Everyone’s Writing but Me

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There's Always More to the StoryIt feels like everyone’s writing but me.

There are several things wrong with this statement.

The main one being:

While YES I haven’t been writing a ton lately for me or my business, the statement fails to take into account the things I HAVE been doing.

There’s always more to the story than meets the eye. Always.

In the six months since I’ve updated this blog I’ve catapulted forward!

By speaking:

Collaborating:

222evolve

Spending Time With Smart, Supportive, Strong Women:

 Moxie Women

The thread that links these three things is they are essential to who I am. To my well being. To my creativity. To my profitability. And yet, I didn’t speak, collaborate, or spend time with strong smart supportive women for years. At least not consistently.

At the risk of making a sweeping generalization that I won’t live up to: it ends now. NOW. Today. The writing dearth ends today too.

I’m not writing the way I desire to. I feel the need to prove that I can. I want to put my writing on display. While writing does come naturally to me, putting it on display scares the hell out of me. AND writing is necessary for my business. As a business owner I am a writer by default (in addition to being a professional writer). And there, my friends, is the stake. Bolstered by a healthy dose of fear.

 

How to be Creative and Productive When You Need to Write A Lot of Content

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writing

Writing is the backbone of an online business. As a business owner, you are likely a writer by default. Meaning you write a lot: web pages, blog posts, marketing emails, social media posts, client/customer support emails, how-to guides, webinar slides, e-books . . .the list goes on.

Even if you create mostly via video, podcast, or some other medium . . . you still (more likely than not) use an outline, a script, or some other writing to anchor and support your delivery.

Writing is one of those skills that a lot of people can do, but it takes some extra effort and desire to do well. “Well” in this context means that the writing you publish supports your business goals. Opt-ins, online sales, guest posts, connections with influencers in your industry . . . your writing influences nearly everything you do.

While there are lots of templates and formulas out there, most of them don’t address what goes on beneath the surface. The pesky mind games that Resistance likes to play on us when we’re about to do something significant.

Writing excellent content that supports your business goals is significant. For some (myself included), it’s hard to get a rhythm going. And it’s hard to maintain that rhythm. 

Here are three important things to practice that will keep you creative and productive as you write:

Let Yourself Write a Shitty First Draft

It is too easy to edit your way out of your best ideas. To soften their sharp edges. To dumb them down. To temper that point of view that might not fit in with your industry mainstream.

Resistance often shows up at this stage as perfectionism, telling you your writing sucks before it has had a chance to form.

Next time this happens, tell yourself this:

A first draft is supposed to be terrible. That’s it’s purpose.

A shitty first draft lets you get your ideas down on paper in their raw unedited form. This is the clay out of which you will mould your masterpiece — your next blog post or email communication (for example).

Some wonderful words about this come from Anne Lamott (from whom I first learned there was a name for those unfocused, disjointed, sometimes confusing first drafts I was creating):

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life and is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft . . . “

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

For a long time I was afraid to write. Perfection was a major reason why.

Here are some more reasons to let yourself write shitty first drafts:

  • No one sees them but you — trust me if my clients saw my first drafts they would  wonder why they hired me — the first draft is for YOU (and occasionally perhaps a few people whose input you trust who will support and won’t judge you).

  • You can get more than one piece out of them — when I let myself go wild with a first draft, sometimes parts of it don’t seem to go together. On a subsequent read through I realize I have more than one blog post — BONUS!

  • They spark creativity and save time — my best work comes from NOT censoring myself when I write the first draft. What’s left after not censoring? Me. My ideas. My unique point of view. Pieces of my story that are relevant to my audience. Spending 15-60 minutes writing the shitty first draft up front saves countless hours of editing, brainstorming and agonizing later.

Keep It Simple

A current trend in online marketing writing is “long form” blog posts. 1000+ word posts, backed by and linked to research or case studies. The Buffer Blog does these especially well.

Whether you’re writing a 2000 word blog post, a 4000 word email course, or a 50 word email, here’s how to keep it simple:

  • Know your audience and write for them. If you’re blogging, what questions does your audience have? How can you best answer and teach? If you’re writing an email, what does the recipient need to know to respond in a meaningful way? As a professional, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing for your peers. Most of the time, as a business owner, you’re NOT. Who is your audience? What do they want to know?

