The #1 Secret Of The Top 1% Writers

You want to be in the top 1% of writers.

You want to be part of the creme-de-la-creme, the upper class creatives, the genius-level craftsmen.

But you feel like you’ve been knocking against an invisible ceiling, trying to get there.

You compare your writing to the Greats, and you feel sorely lacking.

Your articles don’t sound as polished as you want them to sound, they aren’t producing the results you want them to produce, you aren’t feeling as confident as you want yourself to feel.

Sometimes you wonder if you’ve really got what it takes.

Here’s the thing:

The fact that you’re reading this article hints that you HAVE got what it takes.

You have the interest, and you have the intrinsic motivation. After all, you’re reading this because you were actively searching for strategies to improve your skills.

The real problem isn’t you, the problem is your strategies.


In the 1990s, a bicycle coach who took the British cycling team from hopelessly mediocre to winning the Tour De France AND the Olympics.*

He used a technique called Aggregation of Marginal Gains. In other words, learning to improve 1% in nearly everything you do.

This cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, came up with dozens of “little” things to help his riders improve, a fraction at a time. Some of his ideas were understandable:

  • He got better, more ergonomic seats for the riders
  • He put slightly lighter tires on the bikes
  • He had riders wear biofeedback sensors

But Brailsford also applied this “1% Rule” to some odd things, such as:

  • Painting the inside of the truck white so that dust would show up more easily, and be cleaned up before it could get stuck in the bike tires
  • Figured out the best pillows to improve each rider’s sleep quality.
  • Split testing different massage gels to figure out which helped riders’ muscles recover best

In any case, the strategy worked. In 2 years, Brailsford had taken the British cycling team from an embarrassment to winners of the Tour De France.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains philosophy has been shared in many forms: Mini Habits and The Compound Effect, to name a few.

The main point is simply to accomplish massive things through tiny, bite-sized efforts.

But 1% gains alone is not enough.

You have to STICK with it.

The returns of any creative endeavor don’t really start gaining real momentum until you are somewhere between Year 3 and Year 5 of continuous pursuit of this topic.

Of course, it depends on you and your topic — on how fast you learn, how lucky you are, how much background experience you already have.

But if you combine the Aggregation of Marginal Gains with a long timeframe, you will be unstoppable.

*I first discovered Brailsford’s through James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits

How to Improve By 1% Practically? A Step-By-Step Example

The key to improving at any skill or task is to break it down. I mean REALLY break it down.

This is going to require a significant amount of curiosity, experimentation, and tenacity. But you can do it.

There are 4 steps to improving by 1% every day:

  1. Set your overall goal
  2. Determine what areas can be/need to be improved
  3. Determine what you can do to improve in those areas
  4. Run experiments on each of those areas and adjust accordingly

For example, here is what I am doing with my writing:

First, set your overall goal

My goal is to become a brilliant writer. But that goal is too vague. I need to laser-focus my definition. So here it is:

My definition of “brilliant,” is a writer who:

  1. Produces valuable content
  2. Produces polished content

And let’s drill down a bit further: What do I mean by “valuable” and “polished”?

  • Valuable: Content that inspires, edifies, and educates people. Information that helps people (myself and my readers) in a practical way. For example, how-to articles that motivate people and give them actual, actionable steps to take to reach their goals. Content that can help me support myself and my family.
  • Polished: Content that reads easily, entertains, coaxes readers to read rather than turns them off or invites them to click away.

Second, determine what areas can be improved

Okay, now that I’ve defined my goal, how can I reach it?

To create VALUABLE content, I need to:

  1. Improve my “marketing” skills: Learn what my focus audience needs and wants most.
  2. Collect/produce more useful stories, anecdotes, ideas, and information to share.

To create POLISHED content, I need to:

  1. Write better headlines.
  2. Improve my storytelling skills.
  3. Improve my humor writing skills.
  4. Improve different elements of articles: introduction, conclusion, organization
if you combine the Aggregation of Marginal Gains with a long timeframe, you will be unstoppable.Click To Tweet

Third, determine how you can improve those areas

The key is to break each of these areas down into the smallest possible fragments, and then figure out a way to turn these angles into mini-experiments. Here is my plan:

Experiments to improve VALUABLE content writing ability:

  1. Improve my communication/relationship with people in my space 🙂
    a) Reply to comments on articles sooner
    b) Keep better track of influencer content production and share/help
    c) Work on email communication (email subject line, segmenting audiences)
  2. Consume more helpful content
    a) Places where I find content: e-library, Lynda.com, podcasts. Find more/better ways to integrate content consumption into daily life (ex: podcasting while doing dishes)
    b) Maximize book notes: increase speed, change structure of book notes articles to create more value up front for myself and future readers

