Does this ever happen to you?
You read something from one of your favorite writers — maybe it’s a blog post, or a scene from a novel, or an essay on Medium.
You’re caught up in the words. The way that writer spins and turns the language, shaping what you see and feel as you read.
And once the reading spell is broken, you think …
Dang, I wish I could do that.
Experienced creative workers — writers, painters, musicians — know how to make it look easy.
But when we try our hand … it’s harder than it looks.
We all want to get good at things
Maybe you want to master the art of creative storytelling for your content. Or you want to start off your content with that satisfying “Bang!” that gets people to keep reading. Or you would just really like some more shares and links.
“Enjoy the process” is fine advice, but it’s even nicer when the process leads to real improvement. When we get better at what we’re doing. When we start to have more impact.
I find this quote by Jeff Olson both intriguing and depressing:
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.”
My friend and genius dog trainer Susan Garrett has tweaked this to:
“Successful people make a game out of what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.”
For the chronically immature (like me), this is an especially useful insight.
Some things about business are hard.
Some things about content marketing are hard.
If you can make a game out of them, you get to change “hard” into “fun and challenging.” Do that consistently, and there are all kinds of amazing things that can happen.
The content marketing Intimidation Factor
We love content marketing for many reasons … but we tend to avoid it for one:
There are so many things to learn.
Not to mention techniques for specialty content like podcasts, infographics, or video.
If you’re standing at the foot of Mount Content and looking up, the summit looks uncomfortably far away. And high. And spiky. And probably cold.
Lately, I’ve been counseling people to try a new approach to scaling that mountain … and it starts with realizing that it isn’t a mountain at all.
There are lots of recipes for success
You can visualize content success as Mount Everest. There’s one defined path up to the summit. It’s very hard to climb. You need equipment, know-how, elite-level conditioning, relatively good weather, a guide, and some luck. Even then, you might die.
Or you can visualize content success as making some soup.
There are a lot of recipes. Some people like spicy soup. Some people like savory soup. Some people like cold soup, or fruit soup. There are a lot of options. Some of them are weird, but that’s fine, because there are plenty of people who adore weird.
Personally, to tell you the truth, I feel a lot better about my ability to make some nice soup than to climb Mount Everest and possibly die.
One thing I like about the soup metaphor is that it recognizes that you can create something worthwhile out of what you happen to have available.
If you have a great writing voice, hardly any money, a few chunks of free time on weekends, and a lot of hilarious stories, you can create an interesting content soup out of that.
If you have a writing voice that isn’t as strong, but you have the budget to hire an editor, you consistently have an hour a day to create content, and you have a whole bunch of interesting people in your contact list, you can create a different content soup out of that.
You don’t have to master every single element of content marketing right away. And
hardly anyone no one does.
But the more techniques and tactics you can get good at, the more kinds of soup you can make. And the more effective your content will tend to be.
Enter: the 30-Day Challenge Method
Anyone who uses Facebook is familiar with these — we decide to adopt some habit or pattern for 30 days, and watch what happens.
There are nutrition challenges, fitness challenges, art challenges, handwriting challenges. One of the best-known, NaNoWriMo — a challenge to write an entire novel in the month of November — kicks off tomorrow.
I have to be honest; I’m not necessarily a fan of signing up for other people’s challenges. Too often, they’re inflexible and they’re overly sweeping. They set you up to fail, instead of setting you up to learn. (Every time I’ve tried NaNoWriMo, it’s tanked my writing output for months afterward.)
In other words, the game quits being fun around Day One and a Half.
Instead, try writing your own challenge. And make sure it’s more play than penance.
Here are some guidelines I’ll suggest:
- Decide in advance to define your challenge as a game, to be played for fun and learning.
- Pick something to work on every day for 30 days.
- Make it not too hard and not too easy. You want to push yourself, but still have fun.
- Set a defined start date.
- Do some prep before the start date. Make sure you have access to everything you’ll need (materials, internet access, free time, etc.).
- Allow yourself to do more on some days and less on others. But do a little something every day during your challenge.
- Decide in advance what the “absolute minimal effort” option might look like … you’ll need it at least once.
- Try to have a defined time of day to do your challenge activity — but if you miss it, just squeeze it in there somewhere.
- If you miss a day, start again the next day. Try very hard not to miss a day.
- Don’t come up with elaborate punishments for yourself if you slip up. It’s a game.
- When your 30 days are up, give yourself a rest before you start a new challenge.
So, what kinds of things can you work on?
You might notice that you can use this kind of challenge to work on literally anything that’s bugging you. Here are some ideas for your content or business:
Choose one of these to study and practice every day for 30 days:
- More effective headlines
- Great first sentences
- Writing dialogue
- Quick stories
- Translating features into benefits
- Writing sales copy
- Brainstorming lists of blog post ideas
Or maybe you’d like to take a consistent action every day for 30 days:
- Reach out to a new blogger or online publisher.
- Touch base with someone you haven’t talked with in a while.
- Spend time describing, in detail, a business process you do all the time, so you can have an assistant take it over.
- Take a short walk, then immediately sit down and write for 20 minutes.
- Go through one tutorial on that software you’ve been meaning to learn forever.
I’ve found a lot of power in doing something every day, but if for some reason you really want a free day every week … it’s your game. You set the rules.
How about you?
Ever done a writing challenge or another type of content challenge? Interested in coming up with a challenge of your own?
Great ideas are even better when they’re shared … so let us know about your challenge ideas in the comments!