The big day is finally here. Cohort 8 of Write of Passage, David Perell’s online writing course, starts tonight. I participated in cohort 7 in September 2021 and it set my life on a new course. I can’t wait for another round through the transformation machine. If you don’t believe me, listen to this guy:
Doing the course again will give me an opportunity to crank out five more essays, meet fascinating people (read: forces of nature) and move closer to finding my personal monopoly.
As a returning student, I can also give back to the community and share some of the lessons I’ve learned on my journey.
This guide is my attempt at distilling all the lessons I know now, that I wish I had known when I did Write of Passage for the first time. If you are enrolled, listen up. If you aren't enrolled, but curious to learn more, this piece should give you a taste of how this course and other cohort-based courses work.
Here are 7 strategies (with actionable steps) that will help you navigate the course and get the most value from it:
- Pacing yourself
- Creating a habit of shipping
- Generating ideas
- Speaking up
- Finding your tribe
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Setting up tools for distribution and tracking
1. Pacing yourself
Expect to be taken out of your comfort zone. Over the next five-six weeks, you will spend 10-20 hours per week attending live sessions, meeting with mentor groups, building and improving your website, reviewing essays and writing your own pieces. It will feel like taking on an extra full-time job.
If it’s your first time, it will be overwhelming.
Know that the course is meant to stretch you and shape you. It is meant to be demanding. Not only will you meet fascinating new people, you’ll also get closer to ‘meeting’ yourself and figuring out what you want to create with your life.
To cope with this and build a writing habit that lasts, it is important to pace yourself. As Michael Ashcroft (mentor in cohorts 6, 7 and 8) says:
Write Of Passage is somewhere between a sprint and a marathon. The course itself lasts six weeks, but then you’ll be writing for years to come. Keep that long term ambition in mind and try not to burn yourself out in week two.
- If you fall behind, don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone will miss a deadline or miss a few sessions. It's normal. This is a tough course.
- Maintain healthy habits. Don’t neglect the normal building blocks in your life. Get enough sleep. Find down time. Exercise, eat well and meditate. Without these foundations, your creativity will be strained.
2. Creating a habit of shipping
What should you concentrate on if you can’t get around to everything the course has to offer?
Focus on publishing the essays. If you fall behind, you can go through the lessons again later. But try to keep up with the weekly publishing requirement come hell or high water. This is the most important thing to get into a cadence and create a writing habit.
Before taking Write of Passage, I used to have this vague idea that one day I would sit down in my study, sip some coffee and crack out an essay. That day never came. The course provided the forcing function I needed to actually start publishing. Since September I have published 13 essays, 3 newsletters and 3 atomic essays. I built a website and my email list has grown to 67 subscribers.
- Completion over perfection. This mindset helps me press ‘publish’. You have many ideas that deserve to see the light of day. Keep your writing to a high standard, but don’t block up your funnel of future essays by trying to perfect the current one.
- Attend the Writing Gyms. Silent writing without distractions works wonders. Take this time to focus on your writing. Switch off notifications and get into flow.
- Crossfit for Writing. Building a writing habit is essential. Crossfit provides training wheels for that. These are intense two-hour sessions where you go from idea to first draft. I love the energy and the pace of these sessions. Other people find it distracting. Try it out and figure out if it works for you.
3. Generating ideas
What should you write about?
If you are coming into the course without a clear idea of your area of expertise, start as an Archaeologist and evolve into an Architect.
With the Archaeologist mindset, you keep digging and creating different content. You'll hit some dead ends, but by continuing to write and publish, you'll eventually find the topics that resonate with you.
Over time you will become the Architect. At this stage, you know what your niche is and you can create content around that. David describes this as achieving your Personal Monopoly:
The ultimate goal of writing online is to build a Personal Monopoly. It’s your unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits where you can be known as the best thinker on a topic and open yourself up to the serendipity that makes writing online so special.