  • Be bold and clear. Once you’re out of the first draft stage, you want to edit. Relentlessly. To make your work as clear and readable as possible. Use simple words and phrases. Write like you speak. One of my favorite writers growing up was Hemingway. Clear. Simple. Profound. There is a cool app named after him that I sometimes run my writing through. Try it and discover where you can trim some of the fat while dialing up the impact.

  • Structure your writing so it’s easy to skim. One look at any good blog (including this one) will show you this. Use plenty of subheads, bullet points and pictures.

Keeping it simple does NOT mean stifling your point of view or dumbing anything down. Once you commit to simple, the opposite is true.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

― E.F. Schumacher

It’s More Important to Publish Than be Perfect

Here’s the bottom line: You can publish, and move forward. Or you can sit on your hands and stagnate.

Having lived both, I can say . . . it’s a no brainer. Publish. 

A common conundrum is:

  • You want to produce professional polished work.

  • Creative, important, influencing work is never “done.” There’s always something you can change. Revise. Improve.

And, no matter how diligent you are, typos slip through. Trust me. They do. 

If you’ve committed to the shitty first draft and edited your way down to simple, it’s time to publish. It’s time to move forward.

One of the best blog posts I’ve read on this subject is called 7 Reasons Why “C” Students Crush “A” Students When It Comes to Online Marketing by Marcus Sheridan.The post covers a lot of ground (and is worth reading in it’s entirety) but one quote is relevant here:

5. C-Students don’t care if everything is just right: Not too long ago I had a client that delayed the start of their blog for weeks simply because they didn’t like the shade of green on their blog’s home page. (Seriously, I’m not kidding.) Needless to say, that client has yet to experience much success online.

I stopped writing because I felt like everything I had to say had already been said by the luminaries in my industry. Therefore nothing I said would be original, provocative, influencing . . . nothing I said would be “right.” I stopped caring about that when I could no longer stand feeling stifled and uncreative.

Publishing Your Work Puts You On the Fast Track to Deeper Creativity In Less Time

It was a relief to acknowledge that yes, the topics I write about are covered elsewhere. But it’s not about the topics. It’s about my point of view. My “voice.” The people who are drawn to me. 

The same holds true for you. Noone can write about, teach, or DO your work like you can. It’s YOU that’s original. 

Sometimes being creative and productive means making the most of 30 minutes in a packed schedule and hitting publish. Other times being creative and productive means eight hours of research and writing to produce a piece of content you can re-purpose in different media. Both are valid. Both are creative. Both are productive.

PRACTICE creating shitty first drafts, keeping it simple, and publishing. Let me know how you’re doing in the comments.

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Julie Jordan Scott.

3 Simple Ways To Manage Resistance So You Can Be More Creative

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creativityI originally wrote this as a 2-3 minute talk for the “Presentation” module of Influencer Academy last December. It was cathartic to write because I was wrestling with Resistance when I wrote it. Sometimes it seems my entire life is one long lesson in managing Resistance.

When it hangs over me like a dark cloud (as it did when I wrote this) is when I need to be especially quiet, careful, and deliberate. This spring I’m going to craft a “signature” Ted-like talk. I’m so excited for that because public speaking has been a huge passion of mine for a long time that has gone largely unrealized.

For now, I hope you enjoy and get something useful out of this brief post.

____________________________________________________________

Have you ever started something you didn’t finish?

Ever wonder what takes you from enthusiastic and confident to crash and burn?

And doesn’t the threat of crash and burn feel especially intense the more you WANT whatever it is that you’ve started?

There’s a name for this insidious unseen force. It’s called Resistance. It happens to everyone. Resistance, by definition, is self-sabotage.

Procrastination is a symptom of Resistance. So is unhappiness. So is creating unnecessary drama in your life.

