How I Use Writing to Grow My Following Quickly and Painlessly
Below is one of my most recent pieces. It’s an 8x10” mixed media collage on board. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and it’s quite lovely.
Do you want to buy it right now for $200?
That was off-putting, wasn’t it?
If you're new to The Hungry, you don’t know me or my work well enough to drop hundreds of dollars on a piece just because I told you about it.
Maybe you’re bold enough to take that chance, but it's more likely I haven’t built enough trust with you to commit to a large purchase. Even if you’re a long-time subscriber who has read all my posts, it may still be too much of an investment for you.
However, if I’ve made you laugh, made you think, and helped you find answers to some questions or obstacles, I have a better chance of getting you to that sale.
It’s not because you like my art any more than you did but because you’ve become endeared to what I share and want to support me as I’ve done for you.
This isn't about art. It's about sharing parts of me that connect us; the best way I've found to do that is with writing.
Writing has a way of building a greater connection with people than images ever will. When someone makes an active choice to read what I’ve shared, that’s more time we’ve spent together than if they doom scroll their way through their Instagram feed and happen upon one of my posts.
Reading creates a connection.
If I connect with a reader well enough, they learn to trust me.
If I validate that trust, it leads to loyalty.
If I foster that loyalty, it could lead to a purchase decision.
Is that a gamble of time and energy? Absolutely, but the reward is far greater than what I've ever received from my social media accounts (except Threads because it is magic).
Whenever I talk about writing with artists, many will be reluctant for one of three reasons. They don’t have enough time and energy to write long-form, have the skill to write well, or don’t want to add to all the other platforms where they spend time.
Some took issue with me on these topics so intensely that they turned it into a socio-political discussion, calling me out on my white male privilege.
I don’t have a response for that, but if you feel that way, let me share some counterpoints to ease your concerns or fuel that fire of a thousand suns.
“I don’t have enough time or energy to write.”
I don’t know your life, and that may be a valid concern, but let me respectfully pose a question.
Is the time you spend promoting and sharing your work effective toward achieving your goals? Does what you’re already doing bring you the sales you desire?
If yes, you’re doing something right and don’t have to read further.
However, if the answer is no, I have a follow-up question.
If you knew that doing something different than what you’re doing now could 2x, 5x, or 10x your results, wouldn’t that be a better use of your time, even if that action took a little longer than your current promotional strategy?
If you start writing today, it will take time to build up a following to get you to a 2x or greater return, but if you do it consistently and bring value to your readers, growth almost always moves upward.
Assuming social media is where most people spend their promotional efforts, when was the last time a social media platform rewarded you with constant growth and attention?
“I’m not a good writer.”
Many people have shared with me that they don’t know what to write about and aren’t confident about their writing skills.
I get that nobody wants to show up looking foolish because of their writing style, but nobody expects you to be Hemingway or Angelou from the start. That said, if you start writing today, you can practice in relative obscurity until you get better. Or share with your closest friends and build up your skills.
I’ll dive more into how and what to write in a bit, but I want to share one idea with anyone reluctant because you “don’t know how to write.”
You weren't born an artist.
At some point in your life, you didn’t know how to make art, design, or craft your projects, but you learned how. You learned how to do many hard things in your life, and now you don't think about them—you do them.
In that same way, you can learn to write, and the bonus is that it will open up a new side of your creativity and create new ideas in your work.
“I don’t need another platform to manage.”
Whenever someone says this, I wonder exactly how many places they operate. You may be doing it wrong if you spend your time on four or more social media platforms out of some strange obligation to continue showing up.
I have accounts on all the requisite platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Threads, Twitter, TikTok, Snap, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, and others I’ve forgotten.
Of those, I use three regularly, and one is more for escapism than anything. I used to try to keep them all updated, but that was an exercise in futility. When I finally got smart about my efforts, I focused my energy on the platforms that helped me grow.
Everything else gets ignored because it doesn’t need my attention if it’s not helping me or bringing me joy.
If you knew you could guarantee growth, even if it requires you to step out of your comfort zone, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to leave behind the platforms that do not serve your purpose?
If none of that resonates with you, you can go ahead and bail out here. I don’t want to waste your time any further. Click the button below, and I promise I won’t barrage you with posts about writing in the future.
“I can’t write long posts like you, Dave.”
You do not have to write long-form to be effective and appreciated by your audience.
An adage for online writing says we should aim for less than 500 words or more than 2,000.
Five hundred words or less is concise and gets the point across simply. It’s effective in short bursts and doesn’t take the reader long to get through.
Two thousand or more words is in-depth and meant to provide enough detail to be transformative for people.
Anything in between is either too wordy or lacks the appropriate detail.
I bet you could quickly bang out 500 words or less each week to share with your readers.
“I don’t know what to write about.”
You know what to write about, and I’m betting you’re already doing it. You just need to expand on what you’re already sharing.
The thing you may not realize about your fans and followers is that they want to know more about the person behind the work. They want the grit, the emotion, the lessons, and the epiphanies.
They want to see your studio, tools, process, and the before and after.
The people who relate to you and your stories have the potential to become your more ardent supporters. The more you share these things with them, the closer you bring them to the shopping cart.
There are so many ideas to write about; this is a tiny sample of what you could share.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and you can do most of those many times over, depending on the topic. After you’ve done it for a while, it gets easier to identify new post ideas.
If you’re desperate for ideas, you can always go to an AI chatbot and develop topic ideas. Tell the app a bit about you, what you do, and what your readers like to read, hit send, and wait for the magic.
