For a 2018 writing survey, I asked hundreds of writers that question alongside several other questions about writing, publishing and more.
I asked questions like:
What’s your biggest frustration when it comes to writing?
I sent this writing survey to readers of my blog and subscribers to my email list.
Hundreds of writers responded to this survey.
In this post, I’ll reveal the survey results and provide you with resources for answering your common questions about writing.
Why I Ran a Writing Survey
So aren’t surveys a little boring?
If you’re a blogger or non-fiction writer, surveys are a great way of finding of your readers’ hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations.
Then, you can use this information to improve the quality of your writing. You can also use it to write books or create courses your readers want.
As famous copywriter David Ogilvy once said:
“I don't know the rules of grammar… If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”
And what better what to use find out what vernacular sounds like than through a survey?
Finally, survey answers are a good source of inspiration for topics to write about (the struggle is real).
How I Ran the Writing Survey
Surveys are easy to run these days.
In the past, I used SurveyMonkey. It’s a good tool to a point, but you have to pay for accessing all of your results once you get more than 100 respondents.
I created this writer survey using Google Forms. It only took a few minutes to create and I sent a link to subscribers using ConvertKit.
How You Can Run a Survey
Are you wondering how can I write a survey?
Google Forms makes it easy to run a survey and understand the results.
I suggest figuring out what the purpose of your survey is in advance.
For example, do you want to:
- Uncover answers that reveal what your audience is struggling with
- Improve your products or services (i.e. books, courses)
- Learn more about your customers (or readers)
- Find new ideas for products or services
This template may help:
The purpose of this survey is to (understand, describe, develop, discover) the (main issue or problem) for (your target audience).
Now, here are my tips for writing survey questions:
- Use clear, concise language
- Focus on one small idea per question
- Keep the survey short i.e 1-3 questions is ideal, but avoid more than 10
- Avoid leading questions i.e. would you like it if I sold…?
- Break up your survey by changing the question type (i.e. from yes or no, multiple choice, open-ended)
- Break longer surveys up into multiple pages
Types of Surveys You Could Run
I recommend every non-fiction writer or blogger runs a survey at some point. You could:
- Ask your readers what they're struggling with right now in a one question survey.
- Send beta readers advanced copies of your books and use a survey to gather feedback.
- Ask readers of your books why they bought and what you could do to improve your next book.
Google Forms automatically categorised some of the demographical results for me.
I also exported the results from Google Forms and imported it into Excel. There, I sorted through the data.
You can find the questions I asked subscribers for the writing survey and the results below alongside some resources that will help you conquer your biggest writing challenges.
But first… let's cover who I surveyed.
Are you male or female?
What is your age?
These questions in my writing survey are straight up demographic ones.
Demographic information about the gender and age of readers and gives me a better idea of who I’m writing too. I can then tailor my articles accordingly.
It’s also useful for creating more targeted Facebook ads for books, products and articles.
I wasn’t hugely surprised by the results of these two demographical questions as I spend a lot of time emailing readers one-to-one on my list.
In other words:
I had an idea of who is subscribing… and these results confirmed it.
What type of writer are you?
This is the most important question every writer must ask themselves!
For years, I wanted to become a literary novelist and I spent hours each night trying to write an important Irish novel.
Suffice to say, I got nowhere.
Although I eventually self-published a novella, it didn’t sell. It took me a long time to figure out I’m a non-fiction writer at heart.
Interestingly, the more advanced writers on my list identified as a fiction or non-fiction writers without question.
In some cases, these writers said they like to pursue both types of writing, but they almost always indicated a preference.
So, for the purposes of these results, I picked the type of writing they said they’re most interested in.
Newer writers felt less sure about what type of writer they are. One person even asked what the question meant!
I get it.
This is a question you can only answer by turning up in front of the blank page and doing the work.
What is your biggest fear or frustration when it comes to writing?
For my writing survey, I wanted to know what types of problems my audience is facing so I could create articles, videos and courses to help. I was also curious about the types of problems new writers face.
A good blogger or non-fiction writer knows how to address the fears or frustrations of their readers… and then allay them.
The biggest surprise to me is how many writers are afraid of success…or failure.