- Document, don’t create. Instead of searching for inspiration, look at the things you’re already consuming (the books you're reading and podcasts you're listening to) and the things you are already doing (your work and your habits). Then go one step further and document (publish) the things that resonate with you. This has been one of my favourite mindset shifts. Every piece doesn't have to be profound or highly original. Documenting also counts.
- Keep digging. Don’t worry if your niche doesn’t jump at you immediately. I am still refining my personal monopoly. One of the reasons I signed up again is to continue exploring this. I want to bring my career and work into my writing to complete my content flywheel.
4. Speaking up
In Write of Passage, like other cohort-based courses, the biggest value comes from attending the live sessions and joining the breakout rooms. In this way, you meet other students and you help each other work through problems and ideas.
Bring ideas and questions to these sessions. I still remember the stage fright I had when I asked David my first question on one of the calls. Since then I’ve become more relaxed. I would encourage you to raise your hand and ask questions. Odds are you and your course mates will benefit.
From Charlie Bleecker (lead mentor in cohorts 6 and 7):
It’s okay if you’re shy or nervous. My heart was pounding and my armpits were sweating during every single live session in the first cohort. But whether you’re struggling with something or you had a breakthrough, there’s a good chance the whole group can benefit from your experience.
- Try to attend the live sessions. If, like me, you live in a tricky time zone (live sessions are at 1am European time) and you can’t attend all the sessions, make up for it by attending the mentor sessions and writing gyms. There are many ways to take part.
- Be specific. Come into breakout rooms with as much specificity as possible. Being vague about your problem or idea gives your peers nothing to work with.
- Mute the Zoom chat if it’s distracting. The chat happening on the side of the live session can be a distraction. Usually the comments are from alumni and mentors catching up with each other. Listen to David instead. Like Tommy Lee (one of the cohort 8 mentors) says:
It’s like watching a movie for the first time with the cast commentary on. We don’t do that.
- Write like you are talking to a friend at a bar. Use Otter when you explain your essay to your course mates. When you explain your idea out loud, it’s much more natural and conversational. Listen to how your peers rephrase your idea. They are often better at finding your shiny dime.
5. Finding your tribe
Write of Passage attracts a unique mix of people who are smart, curious, and above all, show a huge amount of empathy and willingness to support each other. You will meet forces of nature - people with high energy, creating brilliant businesses, courses and careers.
Make the most of this network. By sharing more of yourself and your work, it becomes easier to make friends. As Michael Ashcroft points out:
This flips the conventional model of ‘networking’ on its head. When you share more of yourself online, you create more opportunities for other people to discover you and realise that you’d probably hit it off.
- Set up 1-on-1s. If you like someone’s blog, reach out to that person and ask them how they built the elements you find interesting. If you like a person’s style of writing, reach out and ask them what their influences are. You could set up a Calendly page, which makes it easier to share your schedule and set up meetings.
- Find your wolfpack. Find a group of people that you resonate with. People whose feedback you value. I still meet with over a dozen friends from cohort 7 on a regular basis. People who I can rely on to review my essays and brainstorm ideas.
- Sharing is caring. If you find something cool or interesting, share it with everyone in the Watercooler. That’s how you add value. Whether it’s a video or a Notion template or a system. It all helps.
6. Giving and receiving feedback
The backbone of Write of Passage rests on students giving each other feedback. Not only should you know how to give feedback, you should also know how to receive feedback.
Giving feedback helps the person whose piece you are reviewing, but it also improves your writing. I realised I’m quite good at spotting good versus bad flow, for example if the paragraphs don’t connect or if the main idea is hidden in the text or if there aren’t enough breadcrumbs for readers.
Receiving feedback is equally as valuable. The best feedback I received was to add more personal anecdotes to my writing and bleed on the page. To not skim over the difficult parts, but actually go deeper into the issue I’m tackling.
