I am a professional writer.
Well, I am now. 4 years ago, I was a college graduate with no portfolio and a degree in creative writing. I was working as an entry-level copywriter at an advertising agency. I was living in a tiny studio apartment with no air conditioning on the north-side of Chicago. "Going out for dinner" for me meant treating myself to Chipotle once a week, and most mornings were spent plugging my nose on the train to work while a homeless man (reeking of fecal matter) yelled about how 9/11 was a conspiracy.
I pulled quite a few short stories out of those early morning train rides.
Today, I am a regular columnist here for Inc, and a 3x Top Writer on Quora with over 20M views. I have had work published in just about every major publication on the Internet: TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, The Chicago Tribune, Apple News, and many more. I have ghostwritten over 300 articles for CEOs, serial entrepreneurs, executives, and influencers. And I am the founder of my own ghostwriting agency, called Digital Press, specifically tailored to business leaders who want to share their insight in written form on platforms like LinkedIn, Quora, and Medium. (And no, I don't mean as a side hustle. This is my full-time job.)
I am 27 years old.
How much I write every day:
At the time of my writing this, I probably average an output of somewhere in the ballpark of 10,000 words per day. However, over the past 4 years, I can confidently say that I have averaged 3,000 words per day, minimum. If I'm not writing here for Inc, I am writing on Quora. If I'm not writing on Quora, I'm working on my next book. When I'm not working on my next book, I'm ghostwriting for someone else. Even before I had my own agency and I was working 9-5, I would still cram in 2-3 hours of writing every single night.
Writing is my craft, and I treat it like a sport (I grew up playing hockey).
Over the years, and as people around me have watched my career evolve from lost-college-graduate to "professional writer," many have shared their own desire to start writing and sharing what they know online. They always ask the same question: "How did you get to where you are today?"
I wrote. A lot.
I remember reading a book a while back about writing output, and the author suggested aiming for 500 words per day. "500 words?" I thought, almost insulted. "I write 500 words on my phone while I'm waiting in line to ring up my groceries."
When I tell people how much I write, most don't believe me. They insist I've done the math wrong--which is fair, seeing as I failed math in high school and went to art school instead. But no, I got this equation right: 3,000 words per day is a minimum for me.
Here's what I learned about discipline by writing that much:
Writing is just like anything else. When I was a kid, I was involved in both sports and music--hockey and classical piano. I was also one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America when I was 17 years old. All three of those pillars--sports, music, and competitive gaming--share almost nothing in common on the surface. But deep down, they all require one thing in order to be turned from hobby to talent.
I treat writing the same way I treated hockey growing up, with big dreams of making it to the NHL. I treat writing the same way I treated classical piano (minus the arguing with my mother), sitting in front of the keys until Chopin's notes stuck to my fingers. I treat writing the same way I treated the World of Warcraft. Obsessively. Competitively. Relentlessly.
But I'll be honest, I didn't understand discipline back when I was a teenager the way I do today. I knew it instinctively, but not conceptually. At that age, I couldn't really reflect on my habits and extract powerful lessons. I was pulled by pure curiosity.
It hasn't been until these past 4 years, through writing (and being forced to reflect and verbalize so much of my own personal material) that I have realized just how profound "practice" really is.
What I have also realized is that, whenever I talk with people about writing, or how they can get started writing more often, I now see that we're not really talking about writing--we're talking about discipline.
People struggle with discipline.
You don't know discipline until you've done something every single day for an entire year straight. Most people in life can't do that with anything--and never do, which is why the art of discipline is so few and far between. But truly, "learning" discipline is not that difficult. It really comes down to one simple act, and nothing more: did you do what you said you were going to do today, or not?
Yes or no?
Where most people fail is not in being physically or mentally or even emotionally incapable of performing the task, but rather thinking that today, "just one day," doesn't matter.
"It's just one day," they say to themselves. "I'll do it tomorrow."
And then tomorrow comes, and the same excuse is used again, and again.
Truthfully, you don't know discipline until you've forced yourself to meet that goal for the day, every day, no matter what. Even if you're exhausted and your eyes are burning because you're sleep deprived. Even if all your friends are going out somewhere awesome and you have to stay home instead. Even if it means locking yourself in a quiet room somewhere, turning off your phone and getting it done.
I didn't become a professional writer by getting a degree in writing (even though I did, but that's not what made me who I am today). I didn't become a professional writer because I "knew someone" or got lucky. I became the writer I am today by writing 3,000 words every single day. Over 650 Quora articles. Over 250 columns here on Inc. Hundreds of guest blogs, ghostwritten pieces, even freelance assignments like brochures and strategy guides.
My first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer? I re-wrote 4 times, from scratch.
What I've learned writing several thousand words per day for the past four years straight is that you get to where you want to be in life by doing. That's it. Not by talking. Not by thinking. Not by brainstorming. Not by daydreaming. Not by wondering. Not by experimenting, or testing the waters.
Did you do what you said you were going to do today?
Yes or no?