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.
Effective headlines. Audience building. Calls to action. Crafting shareable content. Emotional and logical benefits. Empathy and experience mapping. Strategic content types.
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!
Reader Comments (17)
William Walls says
This is good stuff, right here.
This content marketing stuff seems to be right up my alley. I’ve been a technophile since NASA put a man on the moon (yeah, I’m old); and about ten years ago, I took a friend up on a dare to prove that I wasn’t a very good writer, and I lost.
So now I’m trying to put writing and websites together, fashioning the Reese’s peanut butter cups available for sale at the convenient store located along the shoulders of the Information Superhighway.
Thank you, Sonia. I’m feel like I’m going to learn a lot here.
Sonia Simone says
Best of luck! To misquote Repo Man, the life of a content marketer is always intense.
great idea, I find myself falling when there’s too much pressure to complete a task. I’ll try this
I have been challenging myself every day going back over my first post to work on that first sentence. Seeing if I can rewrite them in a way that pulls the reader in. Those are all great ideas. I will have to pocket this for later when I finish rewriting the first sentence.
Sonia Simone says
That’s a lot of rewriting for one sentence! 😀
Content writing/marketing is pretty important on the web (especially in terms of developing a way to telly your story in an engaging manner). At our small web design co. we’ve found that by tackling a multitude of projects, that involved us having to craft engaging copy for all pages in each project, we were able to significantly further our story telling skills – something that helps tremendously when attention span on the web is super short.
Jeff Korhan says
Hi Sonia –
Interesting that we both had the same response to NaNoWriMo!
As entrepreneurs, it’s probably because we have to do things on our terms.
I like these ideas a lot and plan to give them a try. Thanks!
Sonia Simone says
You might be right on that, Jeff — I seem to be allergic to other people’s rules. 🙂
Janet Burton says
Great post, definitely a keeper! I have done some various 30 day challenges and agree they have not been great, except two: 1) ProBlogger 31 Day Blog Challenge (I will probably take 90 days to get through but that’s not the point, I am learning a ton), and 2) I took a 7-day TEDStyle Talk Facebook Challenge. This was just with a local group but it really gave me a great start on planning for something I have had on my “bucket list.”
I love your suggestions for breaking down “challenges” into small pieces and specifically targeting one thing.
Now off to develop my new challenge!
Amy Ray says
I’m a NaNoWriMo Rebel this year. Instead of working on a novel, I am writing as many blog posts as I can to reach the daily Magic Number of 1,667 words. It is easier to write in smaller chunks of two or three posts a day, and I look forward to seeing what I have on Dec. 1. It’ll be a glorious mess, but that’s OK. I’ll use December for a rewriting challenge.
Sonia Simone says
Nice! Enjoy your glorious mess. 🙂
Barry Desautels says
Excellent advice Sonia.
Making fun out of frustration when trying to write a decent
blog post sounds like…, “fun”.
Trying too hard sometimes intimidates, and discourages.
Combining fun with a stronger daily writing habit might
be the soup mix I’m looking for.
Thank you for the inspiration.
Sonia Simone says
good wishes with your soup 🙂
Liz Vargas says
Great story! I’ve done the Whole 30 food challenge a couple times now and this sounds like a great challenge to tackle next. I would be really interested to see how this would work in a group setting too. If an entire office or classroom took this challenge together would people feed off other’s creativity? Very interesting idea.
Sonia Simone says
Group accountability can be such a powerful tool. If you have a supportive group, I’d go for it!
The challenge, I think, is just making sure that the group is respecting individual differences, and that everyone participating is doing it in a way that is beneficial for them. Since we’re all different. 🙂
Lori Tian Sailiata says
I’ve got several goals going which isn’t (always) a smart thing, but I’ve corralled them with a 15 minute daily, as in 7 days a week, Tweetchat.
12:30p is Reading Goals. 12:35p is Writing Goals. Business Goals and Self-Care Goals come in the next 5 minute increments that Hootsuite allows me to preschedule the anchor tweets.
We share successes and failures. But it’s more than an accountability exercise. I Storify each week into a digest for future reference.
Last month, we highlighted Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. This month we are taking a look at Native American author, #HonoringIndigenousWriters.
It worked so well in October that I decided to add another mini Twitter event for November. Take 10 at 10. A 10 minute coffee break at 10a Pacific. I wanted to try out the hashtag for a blog I’ll be launching in January. I’m creating images for the 3 tweets a day that are coming from the blog’s Twitter account. I’ll repurpose those for blog post images.
These mini sessions energize rather than deplete me (closet introvert). And I’m constantly discovering new benefits from the daily practice.
Look for #Mto5 or #ChicoryChix on Twitter if you would like to join in. Experiment. Iterate. Right?
Ruthie Haskins says
The soup reference felt like it took a huge weight off of me as I have always thought of it in Everest terms. Insurmountable. Tossing in ingredients at hand to create something unique to me sounds so much more doable, and fun!
Definitely going to do the challenge to improve on my soup making-skills.
Thank you Sonia
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