It always begins with so much promise.
“I’ve been working really hard on my site. I put a lot of time and effort into it, but it’s just not getting any traction. Can you take a look?”
I don’t want to take a look. Because by now, I know what I’m going to find. And it just makes me sad.
There it is, the capable site design. The perfectly decent headlines. The bullet points of usefulness. The careful, even painstaking articles, describing 7 Ways to Do the Thing.
The blogger has been studying, and that’s excellent. We love content marketing strategy. But not when writers forget the most important thing:
Nobody has the time or attention span to read a boring website.
Why do we do it? Why do we launch a new site, when there are already hundreds of sites exactly like it?
Why put hours into writing content that melts into the vast, indistinguishable mass of Meh?
From my observation, there is one underlying reason there’s so much boring content being published:
We’re afraid someone won’t like it
We don’t want to use an unusual word, because someone won’t like it.
We don’t want to uncover a thorny problem or controversial issue, because someone won’t like it.
We definitely can’t tell the truth about the way we’re weird, or different, or vulnerable. We can only conform, because that’s the only way to be safe.
The sad irony is, it’s conformity that’s dangerous.
Nothing will kill your business faster than dull conformity.
When you make yourself bland and inoffensive, you appeal to no one. No one gets angry at you … and no one particularly wants to spend any time with you, either.
You’ve been in hiding so long, you’ve forgotten what it was like to be truthful.
We forgot what it was like
If you ever get the chance to spend time with very small children, you’ll notice something.
None of them are boring.
(Parenting reality moment: Spending a lot of time with little kids can be excruciatingly boring, especially if you can’t muster enthusiasm for their weird obsessions. But their thoughts, their expressions, their points of view, their wild passions — these are not boring people.)
Kids are not boring for two reasons:
- They care bizarrely deeply about things.
- They don’t know that it isn’t okay to be who they are.
Now, the process of teaching kids how to be good members of our culture is a good thing. Potty training and learning to eat without throwing your food are wonderful developments for everyone.
But the insidious messages always ride alongside.
“Those don’t really go together.”
“I’m sure you don’t really mean that word.”
“Being an artist (writer, cowboy, ballerina, musician, astronaut) is really hard. When you get bigger, you’ll choose a real job.”
“Let’s stay on this side, okay?”
“We don’t play with children like that.”
“We don’t spend time with people like that.”
“We don’t talk about things like that.”
Parents do it, teachers do it, and maybe more than anyone else, other kids do it. We knock all of the weird edges off one another.
So we make ourselves palatable and convenient. Girls are pretty and boys are tough. And no one likes the weird kid who reads too much and spends all that time by herself.
A word or two about honesty and outrageousness
There have always been some who try to create success by making themselves highly, visibly obnoxious.
The professional troll, the shock jock, the provocateur.
It’s pretty easy to infuriate people in order to get their attention. Easier than ever, in fact.
But mistreating other people to get attention isn’t “authenticity.” It’s just bullying. And the success it leads to is short-lived and shallow, if it comes at all.
Which it probably won’t, because paying attention to you isn’t the same thing as trusting you.
Trust me, if you’re at all honest, you will offend people. You don’t need to go looking for ways to be offensive.
What to do differently
So, I’m not advocating that you go back to stomping, screaming, or throwing things.
Growing up is fantastic. I love grown-ups.
What I am advocating is that you re-find the habit of telling the truth about who you are.
The most important thing you can do to end the horrible cycle of boring writing is to write with your own voice. Your honest, unafraid voice. Even if it bothers people. Even if it makes people nervous.
It’s not about being loud. It’s about being real.
Luvvie Ajayi’s voice is hilarious, wide-ranging, and shade-rich.
“This is the time to use that ‘shutting the hell up is free’ coupon code. It never expires.”
Marjorie Ingall’s voice is opinionated, funny, and urbane.
“Did you miss the Google Home Super Bowl ad with the mezuzah in it because you were hanging out with activist rabbis instead of watching the game? Me, too!”
Roger Lawson’s voice is playful, goofy, and, yeah, cocky.
“Your friends are in relationships, eating wedding cake (mmmmmm!) and having all the sex while you stare wistfully out the window, waiting for your one true love to appear as a single tear rolls down your cheek.”
Pamela Slim’s voice is inspiring, sassy, and no-nonsense.
“Why do we tell women they are ‘too much?’
I will spend my life telling them to speak up, strut more, push the edge, and show up.
I want to see all you got and then some.”
Ishita Gupta’s voice is encouraging, vulnerable, and pragmatic.
“Resilience is what you hold onto and trust when it seems like there’s nothing left, and it’s more subtle and trustworthy than ‘bucking up.'”
Brian Clark’s voice is authoritative, definitive, and sometimes irreverent.
“‘But Brian,’ the voices in my head object. ‘What about branding, engagement, social sharing, SEO, comments …’
‘Let me stop you right there,’ I tell the voices. Which is awkward, because I’m in a crowded coffee shop.”