Steven Pressfield, who has researched and written extensively on the subject, says “the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

Activities that trigger Resistance are:**

  • The pursuit of writing, artistic, or other creative endeavors
  • The launching of any entrepreneurial venture, for profit or otherwise
  • Any diet or health regimen
  • Any program for spiritual or professional advancement
  • Any activity whose objective is tighter abdominals

While Resistance may appear to come from outside circumstances, it comes from within us. Resistance will tell you anything to stop you from doing your work. And according to Steven Pressfield, if you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Because Resistance always lies and it always full of shit.

BUT Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and you conquer Resistance.

The solution is even simpler than “mastering fear.” The solution lies in the mundane. The obvious.

  • Cultivate good habits that become so ingrained, you won’t stray from them no matter how many times Resistance tries to throw you off track. Resistance HATES good habits.
  • Look at your morning routine and see how you can amp it up. Resistance HATES morning routines that prepare you for a focused and productive day.
  • Always always always return to your good habits. Resistance HATES it when we consistently reinforce what we’re doing right.

** From Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Sean MacEntee

Seven Online Tools I Use to Stay Organized and Productive

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I’m considering a Chromebook for work. The appeal is both practical and intuitive. Practical because I do a lot of work online. Intuitive because I feel the lure of “the cloud.” The tools available to support work in the cloud are Ah-mazing.

Plus I’ve never much liked the Microsoft suite of products. Sure they work fine. There’s nothing “wrong” with them — but as tools to rely on, I feel like I’ve “tolerated” more than loved them.

In researching  Chromebook I’ve concluded that I won’t be able to ditch my PC entirely. There are some things (editing images for blog and Facebook posts for example) that I’ll need it for.

But for most tasks, I’ve switched to tools I’ll eventually use on my Chromebook. Which means I already use (and love) them because they can be used on any PC!

Here they are:

Word Processing: Google Drive

I resisted Google Drive, back when it was Google Docs. My first exposure to it was a few years ago when a writing client sent me a draft in a Google Doc. I thought “what the heck IS this?” It was unfamiliar, and therefore inconvenient. My client was patient as I stubbornly converted everything she sent me into a Word document and returned it as an email attachment.

It wasn’t until I learned the true power of document sharing — versus passing things back and forth via email — that I became a fervent fan of Google Drive. Sharing is much more efficient, and, dare I say, professional. While Google Drive doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that Word does, for straight up writing and sharing it’s the bomb. I love it. It has capability to create documents, spreadsheets, forms and drawings.

I use Drive to write blog posts, drafts and stuff I need to share.

Organizing: Evernote

Evernote has changed the way I approach organizing. I signed up for the free version in 2011,  underestimated it’s power, and my account sat dormant for three years. I reactivated it recently and have experienced a bonanza of organizing power and information at my fingertips. I’ve just dipped below the surface in terms of using it to its full capacity.

The storage is huge, even on the free account, and it has a PC and online version. Even though I have Evernote on my PC I find myself using the online version most of the time. Habits!

I use Evernote to store everything. From emails to documents, to pdfs, to website articles I want to refer back to.

Electronic Task List: Todoist

I’ve always hated keeping track of to dos on paper. I know it works for some people but to me it feels sloppy, disorganized and scary (because what if I lose the paper the task is written on and I miss something important? Scary!). Since Google’s task feature is anemic I had to find something more powerful and easy to use.

After trying out many task apps I chose Todoist because it does everything I need in an electronic task list: it keeps my tasks in one place and is easy to organize. Most importantly I can use it to turn gmails into tasks which helps keep my Inbox close to empty.

I use Todoist to keep track of every single task I need to get done.

Reading: Feedly

I thought I was going to die when Google announced it was retiring Reader. How was I going to keep track of all the blogs I read? Thankfully Feedly came along and saved the day. With an easy to use interface that’s much better looking than Reader I don’t have to worry that I’ll miss out on reading my favorite blogs throughout the week.

I use Feedly to keep the blogs I read nice and organized and there for me when I want to read them. [Note: Feedly is one of those apps that I just KNOW I’m not using to its full potential. It does more than just house feeds for reading — I may need to do a separate post on it later]

Social Media Sharing/Scheduling: Buffer

I can’t remember where I first heard about Buffer but thank goodness I did. It’s the best scheduling tool I’ve found. Buffer makes scheduling FUN! It is such a relief to schedule with a tool that doesn’t feel cumbersome or annoying. Once you get the hang of it (there’s a small learning curve) it’s easy to schedule and move stuff around. AND if you’re stuck on what to post, they even have daily content suggestions for you!

I use Buffer to schedule my personal Twitter feed and the Frankly Good Coffee Facebook page.

Organizing Twitter Lists: Hootsuite

I avoided Twitter for a long time because it felt too confusing, overwhelming, and like life was passing me by every time I signed in. When I bought into the idea of using it to connect with folks I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet, I knew I needed a system.

So one weekend afternoon I sat down and for every person I was following, asked myself WHY. A handful of categories emerged, and now I can keep up with the folks I want to keep up with, whether in real time or not.

I check into Hootsuite periodically to see what the people on my lists are up to. It’s a wonderful way to start a conversation or find content to share.

Email: Gmail

My friend Danielle introduced me to gmail several years ago and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven (in my defense I was using hotmail at the time for personal email and hated it — couldn’t make the switch fast enough).

Gmail is powerful because it makes it easy to send and receive communication from different email addresses. It has powerful tools to filter and file and has ample storage space. At this point I’m so deep in I’d be hard pressed to leave gmail. Ever. The thing is, I don’t want to.

Bonus Online Tool : Google timer

If you block out time during the day to focus on one thing, or if you keep track of your time for work, or any reason really, go to Google and type in:

timer: 30 minutes

I was using the timer on my phone before hearing about this nifty tool. So simple, yet so crazy good.

What are your favorite online tools?

I’m Afraid to Write

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Yup.

A writer who’s afraid to write.

Since the last post on my triathlon blog (September 15, 2012, after the Ironman World Championship 70.3), I’ve not created a space to write online where I felt I could be myself.

On my consulting blog I felt pressured to write “how to” “educational” posts that focused on content marketing. Which is not wrong, considering that site is my content marketing consulting site! And to be clear, the pressure I felt came from me. 100% self pressure. No one ever gave me unsolicited advice on what I “should” blog about.

Self pressure leads to inconsistent writing — not good for a professional blog. Not good for SEO. Not good for self-esteem. And a blog with tumbleweeds blowing through it is just not a great impression to make on potential clients.

The choice to not write for my own business/career/platform over the past five years has stifled me to the point where I can no longer stand it.

What stopped me? It’s embarrassing to admit but here it goes:

Fear.

Which lead to excuses:

  • I’m too busy writing for clients — no time to write my own stuff
  • I need to make a living — writing for clients helps me do that
  • I have enough referrals — I don’t need to write for myself

Such rampant, mutant BS!

Since leaving the legal profession in 2005 I’ve gotten to do what I love and make money at it.There have been some tough times. There have been some ugly times. There have been some awesome times when I’ve known I was doing what I’m meant to do.

But . . . I feel like I’ve done more battling of my inner demons over these past five years than getting my own real work done.

That’s an icky feeling.

At the same time, during the past five years I’ve faced head on things that up to that point I’d been unwilling to face.

The ability to stay present, invested, and filled with passion about what I’m doing started with the Silverman triathlon and continued through the founding of my writing business.

It continues today as I realize that, though I’ve come a long way personally and professionally, I’ve been avoiding the one thing that will launch me wherever I choose to go next.

Building a platform for MY WORK through writing.

The role models  I respect in the content marketing industry all say different versions of the same thing:

Find your voice.

Every industry needs strong voices, opinions, points of view. It’s one of the ways to set yourself apart online.

I’m at last starting to do that with Frankly Good Coffee. Starting. The key now is to show up every day, do the work, and execute a solid strategy designed to help us grow the business.

I know it will work.

Because content marketing is, above all else, a mindset.

So, rather than forcing myself to write (on my consulting site) what I “think” everyone “wants to hear” I’m going to write here, in this quasi personal/professional space.

Because even though I’ve spent the past five years writing and strategizing for brilliant business owners I admire, I’ve stifled my own voice by not writing for me. For my business. For my career. For my sanity.

Here we go . . . . .

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Sean MacEntee