While you should be open to receiving feedback, you shouldn’t let it dishearten you. This is something I've struggled with personally. The reviewers mean no harm, but sometimes a bunch of comments are a gut punch after you have poured a lot of energy into an essay.
I like Morgan Housel's view on this. He says you are writing for an audience of one. You can’t please everybody. You need to be happy with your writing first and foremost. If someone else likes it, that's a bonus.
- Use the 3x rule. For every essay you post, try to review at least three other essays from course mates.
- Record your screen. When giving feedback, try out Loom. It’s a screen recording tool that captures your face and your screen while you are commenting on a piece of work. In this case, someone else’s essay in Google Docs. In this way you can give more nuanced feedback (with facial expressions and clarifications) than only leaving brief comments in a doc.
- Reduce friction. Make it easier for people to give you feedback. Place the link to your essay at the top of your post. Explain what you want them to look at. Are you struggling with flow or the overall idea or anecdotes?
- Write for an audience of one. Use a feedback filter: be open to all the suggestions, but only apply those that are true to the essence of the piece and reject the rest. Be strong enough to back your own conviction. Otherwise the piece will no longer be yours.
- Thank people for reviewing your work. Either at the bottom of your essay or via DM or post. Acknowledge when people give you ideas.
7. Setting up tools for distribution and tracking
Publishing is only half the job. You need to get your work in front of some eyeballs as well. The best lesson I've heard on distribution is David's public-to-private bridge:
First find your audience on public platforms (Twitter, Linkedin etc.), give them insane value for free and then convert some of them to your private platform (email list and website).
My tech stack looks as follows:
- Web hosting service: Ghost. I chose Ghost because it allows you to do more customisation in the back-end, which, admittedly, I've struggled to do so far. I believe the top web hosting services (Squarespace, Webflow etc.) will all be sufficient for a blogger’s needs.
- Note-taking app: Notion. I started on Evernote, but migrated to Notion after cohort 7. Notion allows me to host notes on more than two devices for free. I also prefer the look and feel. Bonus: many creators create Notion templates which I can then buy and import into my own system. (We're not going into the 'best note-taking app' war today.)
- Email subscription service: Revue to onboard new subscribers from Twitter with an automation funnel to Ghost for publishing. See Zapier explanation below.
- Favourite social media platform: Twitter. This is where I post most of my ideas and essays. It can be a great serendipity engine if used correctly.
Actions to improve your setup:
- Switch on email replies. Make sure your email subscribers can reply to your essays. I was doing this all wrong until Michael Sklar (one of the cohort 8 mentors) helped me out. Feedback is everything: a compliment can motivate you, while a suggestion gives you areas to improve on. It all helps.
- Email subscriber funnel. One way to get more subscribers to your email list, is to set up an account on the email subscription service, Revue, and link this to your Twitter profile. Twitter owns Revue and they offer a newsletter sign-up link under your bio.
Once Revue is set up, create a Zapier link to automatically funnel your subscribers from Twitter to your email list. There are many Zaps to choose from. Here is a link for Revue to ConvertKit.
- Notion. It is useful to track key metrics like feedback given, new course mates met, subscribers etc. You can use this Notion tracking template to get going. Delete the rows you don’t need and feel free to add more. Kudos to Michael Sklar for the original list of ideas.
- Atomic essays. If you have a shorter, 'atomic' piece (around 250 words) you can share it as a single screenshot on Twitter (like George Mack did below). Typeshare is a great platform if you want to create basic templates. For more flexibility, try out Figma.
- Google Analytics. Set up analytics on your website. Your stats won’t be super interesting initially, but over time you will be able to track where your traffic comes from, which articles are the most popular and how readers click through your links.
There are many more strategies you'll pick up in the course itself. You are in for an amazing journey. Here's to pressing publish and building a network of writing buddies.
See you there!
Thanks to Jess Schanz and Melissa Menke for reading drafts of this essay.
For more information and tips on getting the most from Write of Passage, I highly recommend these three articles: