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Nicolas Cole: On Data-Driven Writing and Getting to 100 Million Views

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: December 9, 2020

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“You have to surround yourself with the people that are a version of who you ultimately want to become.” – Nicolas Cole

To date, Nicolas Cole’s (@Nicolascole77) writing has racked up more than 100 million views. His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, The Chicago Tribune, Apple News, Slate Magazine, Inc Magazine, and on CNBC. While he’s focused more on writing books, he started his career on Quora, of all places—where he’s been named a Top Writer four different times.

Nicolas is also the Founder and CEO of Digital Press, where he’s helped over 300 leaders create great content and, in many cases, publish their first book. Digital Press’s clients include NYT best-selling authors, Olympic athletes, award-winning musicians, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and founders of some of the fastest-growing companies in the world.

His latest book, The Art and Business of Online Writing: How to Beat the Game of Capturing and Keeping Attention, is an incredible primer to writing online. It includes a slew of counterintuitive tips, tricks, and ideas for finding your voice and building an audience in record time.

Topics Discussed

  • 00:00:17 – World of Warcraft, Celiac disease, and bodybuilding
  • 00:04:36 – The three-step journey to mastery of any skill
  • 00:07:56 – The mental game of self-belief vs. desperation
  • 00:14:16 – Goal setting and why self-publishing is a good idea for authors
  • 00:21:21 – Managing multiple writing projects
  • 00:23:59 – The Art and Business of Online Writing, and why writing interested Nicolas
  • 00:27:24 – The importance of using data for successful online writing
  • 00:37:39 – Advice for writers who are just getting started online
  • 00:48:14 – The secrets of ghost writing
  • 00:59:11 – The writing process
  • 01:03:15 – Amassing a large body of work, and the odds of virality
  • 01:07:52 – Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, and about writing memoirs
  • 01:09:54 – Books and articles that have inspired Nicolas
  • 01:15:17 – Nicolas’ daily habits, and the importance of mentors  

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

Writing by Nicolas Cole

Books written by Nicolas Cole

Books Recommended

The Takeaway

The most important element of becoming a successful writer is to simply get your work out into the open and listen to feedback—especially what the data is telling you about what’s working and not working. Figure out what is resonating with your audience, and course correct from there. As with any learned skill, you must practice in public to improve.

Actionable Ideas

  • “Step one is: you have to learn the rules of the game. The second step is: start asking, ‘what is required of me to adopt some of the skills in order to then start making progress?’ …The third step is: you have to surround yourself with the people that are the version of you that you ultimately want to become.” 
  • “It’s like your motivation changes after you make some money; that desperation is gone… So a little thing that I like doing with myself is I intentionally withhold things to kind of recreate that desperation. I’ll be like, ‘You know what? You’re not watching Netflix this month. Or, you know what? You’re not allowed to drink alcohol this month. And I withhold things so that I can recreate that feeling of, my life depends on this.”
  • “A lot of people, when they set out to write, think they know what they should write about. They think they know what people want from them. It’s not until they write 10 or 20 things that all of a sudden, data says, ‘hey, I thought people cared about your marketing advice, but it’s actually your insights on relationships that people really value.’ So if you listen to the data, the data will tell you what people want. And then you just keep listening to it and you keep doubling down on it. And then your free content informs your paid content, and your paid content and informs your speaking, and it just becomes this flywheel.”
  • “You’re way better off writing really unique reviews on Yelp than you are starting a blog, because you’re tapping into an environment that moves and has people there. And there’s a component that will give you feedback on what you’re doing. If you’re just starting a site, especially if you’re just an average person who doesn’t have a lot of digital marketing expertise, no one knows you exist. There’s no way for you to get any of that feedback.”
  • “Do not write in a vacuum. Do not sit in your room and hide it away in your journal and be like, ‘I will wait five years until it’s perfect to reveal it to the world.’ You have to be finding some sort of way to practice in public; otherwise you are losing and you are falling behind all the other people that are using data.”
  • “I really believe that we’re all blank slates, and our habits and what we practice shape who we are as human beings. Over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t always force that; but the important part is that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it today. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice. It’s okay to write something that’s terrible. What matters is that you sat down to write, because what you’re really doing is practicing the habit of sitting down to write, which means you’re going to show up again tomorrow. But if you don’t do that, then it gets easier the next day to go, ‘ah, I’m not feeling it today either.’ And then three months goes by, and then you’re screwed.”
“You have to surround yourself with the people that are a version of who you ultimately want to become.” — Nicolas Cole

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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