Ivan also specializes in building targeted brand mentions in high-authority sites like Shopify, BigCommerce, Entrepreneur, and MarketingProfs, among others. In his pastime, Ivan likes to help people become freelance writers in his blog, Content Fiesta.
How Did You Become a Writer?
My path towards the freelance writing field was purely coincidental. I've been a writer ever since I started my journey in the online world back in 2010. I always liked writing, so I started a blog where I shared my thoughts and ideas. I used it mostly as a way to learn and share my learnings. I didn't think much of it as I ran it only for the pleasure of writing.
Eventually, my blog helped me get a job as a "junior growth hacker," a job whose name was larger than my actual responsibilities. I never figured out what I had to do, so after I got fired (quite obviously), I wandered around trying to find another job.
One day, I saw a job listing for a writing position, and for some reason, I applied. One of the questions I got asked said, "Why are you interested in this position?" As I wrote my answer, I realized I always wanted to be a writer—it was a "Eureka" moment I will never forget. (I explain more about this experience in this article.)
After that transcendental moment, I put all my energies into becoming a writer. Six months later, I got a few paying clients, and off I was traveling the world. Since then, I've never looked back.
How Did You Get Your First Writing Job?
I once had met a successful freelance writer who happened to be visiting my hometown. We developed a good rapport, and while I only saw the guy twice, we stayed in touch for some time. Years later, once I decided I wanted to be a writer, I sent this guy an email letting him know about the news. This guy wasn't an educated writer in the traditional sense, but he was the type of writer I wanted to be: skilled, smart, and capable of commanding high rates.
After our call, this friend told me he had a lead which he wasn't interested in writing for, so he sent it my way. I got it, and soon after, I had made my first sale. I made $200 if I recall correctly.
Besides the work this referral sent me—which I think was only this client that commissioned two articles—I guest posted in dozens of high-authority sites, which also helped me get more clients. Finally, I used cold pitching and some inbound marketing from the content I had on my blog and the rankings I got from the links in my guest posts. I continue to do this work—guest posting, writing for clients, and using this work to feed my site where I can get more clients. It's hard work, but it pays off at the end.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Good Writer?
First and foremost, you need to have a passion for writing. If you see yourself writing your ideas down, double-checking every email you send, and worrying about how you write your WhatsApp messages, you may be a writer at heart. I know this looks silly, but most writers I know are like this: we care about writing. It's a craft you never stop perfecting.
Related to having a writing passion, you need to love to read. Every writer loves to read—I don't know what comes first, if reading makes you a writer or writing makes you want to read, but we're all passionate about our craft.
Finally, to close the loop, you need to love the craft. This isn't the same as loving to write—you need to love grammar, storytelling, the use of vocabulary, and everything else that makes us writers. If you don't care about grammar, for instance, you won't be able to use the rules to your advantage; you won't know how to express yourself or explain ideas.
Writing is both a passion and a craft. If you treat writing like that, you will become a good writer, no matter what.
What Influences Your Writing the Most?
I love reading nonfiction books from authors like Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Cal Newport, Ryan Holiday, and other writers I admire. I also like reading articles from traditional publications like Bloomberg and The New York Times. In either case, I don't consider these sites and writers as an inspiration per se.
I enjoy writing for my own and my clients; that's as far as I take it. I don't aspire to be a best-selling author nor a journalist—if I ever become one, great, but it's not a goal. My love for writing comes from my pleasure, and so far, I'm happy with what I've gotten from it.
What Tools and Software Do You Use for Work?
I've changed my writing tools over time. I started writing directly on WordPress without any process whatsoever. Now, I start an article on Bear, I move it to Google Docs, then edit it on Grammarly, and then I put it on WordPress. I've found Bear allows me to concentrate on my writing while Google Docs helps me edit it.
Right now, I'm trying Ulysses, a tool with many great reviews. I may try others like AIWriter and Scrivener for writing, and ProWritingAid and Ginger for editing. There are so many tools available that I feel I've got to try them all. Maybe they don't help me, but if they do, they're worth it.
What Are Your Writing Habits?
I don't have a writing habit.
I know that, somehow, I'm most productive before having lunch or at sunset. I can't write first thing in the morning; I've tried, but I can't. I still haven't developed a well-oiled writing habit, but I know some of the patterns that lead to better performance.
Some things that make it easy for me to write include:
- Develop a good outline with pointers and ideas to explore.
- Use good writing apps (the ones I mentioned before).
- Do as little searching while working.
- Listen to quiet music, either my chillhop Spotify playlist or Brain.FM.
I'm quite systematic in my writing, so I know I first need to research a lot, then write, and then edit. One of the habits that make a difference in my writing performance is reading. Reading is a habit that feeds my writing—without it, I wouldn't be able to write as I do.
What’s the Best Investment You Made in Your Career?
I don't believe in the "one thing that changed everything" idea. Life, to me, is much less linear than that. But some of the best investments that, looking back, have helped me in my career include:
- Buying a MacBook Pro—I did so in 2015, and it's still running!
- Buying books—Kindle, paper, or audiobook.
- Buying a Grammarly premium account.
Not to get philosophical, but the best investment is my time; the time I spend reading, writing, and improving my writing.
What Are the Most Influential Books in Your Life?
There are two types of influential books I've read:
- Those that aren't work-related
- Those that are
In the first category, I can name several, including:
- The Four-Hour Work Week: I think a big part of my generation of digital entrepreneurs and workers have started thanks to the "dream life" Tim Ferriss sold in his book. I know what he talks about isn't a reality so much as a lifestyle or a dream, but his book continues to influence me.
- So Good They Can't Ignore You: This book changed my life in the way I think about skills and progress. According to its author, Cal Newport, passion doesn't matter; skill does. Put your energies on improving them, and eventually, you will get what you want. Another book from Newport, Deep Work, has also helped me a lot.
- Most Nicholas Nassim Taleb books: Nicholas Nassim Taleb is the kind of thinker who can change your mind about life without realizing it. I can't remember what it was that influenced me so much, but all I know is that I always ended up rethinking my life after reading his books. Antifragile, Skin in the Game, and Fooled by Randomness are his best.
On the work side, there are many books I've read that have helped me improve a lot as a writer. I've written extensively about these influential writing books, but some of them include:
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- All Roy Peter Clark's books, including Writing Tools, Help! For Writers, and The Glamour of Grammar
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
What Are Your Favorite Writing Quotes?
I don't have writing quotes I follow. I have ideas and principles which I've gained from the writing books I've mentioned above. Some of these include:
“All good writers write shitty first drafts. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” – Anne Lamott
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.” – Stephen King
“You learn to write by writing. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.” – William Zinnser
I don't repeat these quotes—I can barely remember them. But from these ideas I've gained, I know that:
- No first draft is ever good, so I've got to deal with it.
- No inspiration will come out of nowhere; I have to stimulate it.
- I can only improve as a writer by writing.
By taking these quotes as principles and adopting their philosophies, I feel that I can get a little closer to these successful writers.
If Someone Wants to Be Where You Are Now, How Can They Get There?
Looking back, some of my success came from doing a few things right.
- Write often—and a lot.
- Think of writing as a skill and a craft to improve and perfect over time.
- Always pitch to newer, bigger publications.
- Challenge me, never settling down.
All of these actions came from using my common sense, not by planning or thinking them through. Anyone who would want to get to where I am should do likewise and follow these action steps.