You get the idea. You’ll never mistake one of these voices for someone else’s. Each one is distinctive, opinionated, maybe sometimes a little cantankerous. And each one inspires action because they’re speaking from a position of courage and truth.
Please, please, please stop undermining all of your hard work by being afraid to step into a real voice. The world needs to know what you honestly have to say.
Reader Comments (32)
Mark Lahiri says
Great Post Sonia! A reminder to not be boring is always welcome. Having a “voice” online is super IMPORTANT 🙂
This is one of my favorite posts you have written. You are absolutely correct in that you can have the best content, but if it’s boring, it becomes completely irrelevant. It’s like people who go to the DMV, the process of having your driver’s license renewed is important-it’s crucial that you can travel freely. However, the absolute boredom of the process destroys any faith or interest into the process.
Sonia Simone says
I have to admit, sometimes I do read content that’s pretty much exactly as exciting as going to the DMV, good comparison. 😀
Rog Law says
G-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-reat points. It reminds me of the “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” quote from Oscar Wilde.
And thanks for including my voice as an example of anti-nacroleptic wordplay – I shall eat a Cinnabon in your honor today!
Sonia Simone says
Thanks Rog! And thanks for your inimitable voice 😉
Michael LaRocca says
I might do that too, just as an excuse to eat a Cinnabon.
Ahmad Imran says
Sonia, a powerful message, you are right, every blogger needs to pay attention to it. Conformity is the real enemy and most of us bloggers do fall to its prey. Loved your write-up, sharing with my blog followers and bookmarking for future reference.
Let me add two others to that list, Sonia. .. . (aside from yours), Joanna Wiebe and Henneke Duistermaat. Talk about sassy, that’s Joanna. Talk about irreverent, that is Henneke.
How does one find that voice?
Aside from embracing your weirdness (see above), write. The more you write, the more you cut through the things that sanded off the edges of your weirdness.
Okay, that’s how I see it.
Embrace what makes you different.
If you like something that some people don’t see as acceptable, let people know, and don’t apologize for it.
For example, I like pro wrestling. . . yes, rasslin’ 😉
Sonia Simone says
Yes on all counts! (Especially Joanna and Henneke … as you might imagine, I had to leave about 50 wonderful writers out of the post, which was quite painful.)
Ravi Chahar says
There is always an illusion for the quality of a content. People work hard but always get afraid.
I agree with your points of being scared that people wouldn’t like it. The controversial topics can emerge as the boosting factor for your site but the fear doesn’t let you.
It’s all about what you think and how you react to others perspectives.
I believe that your inner voice needs to be crafted in a piece of the content which can be reached to everyone at this planet.
It’s you who decide what is good for your site. People criticize and you can’t let them stop you.
Thanks for such a motivational article.
Corey Ayres says
Fantastically honest and motivating post. ?
Ken Kaus says
And as the Chinese Philosopher Confuseme once said… ooo squirrel.
Dee Coxon says
Hi Cheryl this post really resonates with me. I too used to be guilty of much of the above until I was introduced to the wonderful Dr Brene Brown and her Ted Talk “why your critics aren’t the ones who count”
She hit the nail on the head when she told us “There is nothing more frightening than the moment we expose our ideas to the world”
Author and vulnerability researcher Dr Brown told us how to deal with the critics and our own self-doubt by refusing to “armour up” and shut ourselves off.
Instead she said we must invite our critics into the arena “reserve a seat” for them and our own self-doubt. “Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but unless you’re in the arena also getting your arse kicked I’m not interested in your feedback and I’m going to do this anyway.”
Surprisingly Dr Brown didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know : but what she did do was: give me the courage to be me and accept the “haters will always be there”.
Happily I see haters, trolls and naysayers in a completely different light these days, how they feel and what they spew is there problem and one that says far more about them than it does about me.
One of the other things I’ve since heard Brene say is: “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger” ( Fab )
For me, working in the online space and so far as the “critics” are concerned that translates to: “insecurity loaded your gun social media pulls the trigger”
Prachi Gupta says
Being who you are – that’s a lesson all of us need to learn. Stop medicating kids who do things differently. Don’t push them to be ‘normal.’ Normal is boring.
Kevine Otieno says
It is quite a challenge being oneself in an environment where all the forces are bent towards ensuring that you conform. I can only conclude that it takes courage to express one’s true character, speak in one’s own voice, and be oneself.
People love originality; they will remain loyal to you for as long as you will remain original.
Thank you for this post
Thanks for your continuous reminders and loving swift kicks to get my act together in this on-going journey to use and express my voice. It’s a work in progress. You shared some great examples…and I appreciate your voice as you continue to lead by example.
As I was swirling and sloshing the subject around in my brain, yet again this morning, after reading your above post…there is clearly something about committing “in writing” that holds its own “I’m not sure about hitting that publish button” edge. And, gratefully, the more I write, the easier it is to commit my uniqueness to “paper.”
Yet being a self-confessed sustainability junky…(and blessed that I live in a city where I can ride a bicycle everywhere)…I’ll show up for a meeting, business or otherwise, in my bike garb. It is a part of my voice, my brand, something that makes me unique. And if that’s not okay with the person I’m meeting, it’s likely we’re not a good fit to work together. And that’s okay, too. And yes, everything has its right place. I’m not showing up to a friend’s wedding in my bike garb.