Lots of respondents, for example, said they worry about what their friends and family will think of their books or articles.
When I wrote fiction I often worried what people would think when I wrote about sex. I realised that there’s a big difference between what you write… and who you are.
What would you like your life to look like as a result of becoming a successful writer?
Flat screen televisions.
A bigger house.
We all want things right?
Well, it turns out writers want very specific things.
These include having ideas to write about, being able to write, publishing books, selling them and, yes, earning money ($$$).
Again, I received dozens of replies to this question so I categorised around several recurring themes.
Love of the craft refers to writing because it’s a personal goal to write a book or you feel compelled to tell your story.
For example, one respondent said:
“I want to write for fun!”
Making an impact refers to writing articles or publishing books that change the lives of readers or which help them in some small way.
For example, one respondent said:
“I'd like to relay my experience so [I can provide] more resources and assistance…to help children with disabilities.”
Freedom refers to finally finishing that book and ticking it off a bucket list or writing because it’s a passion project.
For example, one respondent said:
“I would like to finish certain projects before I die. I don't care as much about income or impact on the world (although income is of course vital, but it doesn't have to come from writing).”
Career and money refers to writing to earn a side-income or full-time income or because it will advance your career in a way.
For example, one respondent said:
“It will help me in my career as a student and a professional who uses English to communicate”
What is your single most important question about writing?
Over the past few years, I’ve received hundreds of replies to this question through this writing survey, via email and through previous surveys.
So, I’ve categorised these answers around key themes or commonly asked questions about writing.
Q. Am I a good enough writer?
Frankly, if you’re reading a blog about writing and you’re writing consistently (see below) then yes, yes you are good enough.
Ok, so you may need to improve elements of your craft and writers at all levels are always learning, but now you’re in the room.
Q. How to improve as a writer?
By turning up every day and writing consistently.
By getting constructive feedback from people who aren’t your best friend, parent or spouse
Q. Where do I start writing?
You have to start somewhere. Write about what makes you feel angry. Or inspired. Or sad.
Write a journal entry.
Or use one of these writing prompts.
Q. How to find motivation for writing?
In short, establish your why.
Before any big writing project, I write down 5-7 reasons why it’s important. I use these as fuel for writing.
Check this post out if you’re struggling to find a motivation to write.
Q. How do I focus on writing?
Speaking as someone who balances writing with a young family, focus is a real challenge.
Even if you don’t have kids our attention is under attack via our phones, notifications, social media and so on.
Now, I like to wake up early to write before the demands of the day take over.
If you’re not a morning person, I recommend block booking time in your calendar for writing at the same time every day… and then keep your appointment!
(Your phone isn’t invited).
Q. How can I learn to tighten up my writing?
Lots of writers have questions about grammar, sentence structure and so on.
For bigger writing projects, always work with an editor; you can find one via Reedsy.
Q. How to write every day?
My number one tip for writing every day is Don’t Break the Chain.
Tell them Jerry Seinfeld sent you.
Q. How to finish writing a book?
Break your book down into small milestones or chapters that you tick off one-by-one. Set yourself a deadline and stick to it. Accept that done is better than perfect.
Q. How can I get my writing out there?
In Tools of the Titans, top non-fiction author Tim Ferriss writes that the key to success is combining two skills you are good at.
“You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.”
For writers who want to get their work out there (i.e. find readers) learn the basics of marketing.
Survey your readers.
Study how other successful writers market their books.
Q. How do I become a success?
Define what success looks like for you.
Do you want to earn more money, improve your craft, make an impact on readers or just tick writing a book off your bucket list?
Fear, not brave writer.
I cover these worrying questions in The Art of Writing a Non-Fiction Book.
Over to You
My biggest takeaway from running this writing survey is writers of all types face the same types of challenges: self-doubt, procrastination, a hunger for success (or readers) and so on.
The good news is more advanced writers have answered these questions in many different ways.
We too can answer these questions by learning from the experts.
All it takes is a willingness to work hard and learn.
Do these survey results reflect your experience as a writer?
Would you like to earn an income or make an impact with your writing? And what does Jerry Seinfeld have to do with all of this anyway?
Let me know in the comments section below.
(HT to David Wogan on Quora for insights into how to write a survey.)
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