Experiments to improve POLISHED content writing ability:

  1. Write better headlines
    a) Create the habit of writing 20 potential headlines per article. Make it a game, go as fast as possible.
    b) Study headlines by skilled writers like Jon Morrow, Brian Clark, etc, in chunks.
    c) Create and regularly review/add to a swipe file of top headlines.
  2. Improve storytelling skills
    a) Find, read, and take book notes on most-recommended storytelling books
    b) Review book notes at scheduled intervals (every few months)
    c) Practice storytelling skills regularly: either by writing short stories at regular intervals, or by incorporating stories into weekly emails to the Brilliant Writer community.
    d) Create a swipe file of short stories and anecdotes, particularly those woven into articles.
    e) Analyze a novel series, using the structures learned from storytelling books.
  3. Improve humor writing skills
    a) Find, read, analyze, and take notes on skilled humor writers’ works.
    b) Implement what I learn in weekly Brilliant Writer emails.
  4. Improve different elements of articles
    a) The Ben Franklin strategy: Collect, analyze and rewrite top posts
    b) Rewrite old posts: Archive/take stock of current portfolio, choose articles with most potential, reduce chosen articles to outline skeletons, wait, then recreate.

Four, run experiments on each of these areas

The first part of experimentation is to plan ahead. Once I’ve chosen which particular skill breakdown I want to work on, I come up with a plan to practice and test it, then I get out my calendar and figure out when and how I’m going to work on it.

For example, let’s say I take Improve my communication/relationship with readers.

Broken down, this goal looks like this:
a) Reply to comments on articles sooner
b) Keep better track of influencer content production and share/help
c) Work on email communication (email subject line, segmenting audiences)

For a) I can set 10 min a day, or perhaps half an hour once or twice a week to specifically answer comments. (I’m a bit behind, so I want to add some time to catch up on old comments)

For b) I will take a day to create a spreadsheet of influencers I admire, and collect their blog URLs, Youtube channels, Twitter handles, FB pages in one place. Then I will schedule 10 minutes a day or 1 hour a week to just go through the list and read/comment on/share their content, and once a week, try to reach out directly to one person to thank them for their work.

For c) I obviously need to break this one down even more. Working on writing email subject lines can be an experiment in itself, and segmenting audiences depends on how well I do at a) understanding my audience by responding to comments and emails. So for now, I will put this one aside until I feel more confident at earlier steps.

Then, monthly, or quarterly, I will rate my results. For example:

a) Have the volume of comments/communication from my audience increased (quantitative result) and become more thoughtful (qualitative result)?

b) Have I come to better understand influencers in my niche and their work (qualitative result) and how often have I heard back from them/been able to start a productive conversation/ (quantitative result)?

An Adaptable System That Works For You

Obviously, looking at this plan above is more than a bit overwhelming. I’m definitely not going to do all of it at once, nor can I. But it’s a place to start.

In the next few days, weeks, I will reconsider all of these tasks, pick one, and then start JUST ONE.

Maybe it will be “improve relationships with people in my space,” or maybe it will be “headlines.” Not sure yet. I’ll think about it.

What about you?

Whether you are a writer or other type of content creator (artist, musician, marketer, scientist, engineer, etc), you can adapt this system to your own needs.

If, for instance, you are a Youtuber, some elements you may choose to attack with your 1% plan might include: thumbnails, audio quality, video quality, SEO, etc. And each of these can be split up into smaller and smaller pieces.

If you are an artist, you can work on expanding your art medium(s), speed-drawing, trying digital art (if you’re primarily digital), marketing your art, etc.

The system is incredibly simple. All you need to do is improve by 1% every day.

Of course, 1% is hard to measure when it comes to qualitative goals like “becoming a more brilliant writer,” but really, the 1% figure is just a placeholder.

The point is not to improve by exactly 1 part in 100, because, in creative endeavors, the goalpost is always moving, and 100% is not defined.

The point is to improve a little bit, that’s all. A teensy, eensy, itty bitty little bit. Don’t try to leap ahead. Don’t try to zoom.

Just take it one little step, one tiny bite at a time.

And as long as you persist, one day, you will turn around and find yourself a more successful, creative, productive, inspiring YOU.


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2 thoughts on “The #1 Secret Of The Top 1% Writers”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    I have read the post more than one. Every time, I get a new idea.
    I think this is an example of evergreen content.
    I learned to find ways of improving persistently.
    I have learned here how to apply the ways of improving persistently.
    Thank you so much for sharing the educative post.

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