Not all those ideas will be good, but you can adapt the list to your taste and style.
“Where should I post my writing?”
The first thing to consider is what I call the hierarchy of platforms, including private blogs, text-based social media, public blogs, and newsletters.
I believe if you’re going to use writing as a way to help promote your work, it’s a good idea to use two or three of these in combination, and before you freak out about having to manage multiple accounts, the content you create can be shared across platforms, from long to short form, and vice versa.
I’ll share my process later in this post, but the basic idea is that the content can move up and down my platform hierarchy to perpetuate a single thought’s effectiveness.
Let's Talk Platforms
There are two main types of platforms: public and private. The difference between them is those that are accessible to the general public with less control vs. those that you control and may not have as much social reach.
A personal blog on your website may be public-facing, but you control all the content. It’s not housed within a network of other blogs or social accounts. This would include any WordPress sites, Shopify, Squarespace, or other web hosts and e-commerce platforms.
These sites allow for the most independence and freedom, but they are secluded, and you must drive traffic to them. In years past, it was much easier to use search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic to your site, but this is infinitely more difficult now.
Most legacy newsletter services (Aweber, Constant Contact, Mailchimp) are private and lack network connectivity. As with private blogs, you are responsible for driving traffic to them. The beauty of newsletter services, in general, is that you maintain your list of email addresses, can share content with them as you see fit, and can take that list wherever you go.
Those older services are quickly becoming antiquated, though, losing their lead to a new breed of newsletter startups.
Services like Substack, Ghost, and Beehiiv are more of a hybrid between private and public because they are both a newsletter service and a blog (to varying degrees). They allow you to send email blasts to your subscribers while publishing the posts publicly.
These sites all have some form of network connectivity, where your account can be shared and linked to by others in the network. Substack is the largest in this category, with more social network functionality. Beehiiv’s network is less social and more of a recommendation engine to help new subscribers of one newsletter get recommended to you and others. I’m not as familiar with Ghost, but I’ve heard its capabilities are somewhere between Substack and Beehiiv.
When I teased this topic on Threads, several people asked for my recommendation on platforms. This can vary depending on your objectives, but for absolute beginners and people unfamiliar with the hybrid model, Substack is my top recommendation.
Substack is easy to start, easy to use, and has a lot of functionality for adding media and content to posts that exceed many other platforms. You can host a podcast, share videos natively (not published elsewhere), add polls, give referral bonuses to readers, and even have a paid option for more exclusive content if you want.
From a design perspective, Substack is the most limited, with no alternative themes for posts and no way to segment people into specific groups. If segmentation is a must for you, then Substack will not be a good choice, but that’s a topic for another time.
Public blogging platforms include long-form apps like Medium and LinkedIn or short-form like Threads, BlueSky, and (yuck) Twitter.
They’re public because once you post something, it’s typically viewable by anyone on the platform. You have control of the content, but you do not have control of the list of readers and subscribers.
The purpose of these content tools is to build a following and drive them to your website or email sign-up form. They can be very effective at attracting attention, but their biggest flaw is that you do have direct access to the audience as you could with an email list and a newsletter.
Newsletters vs. Blogs
Many people asked me whether they should be writing on their personal blog or something like Medium or Substack.
The short answer is both. If you’ve already done the writing, why not share it in both places? Yes, it takes some time to copy, paste, and potentially reformat for the new platform, but the hard work has been done. After you’ve done the writing, it’s yours to repurpose how you see fit.
If you are dead set on only using one platform, I recommend a hybrid platform. A personal blog won’t get seen unless you do the work to drive people to it. A public blog will give you reach within the network, but you cannot control access to the audience. The hybrid model serves both purposes and allows you more flexibility.
My Ideal Process
Writing is my thing, so I am more interested in getting my words in front of others. My ideal process is in-depth but doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming. What I put into it is what I get out of it.
This process starts and ends with short-form content on Threads. This post started as an idea I shared there, and when that post became more popular and contentious, I knew I had a good subject for more in-depth writing.
This newsletter is the cornerstone of my work, so I write the article with subscribers in mind, but I also publish publicly to allow for connectivity through the network.
I share my newsletter posts publicly and then copy and paste the info to my Substack, but I do NOT send that out to subscribers because that list is the same as my ConvertKit list. I only post to Substack as a blog.
Then I share that post to Substack’s Notes, their internal, short-form feature, similar to Threads, but with far less reach. Still, it allows people within the network to potentially find the article.
I’m also toying with sharing entire articles on my LinkedIn account. I will start adding posts there more regularly to test if it’s a solid option for reaching a new segment of my audience.
After posting the long-form to all places, I can deconstruct the article and use parts to become short-form posts back on Threads. These will often start new conversations, present further questions, and create new opportunities for future articles, kicking off the cycle again.
We’re Running a Marathon
Getting started writing in these places is easy but not simple. This will take time, and you will want to be invested, even if you only operate on a public, short-form platform.
Where you write is far less important than what you share. Showing people who I was through my words was one of the most beneficial things I ever did as an artist. The more I share and interact with others, the more attention I’ve gotten, which makes me want to continue sharing and engaging others.
Now, you may have questions about how to use long-form platforms effectively as an artist. That topic requires in-depth study, and I will surely reward that curiosity in the future.
I promised to share some examples of creative people doing long-form well, which will be more appropriate for that next article, but to satisfy that curiosity, here are a few people I follow doing it well.
As always, if you have further questions, feel free to hit me up.