The #1 piece of writing advice from Mark Manson and Morgan Housel
Between the two of them, Mark Manson and Morgan Housel have sold upwards of 20 million books. It’s safe to say they know how to write something worth reading. From their appearances on the How I Write podcast, we learned that Mark and Morgan have the same #1 piece of writing advice: Write for yourself before anyone else — and everyone wins.
But how exactly do you “write for yourself?”
Many of us subconsciously write for an audience. We use fancy words we’d never use in real life to try and impress them. We downright break a sweat at our desk trying to anticipate what readers want to read, rather than honoring what we want to write. The #1 goal is to add value to your reader — and paradoxically, the less you write for your reader, the more value you give them. Successful writers like Mark and Morgan have figured this out. They focus on three things:
- Sound like yourself
- Solve your own problems
- And surprise everyone, including yourself.
If you want to write something worth reading, keep these three things in mind.
1. Sound Like Yourself
Do you catch yourself watering down your personality when you put words on the page? Turning fiery sentences into lukewarm sludge? Deleting zinger after zinger just to tone it down?
This is how we’re taught to write in school. Most likely, you’ve been removing yourself from your writing for so long that you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
Believe it or not, these personal quirks that keep popping up and getting in the way are a good thing. They are part of your unique voice, shining through the cracks. Instead of smashing the “Delete” key, embrace these nuances.
Take Mark for example. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was the #1 most read nonfiction book worldwide in 2017 (and it was on the front table of every airport bookstore for years). Why? The man writes zingers. He’s honest, witty, and fires off enough curse words to make Grandma faint into her plate at Thanksgiving dinner.
“I hate writing if I don’t sound like myself,” Mark admits. “When I start trying to sound like somebody else, that’s when writing feels like work.”
His advice? Don’t write for the stuffy English professor sitting in a fluorescent-lit office. Write for your best friend sitting across from you at a warm, cozy restaurant. It’s basically like talking to yourself. How you chit-chat is how you should write.
And Morgan agrees — just like a conversation with your best friend, your writing should leap with aliveness:
“Writing for others is work, and it shows. Writing for yourself is fun, and it shows.”
At Write of Passage, we call this surrendering to your nature. When you align yourself with your unique fingerprint, it’s fun for you and captivating to others.
Don’t be afraid to sound like yourself. Lean into your quirks. Write zingers. Play with word choice. You’ll have more fun, and you’ll produce work that’s 10x more enjoyable to read.
2. Solve Your Own Problems
Amateur writers try to predict what their readers want to hear. Seasoned writers chase their own curiosities. They ignore generic topics and, instead, explore their niche interests. It sounds like a risk, but it’s a veteran move.
When you pander to your audience, your readers will lose interest. Just as a dog can smell fear, readers can sense inauthenticity. And once they get a whiff, they’ll never come back. By trying to solve your readers’ problems, you’ll only scare them away by feeling fake — plus, that means pouring your into something you don’t even care about. It’s a lose-lose scenario.
Enter Morgan Housel’s favorite solution: “Selfish Writing.”
“Only write things that you personally find interesting,” Morgan says. And no one does this better than him. In fact, if the start of the writing process is hard, Morgan abandons that idea entirely. He believes the best ideas come naturally, pouring onto the page like melted butter. When you write to solve your own problems, you unlock a new level of flow. There’s care, passion, fire, hutzpah. And that’s infectious. The audience gets pulled in because of your emotional involvement.
Mark calls this following your Curiosity Antenna. “I get bored quickly,” he says. “And I get excited about new things easily. I think that naturally pushes me towards the edge of that [early-adopter] curve.”
In his article “The One Habit That Matters More Than Anything Else,” Mark writes,
“Curiosity cures: anxiety, ignorance, selfishness, extremism. Curiosity creates: empathy, compassion, knowledge, growth. Curiosity prevents: arrogance, judgment, stagnation. Practice curiosity.”
Both Morgan and Mark are at the spearhead of online writing because they’re relentless in the pursuit of what interests them. And as a result, their readers are enthralled.
Don’t try to predict what your reader wants to hear. Follow your Curiosity Antenna, and solve your own problems.
3. Surprise Everyone, Including Yourself
Open Twitter (X), and you’ll see everyone talking about all the same things. The future of AI, cold plunging, and the latest political scandal. Like a high-speed conveyor belt, your timeline is an endless loop of mass-produced content. If you want to write something worth reading, you need to surprise and delight your readers.
And it’s best if you do that immediately. As Morgan says, “your intro is everything.” You have five seconds to catch somebody’s attention on the Internet. If you don’t grab them with the headline or in the first two sentences, they’re gone. But this goes deeper than just a catchy hook.
Mark’s approach is to say the things you always wished somebody would say, but nobody has.
To do this, you need to first go inward. This is why writing is so unique — it’s a distinct form of consciousness. As you write, you discover things you didn’t realize about yourself: beliefs you didn’t know you had, emerging opinions, and stories you’ve long forgotten. Like an archaeological dig, writing is a process of excavation. You won’t believe what you find once you start digging. And if you’re surprising yourself, chances are you’re also surprising your reader.
So, write to discover. Write to surprise. Nothing brings the Internet’s content conveyor belt to a screeching halt like a spiky point of view.
The next time you sit down to write, channel your inner Mark and Morgan. Ask yourself:
- Who do I sound like?
- What’s a problem I want to solve?
- How could I surprise myself?
Write for yourself before anyone else — and everyone wins.
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