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?
Reader Comments (20)
Kathleen Bailey says
Love these ideas. I do bullet journal but I am like you were, preferring different notebooks for different things. I struggle with having them all in one. I do want to add blogging stuff into mine though so I’ll try your first challenge and write it in my journal, thanks!
Sonia Simone says
Honestly it’s such a relief not picking through the stacks of notebooks to find the right thing. 🙂
I do have separate journals for visual work (sketching, painting), because I need different paper. But if it’s words, it’s in one place.
Fran Thring says
I love this challenge. My friends often complain because things they’ve said in conversation end up blog posts (don’t worry, I give credit). I watch what goes down, store up ideas or clever ways to see the world and then mix it with my brain juice. BAM, the end. I love paper, but my phone is always with me so it ends up being the tool of choice. Thanks for the encouragement, now I have a semi-rational reason to own more notebooks than items of food in my fridge.
Sonia Simone says
That is the great thing about digital — it’s always with you.
Carole Carlson says
I’ve been keeping a sort-of bullet journal for work for several years, and last month decided to start one for my personal life. I bring the personal one to work so if something comes up I can put it in there. I also have a notebook for my side business (I keep the to-do for that in my personal book, I’m not crazy enough to have 3 to-do lists!). I hadn’t thought of making the personal one a full-on journal, it was more of a to-do/remember list, but I’m going to try it.
Sonia Simone says
There are sometimes some good reasons to split notebooks up, and I can see the value of having an “office” journal and then one that’s more personal for your life & side hustle that might stay in your bag. That one would probably trend more toward that “messy and private” side.
Jitendra Vaswani says
I use Google planner to keep a check on my day. Also i have turned off my facebook News feed and i must say since then my productivity is increased upto 30%.
I love to challenge myself so that i can grow and help others to grow.
Thanks for the amazing post!
Jane Suffield says
This is something I will definitely try out. I am an inveterate note gatherer, but my scraps of paper invariably get out of control and end up in a messy pile on my teeny-tiny workspace. Eventually, they end up in either the bin or a basket that gathers dust! Thank you for the challenge.
Sonia Simone says
I predict you will love it, and also that your journal will be amazing. 🙂
I love this blog, really! I spend here already 20 min and I am full of motivation and positive thinking. The road to success is always under construction.. we all should have challenges like this. 🙂
I am forever scratching around my desk trying to find a particular note! I will definitely keep some kind of journal, probably a bullet version, after reading this. Challenge accepted.
Great job Sonia, I really enjoyed the read – as usual!
I keep different journals for different projects, personal vs. work, etc. because I’m always afraid I won’t be able to find what I need if its all together. Except I can never find the right journal when I need something, and I’ve got notebooks all over the place. Sonia, thank you for sharing your experience – I can see now that having everything in one place is a much better solution. 🙂
Sonia Simone says
Sometimes there are great reasons to keep several notebooks going, but for me, when I start having questions about which notebook that thing was in, I need to consolidate. 🙂
Trudy Van Buskirk says
I kept notebooks all my life (born in 1950) until I had a debilitating stroke in 2005. One of the several results of it are that I have no muscle control in my right arm and therefore can’t write with my right hand AND I’m right handed.
The way I deal with this is I have a tiny Sony recorder that I record my thoughts on. The files can be transferred as mp3s to my computer. It’s not the same but it works for me!
Sonia Simone says
Sometimes we just need to make accommodations! Jon Morrow has written some great content about how he uses voice recognition, since he cannot move his arms at all.
I love these prompts. Just one issue with the journal: recording brainstorms helps me remember them, but I never take time to go back and look at what I’ve written! Any ideas on how to approach that?
Sonia Simone says
If it were me, I’d probably put a big label at the top of a brainstorm page (the topic, or “brainstorm,” or whatever). I’d have something like a highlighter and a colored pencil handy, and I’d circle or mark ideas that seemed like they needed follow-through, and try to get those onto some kind of a to-do or next-action list.
Then, since it seems like mainly your purpose in the brainstorm is to have/remember the ideas, I probably wouldn’t stress. If they’re there in your journal, and easy to find because you put a big label at the top of the page, you can always go back to them if you feel moved, or if you’re looking for idea seeds.
I’m just about to start writing content for my website, and this would be a great way for me to get going on my first articles. Thanks for the challenge and inspiration!
I LOVE my bullet journal, but it is definitely not full of pretty drawings and fancy lettering. However, it has been the solution for my journaling needs. Everything in one place!
Nina Post says
I keep a TON of text files. I have many dozens for ideas and concepts, one for a dream journal, some for work, and more. I write notes on index cards, then transfer the notes into my text files. To find things in those files, I include search keywords (e.g., [name]). It’s a weird system, but it works. But this is a fun challenge, and you’re so right, Sonia, about paper. I would love to be better at keeping up a paper journal. (And I’m doing the other prompt, too.)
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