The advice in these columns is sound, but what I rarely see is some of the less-obvious ways a writer can fall into bad habits or the less-obvious ways they can separate themselves from the pack.
In this two-part series I’ll discuss both the pitfalls (the sins) that should be avoided, and the positive attributes (the virtues) that should be embraced.
Sin #1: Trying to know everything.
I’ve gotten better at this over time, but even to this day I could avoid quite a few headaches by picking up the phone or firing off an email to one of the many people I know who are capable of answering a question or providing a quote.
Yes it takes time, but when in doubt, ask someone who knows more than you do to provide a statement or clarify a complex issue for you.
Sin #2: Thinking your memory is perfect.
Along the same lines, don’t rely on your memory.
The date of an event, the buy-in of a tournament, the spelling of a person’s name, or where you first heard about x, should always be checked. Certain events are likely seared into your memory (Black Friday = April 15, 2011), but other dates are often less clear (when was UIGEA signed into law? Sometime in late 2006. What year did Atlantic City legalize casinos, 1976 or 1978?) and take two seconds to Google.
The reason this is important is because nothing will delegitimize a salient point faster than an inaccuracy.
When in doubt, look something up.
Sin #3: Overpromising and under-delivering.
This goes without saying, but missing deadlines, or taking on work you can’t do is a surefire way to ruin your reputation in the tight-knit poker media world. For a writer, being able to meet deadlines and article quotas is as important as stringing a sentence together.
If you really want to write for top-notch outlets you have to deliver in a timely, consistent manner.
Furthermore, if something is outside of your area of expertise, don’t be afraid to pass on the job.
Sure, for a lot of subjects you can probably do the work by spending some extra time and energy researching the topic, but it’s going to be less polished than articles on topics that are in your wheelhouse, making it less likely you’ll be the first choice for future content.
Unless you really need the work, don’t say yes just because you’re offered a job.
Sin #4: Writing for clicks.
Being able to drive traffic is a must, but some people take this to the extreme, and go full New York Post Page 6 or Buzzfeed with the bulk of their columns.
This great for the website, but not so much for your writing career.
Writing newsworthy content, and writing informative and/or insightful articles is how you’ll improve your personal brand and get your name out there. Clicks will bring people to the website, but authors of click-bait tend to remain relatively anonymous.
Listicles and summaries of the latest forum gossip will help pay the bills, but you can also get stuck in writing purgatory where every article is some version of:
[Insert famous poker player or celebrity] + stole/won/prop bet + Some ungodly amount of money = article.
A randomly selected number followed by the word “ways” + [Insert famous poker player or celebrity] + pop culture reference = article.
Again, good for website traffic; not so good to build a writing resume and promote your personal brand.
Sin #5: Spamming.
I tweet out about 75% of the content I write and people who follow me know my Twitter account will promote most of the content I write. That’s where to find my professional content.
On the other hand, I post about 1% of the content I write to my Facebook page (my Facebook isn’t work-related) because I don’t want all of my friends and family to mute the spammer.
There’s nothing wrong with promoting your work, but posting and reposting the same thing across five different social media channels (to the same followers) is only going to get you so far.
Sin #6: Staying in your comfort zone part 1.
If you excel (can write it quickly and effortlessly) at writing certain types of content it’s easy to fall into a rut where you only write about topics that fall within this narrow range. This is beneficial on some levels because you’re working smarter and perhaps establishing yourself as an expert. But it also means you’re unlikely to be challenging yourself.
Even though I often spend more time researching columns than writing them – I speak to lawmakers, regulators, gaming industry executives, and other people important to my work pretty much every day – I find this added time and effort extremely beneficial and worthwhile. Yes, it would be much easier to just write “Man Wins Tournament” and “New WSOP.com promo announced” type articles and not have to interact with anyone, but that will only get you so far. If you focus on how quickly you can write something you’re going to find your ceiling much lower – you might hit it faster, but it’s hard to raise it.
Challenging yourself to write researched columns might cost you some pay due to the added time, but it also makes you invaluable to your employer, and helps differentiate you from your peers. It takes longer to reach it, but your ceiling is much higher.
Sin #7: Staying in your comfort zone part 2.
Similarly, you have to go outside the comfort zone of all writers, meaning, the written word.
In my interview with Robbie Strazynski, I mentioned how I routinely attend gaming conferences, and occasionally speak at them. I’ve gone on many podcasts and I’ve also done some consulting work.
All of these things were, at one point, outside my comfort zone. But all of these things have opened doors for me as a writer, and I’ve actually come to enjoy doing them.
When I have spoken publicly (at gaming conferences and on podcasts) sometimes I’ve done well; other times I haven’t. But like dissecting a poker hand after the fact, I’ve learned to critique what and how I said things, and try to figure out how I could have said it better, so the next time I’ll be sharper.