So what is it about writing, beyond, I want to be liked by everyone as, for me, that applies to readers and in daily life? What is it about clicking that publish button that makes me/us want to be “so damned boring?”
Would love to know any further insights.
Thanks Sonia for this great article. It comes at a perfect time in my writing journey. You’ve inspired me to shed my vanilla voice and allow the authentic me to shine through. ?
Alfred Chung says
Over the years, I’ve learned to go beyond what my role has defined me as – a marketer, a professional coach, etc and to step into the core of my identity and communicate from there. To speak and write without labeling myself seems to work very well for me. A method that seems to help in this process of owning my voice fully is: if NOW is the last opportunity I have, what do I want my audience to learn, to know and to receive?
Icy Sedgwick says
So I never had my weird edges knocked off. I’m equal parts Lisa Simpson, Lucy from Charlie Brown and Morticia Addams. In my author brand (I was just sick in my mouth typing that), I’m free to pursue all the weird stuff I like because I write Gothic horror and dark fantasy. I can get excited about abandoned buildings because they might be the entrance to London Below. Or I can share articles about strange folklore just because. But then I decided I wanted to write content for tech startups. So I set up a whole new ‘serious’ website. I started talking about the kinds of things that I thought business owners would be interested in (apart from one blog post where I used It’s A Wonderful Life to demonstrate how copywriting works – that was pretty fun). God, I bored even myself. But more and more people seem to be saying it’s okay to actually be yourself. And I’m glad. Because there are few things I hate more than being bored. So let’s see what happens…
Luca Todesco says
Brutally honest and highly motivating! Thanks you, Sonia.
There’s a line from Heller’s “Catch-22” that I think would fit nicely here. “The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous, and likable. In three days no one could stand him.”
Jitendra vaswani says
Borrrrrrringgggggg GRRRRRRRR. Sonia this post is so damn good that I got so many things from this post. Most businesses dont focus on great content, they do marketing but they forget if their content is boring nobody gonna read it.
Your folks will not be glued to your boring content maths. Stop being boring and make some noise with great content. I know it is quite challenging in this cut throat competition but it is damn important to have great content.
People love original content and they will be loyal forever if you satisfy them with your content.
Michael LaRocca says
If you want to up the stakes here, start attending networking events so you can use your authentic voice in your 30-second infomercial. It might take years, but once you get that down, doing it in writing will be a piece of cake. Or a Cinnabon.
Nitin Ravale says
This post truly inspires every content writer because of two reasons ;
1. It motivates one to be inspired within his own limits of expectations.
2. Superb example of small children, which every individual on this planet can understand.
Emma Taylor-Lane says
Thank you for this article.
I’m new to blogging but have realised that I was too analytical, and not personal enough. I wasn’t connecting with my readers, just giving information. I know that people do business with people so now I make an active attempt to share my personal experience and views, to share something of myself with my readers. I’ll keep sharing myself – warts and all!
Thanks, I appreciated your thought on being obnoxious to get people’s attention. There is way too much of that these days and it is hard to tell if people really believe what they are saying or just trying to get a rise out of others.
This is such a great point Sonia! I hate going to a site that bores me to tears. I think people are focused too much on perfection and making money VS taking a chance and being wild.
Your post makes a lot of sense. Too many times I try to write something that is balanced and well structured and what I end up with is something that is bland and boring (and as you say something that can be found in 100 other places).
I am going to take your advice on board and try to push the boundaries a bit more in the future.
Thanks a lot for this, Sonia! This has really motivated me.
I have been bothered by the longest time that I like writing about lifestyle topics because let’s face it; there are so many lifestyle blogs in the universe. I would always think that nothing would set me apart because I wrote about similar topics just like everyone. Now, I’m thinking on how to unleash more of my geeky, museum-loving, and food-loving self to the tone of my blog.
What a great post, I love the positivity of encouraging people to find their voice, and a bit of tough love is sometimes necessary to shake someone out of their routine. And I think it all goes beyond finding your blogging voice, to just finding your inner day to day voice, to express your real, confident and strong self.
Great job, keep spreading the love and encouragement!
Yes, it resonates. I just wonder how many people now try to start blogs just to get paid, and thus have to “produce content” because there isn’t really anything they truly want to talk about.
Or, how many people are passionate, use their own voice – and then get the cyberspace-equivalent of a “You sound funny, I don’t like you” death knell. Your voice may be unique, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will like it, either. Especially before you find your audience…
Fox Emerson says
You’re smart, wise and dangerous Sonia.
Dangerous because you’ve essentially unleashed me – unmoderated – into the wild, the harness – which kept me from being my unique self – collapsed.
No one talks about the catastrophe that might greet you if you are brave and speak your mind, so thank you for doing so. It’s a risk that could be disastrous.
It sure as hell beats watching the tumbleweeds laugh at you as they roll by.
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