Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in your field. That’s a long time. Now 10 minutes, that’s much more doable, and that’s how long it takes to enjoy one of our expert interviews.

Susan Johnston is a prolific writer and journalist whose blog, The Urban Muse, has twice been named a Top 10 Blog for Writers. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and SELF Magazine, to name a few. She’s even had an article translated into French and Chinese! Plus she’s the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets which covers more than 50 websites that freelance writers will find resourceful. Blogging has changed, and continues to change, the information landscape, which is why it has become such an important cog in marketing.

We asked Susan a few questions on writing, her career, blogging and journalism, and we think you’ll inch closer to expert status once you read her answers.

How are things different for writers these days than they were 20 or 30 years ago?

Wow! The Internet has completely changed the game. When I was a kid, I used to submit poetry and short stories to places like Stone Soup and Cricket Magazine. This was before the Internet and AOL went mainstream so you’d have to snail mail your submission and include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to get a response. With email submissions, it’s much faster, plus you more have more potential avenues for getting published in blogs, eBooks, mobile apps… you name it.

When, how, and why did you first realize that it was the “writer’s life” for you?

I’ve always been interested in writing but for a long time I thought you had to write novels and it would be so hard to be at the mercy of your muse. I won an honorable mention in a Cricket Magazine contest at age 9 and even then I think I knew on some level how hard it would be to earn a living as a novelist. With journalism, ideas are all around you so that’s a bit different. I got interested in journalism when I was in high school writing for the school paper.

What will the writer of the future look like?

Google Glass, perhaps? I’m sure some writers will still carry paper notebooks because there’s something very appealing about the tactile sensation of pen and paper.

How do you think the future will look with regards to eBooks and printed books?

I hope that both continue to coexist and that publishers ultimately find better revenue models, although I think that is likely to come from entrepreneurial-minded writers, not necessarily big legacy publishers.

What has been your strangest writing assignment?

A few different ones come to mind. I was hired by an online dating company to help people improve their profiles. I liked the idea of helping people who didn’t have confidence in their writing find love (à la Cyrano de Bergerac), but the reality is that people often had unrealistic expectations and sometimes just wanted you to do the work for them instead of collaborating with them. I also spent a few years writing product descriptions of toys (action figures, toy ovens, etc.), which was pretty fun.

How do you ensure you remain prolific?

I follow topics that interest me and my natural curiosity ensures that there’s never a shortage of ideas.

How do you think the journalism landscape is changing?

Blogging has made it possible for virtually anyone to publish content but that doesn’t necessarily make them a journalist. Some of the old rules about objectivity are changing but I think it’s important to remember the importance of journalistic ethics (for instance, disclosing any potential conflicts of interest) and fact-checking.

How does good writing contribute to SEO?

Google penalizes poor writing that stuffs keywords into content artificially. Good writing uses keywords but in an organic way that makes sense to readers, not just search engines.

How do you think writers can market themselves better on the Internet?

By going beyond just a blog or website but having an online presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and possibly Facebook. Also, regular updates show that you’re still active online.

How do you define “quality writing”?

Quality writing brings fresh insights to a topic instead of a regurgitating what’s already online. It’s copy edited to be a free of logical or grammatical errors but it also has a strong voice.

How do writers provide value in the online marketplace?

Good writers know to go for credible information and they ask interesting questions that help bring the writing to life. These are all valuable traits, in my opinion.

So, a good writer needs to be a good journalist. When we look at how we use content with our online marketing efforts, we need to still abide by many of the rules of journalism. To find out more about Susan, check out her blog The Urban Muse.

Ryan Peter is a ghostwriter, journalist, copywriter and author of amazing books. Photo credits: