an Onion to Break into Advertising
A Good Day

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.