It’s April! Don’t ask me where March went, because I have no idea. But it’s time once again for a pair of Content Excellence Challenge prompts.
Each month this year, we’ll give you two prompts — one intended to make you a better writer and one intended to make you a more productive one.
This month’s prompts both share a creative dimension and an ultra pragmatic one. Because creativity and pragmatism are like air and water — you need both of them to make it.
Ready or not, here we go:
The April Creativity Prompt
Remember last month’s creative challenge to find keywords?
(If you did that one, drop a note in the comments and gloat over the lesser mortals who didn’t quite get around to it. You know you want to.)
This month we’re approaching the same critter, but with a different net.
Starting today, every day until the next Content Challenge post, go to a social media site and copy some phrases written by your target audience.
Let’s face it; you’re already hanging out there anyway. And while we all definitely want to know what you think about Bulletproof Coffee, you might as well use that time to do some listening, too.
Write down, word for word, what people are saying about your topic. You might find a phrase, a sentence, or a full paragraph … you never know what’s going to show up on a given day.
You’re looking for:
Important: Make sure you label these as someone else’s words when you copy them down. You can use something crazy like quotation marks and the name of the person who originally wrote it. Date each entry, with a note about where you found it.
You don’t want to come back to this in six months, think you wrote these phrases, and accidentally plagiarize someone else’s wording.
What you’re mining for are scraps. Word choices. Conceptual frameworks. Mindsets. Approaches.
These words and phrases are idea seeds for your content — seeds you can grow into blog posts, podcast scripts, and maybe even entire products and services.
Now let’s talk about a productivity tool to help you find those again when you need them.
The April Productivity Prompt
You may have noticed that there’s been something of a resurgence in journaling lately. If you’re ever on Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube, you may have seen people who keep “bullet journals” — Ryder Carroll’s name for an originally simple set of ways to keep lists and notes.
Some people’s bullet journals are Instagram masterpieces, with color-coded tracking systems, calligraphy flourishes for every day, and “spreads” showing impeccably illustrated weekly grocery lists.
I’m going to propose something a little less curated than that.
This month, if you don’t have one yet, start a creative journal. I suggest that great creative journals tend to have three qualities: They are Messy, Private, and Inclusive.
In my experience, creative people need journals. They’re the greenhouses where we grow ideas. And the laboratories where we practice fiendish experiments.
Journals should be messy. An impeccable, Instagram-ready journal is something different. It’s a creative output … a finished piece of art. But you need a journal for creative process and input.
Creative journals should have false starts, rabbit holes, ugly drawings, stupid sentences, bad ideas, and other embarrassments.
Journals should be private. Because a good creative journal is embarrassing, it’s a great idea to keep it private.
There might be something cool in there that you do want to share. There often is. Go ahead and share it … selectively.
But a creative journal is mostly about private exploration, not public showing off.
Journals should be inclusive. Most of my life I’ve balanced piles of notebooks — maybe one for sketching, one for work, one for to-do lists, one for creative ideas, one for quotes.
I’m coming around to the benefit of dumping the whole mess into one bucket.
My (very ugly) bullet journal has to-do lists, project notes, content plans for the blog and the podcast, thoughts about habits, thoughts about my business, quotes, doodles, sketches, workout notes, the recurring script for my podcast intro, product ideas, call notes, grand ideas for the future, and all manner of lists.
No one wants to see a YouTube video of my bullet journal.
If you keep a journal like this digitally, and you haven’t tried paper for a while … allow me to suggest that you try it out. There’s something deeply creatively satisfying about an actual object stuffed with ideas — a collection of digital notes just doesn’t spark the same excitement.
A creative journal is a place to capture the sparks that float past. It’s a space to experiment, plan, or just goof around. It’s a home for random thoughts and interesting brainworms. It’s where you store dreams that scare you a little.
Flip through your journal sometimes. (You’ll find yourself doing that automatically when you need a content idea or think of a use for that reference note.)
Those social media phrases you’re finding from our first prompt? Copying them into a blank book would be a great way to kick off a new journal.
A final word on keeping a journal: We might need a word for the folks who keep them, but that word is not journalist. I know I am old-fashioned, but I’m clinging to that one for my friends and colleagues who went to journalism school, have put their time in for lousy pay under intense deadlines, and who have the job of defending democracy from charlatans and lunatics.
What do you think?
Journals are, by nature, intensely personal … and you might have strong opinions about them that conflict with my strong opinions about them. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Let us know in the comments — do you keep a journal? Ever try a bullet journal? What works well for you to wrangle your ideas and find them when you need them?