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I help beginners write online.

Most Writers Alienate Their Readers by the First Sentence

Published 7 months ago • 5 min read

Good afternoon Reader,

Here's a dose of tough love.

So you want to make a living by writing about what you love. That’s amazing! If more people did that, we’d live in a happier, more passion-filled world.

But maybe you’re running into problems. You’re pouring all your passion into your work, which is great, but don’t you also deserve to be rewarded for your hard work? Your blog posts aren’t getting views, you’re getting no comments, no engagement, nothing. Your hard-crafted work sits in a corner of the internet with no eyeballs on it.

What’s going on?

I want you to think about one of the best stories you’ve ever read. The very best blog post. The life-changing one. The story that still echoes in your mind today. Do you have it?

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I’ll go ahead and bet that for anyone reading this story, all those amazing blog posts have one thing in common: They were valuable to you.

You were able to take something away from it. In some way, large or small, the writer got through to you and managed to flip one tiny piece of your mind on its head. And they almost certainly did not do that by talking about themselves.

The hardest lesson to learn about writing

Your writing isn’t about you. Do you want your readers to value your work? Then you have to provide value to them.

It’s tempting to spend a lot of time talking about ourselves, our problems, our thoughts. The truth is that unless you’re someone like Michelle Obama or Oprah, readers probably don’t want to read your life story.

There’s nothing wrong with presenting your own thoughts and feelings in your work. But you have to ensure that every time you do so, you present it as being for them, your readers.

They want to know how you’re going to use all that wealth of experience to help them.

Here are three simple rules to follow that make sure you’re providing value for the readers.


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Replace “I’s” With “You’s”

Don’t do this literally, but every time you use the word “I,” think about how what you’re saying is going to be valuable for the reader.

For example, “I’m going to do this” can become, “You should do this because of [ compelling reason].”

“I like to do that” can turn into, “You might enjoy this because of [anecdote you can share].”

Do a quick count in your story of how often you say the word “I” and reflect if every instance is really needed.

Start Your Story by Telling the Reader What You’re Telling Them

I read many stories that begin and end with some kind of personal sentence. “I’m going to be talking about this today.” “I wanted to share my story.”

There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment! But if you want your readers to recognize that you’re giving them value, start by telling them upfront what you’re about to tell them.

Some people are afraid to "give away" the story in the intro, worried about retention and bounce rate. No need -- if your intro is compelling, readers will continue scrolling no matter if you tell them the secret solution in the first line.

You can write a quick three-sentence intro with the following elements:

  • The problem you’ve noticed
  • How you suggest solving it
  • A personal story that explains why you’re interested

For example:

  • Building a cat-grooming business can be expensive, which causes tons of groomers to go out of business before they even start. But you can use these three tools that aren't too expensive. I was able to go from no clients to a fully booked grooming lounge simply by investing in these shears, this brush, and this treat bag.

This order is important. If you start with a personal anecdote, you might turn readers off right away. Instead, start with the universal problem, reassure them that they’ll learn how to fix it by reading the story, and then tell them why you care or why you're an expert.

[Note -- This is a simplified format. More experienced writers can play around with the order. But for beginners, unsure of how to fix the problem, this is what I recommend.]

Consider the End Goal for Your Readers

Finally, answer the question: What do you want readers to take away from this?

It doesn’t have to be self-improvement. Many readers are looking for a perspective shift or some entertainment. Many want to laugh or to learn something new. I read many personal essays that are written entirely in the first person, but that still gives me something I'm looking for.

In their conclusion, I see many writers rely on some kind of call to action, like a request for comments or to share if they liked it. That’s fine — heavens knows self-promotion is a tough but necessary part of writing — but consider how much more strength your story would have if you did something different.

The conclusion gives you one chance to leave your readers with your final message.

If there was just one thing you wanted them to remember, what would that be?

Leave them with that.


Writing is hard. Writing successfully for a long time is harder. And earning a living by writing? That’s the hardest thing of all.

If you want to establish yourself as a voice for readers to learn from, you have to understand that writing is just like every other profession out there: to become valued, you must provide value.

Simply by reframing your story to center the reader, ensuring they know what they’re about to read, and leaving them with a compelling final thought, you can have a better chance that your readers will find your work worth reading.


On the topic of writing for readers, I also want to share Medium's latest update about the Partner Program. My highlights:

  • Boosts will have a lower monetization impact
  • Read ratio will have a higher monetization impact
  • If your earnings dropped weirdly on or around Sept 25, that was literal fraud -- Medium has fixed this and they're going to be redistributing earnings soon
  • Membership (people who pay $5/month to read on Medium) is growing faster than ever
  • "Our recommendation is that the Partner Program is considered a supplement, rather than a replacement, to a consistent and predictable full-time income."

Read here:

U;tomately, I think it's all good -- my Boosted stories were outearning my non-Boosted stories, even the ones with 100k+ views which was pretty silly to me. I'm glad the read ratio will impact earnings more.

I also agree with their statement that Medium shouldn't be full-time. It aligns with what I always feel -- use Medium as a vehicle, not as a destination to full-time living from writing. In the meantime, it's a nice chunk of change to earn as a bonus.

Hope you have a great rest of your week, Reader.

As always, my inbox is open: any questions, concerns, or comments? Send 'em my way.

Happy writing,

Zulie

I help beginners write online.

by Zulie Rane

Want to share your story online but not sure how to start? I'm here to help. I cover the best writing platforms, how to grow your online audience, monetization options, and reviews of popular writing tools.

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