Writing for Eyeballs, Writing for Love

blue eyeball

I check my site stats daily, just wanting to see how many people have been checking the site out. I check what posts do well, what’s speaking to people, search terms, and referral links. Way back when I started blogging, I wrote about whatever came to mind, and what I was interested in.

I try to write for a particular focus; lifestyle priorities and management. But going all the way back to my early blogging days, I wrote a post that continues to drive small chunks of traffic to my site.

The keywords from this particular post (which people are finding this site through) are:

Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love clothes, Ryan Gosling style.

Ugh. It goes back to this post. ONE POST. The stats beg the question… should you write what’s popular, and may generate more site hits? Or write about what drives you, and you have a passion for?

Thanks to niche communities fostered by the connected nature of the web, there’s a third way. Find the convergence between what your skills, passion, and what people need (and will pay you for).

Let’s make a list…

  • What do you enjoy doing? – Exercising, playing guitar, writing, being with friends, reading, traveling, kayaking, cooking.
  • What do you have a talent for? – Writing, motivating people, making people laugh, learn things quickly, seeing the possibilities.
  • What will people pay you for? – Writing, teaching, coaching, creating.

This is a simple visual I use to help people figure out the convergence between their passions, talents, and potential pay. I share Chris Guillebeau’s belief that simply asking people to do what they love is misguided, they must work towards a convergence. I love playing guitar, but my talent is so-so, and so no one is going to pay me to chop away at chords for an hour. I could eventually work my way up to above average, and will keep playing, but my convergence lies elsewhere.

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Right now, I believe it lies in writing, teaching, and coaching people. Here’s some good news…

People have multiple points of convergence.

I also worked as a summer camp director, where I was able to use my passion and talent to teach, mentor, write, motivate, and inspire. Write down as many things as possible in those 3 lists, and work towards convergence.

When you’re trying to figure whether you should write for eyeballs or write for love, and how it convergences with people’s needs, here are  three things to keep in mind.

1: Keep Writing and Hitting Publish

This is especially important early on in your writing. You’ll get better as the process continues. So write about topics you’re interested in, write as well as you can, without getting terrified that your writing isn’t catchy or challenging enough. Because…

2: Don’t Judge Your Posts

you can never predict what is going to be popular and speak to people. The post in question, Road Warrior – Tips When Packing for Business Travel, took me under an hour, and I didn’t care that much about it. I thought it was a worthwhile topic, and I had knowledge to impart, and people have obviously picked up on it.

Now the post on Haiti, Minimalism, Fight Club, and being Homeless, it was my baby. I spent 4 hours and over 2000 words on it.

Site stats on those posts?

  • Travel Clothes – 20 views, 50% via tag and search terms
  • Haiti – 45 views, 2% via tag and search search terms

Yes, Haiti had more page views, but the majority of my traffic comes from direct links via email or facebook. Tag and search terms are usually the new/unique visitors. People are searching for ways to be fit and look good, and no surprise there.

3: Don’t Care about what’s Popular, but Don’t Ignore It

Should you care about what is going to be popular? Yes and no. It’s nice to see stats increase to have people following your blog and visiting. It’s good to write content that people are looking for and interested in. Which drives traffic, which can drive revenue.

But ultimately, I say no, don’t write for popularity, write for your passion and creativity.

If you are continually seeking out the latest popular search terms and tags, and trying to craft your essays around that, you will burn out. Because the fire isn’t inside you, and your writing will be hollow. People don’t want to read hollow writing.

So go tell your story and share the things you are passionate about. This is the best writing you can do, and what will ultimately resonate with people. If you got in to this game for the money and the fame, go try something else. Figure out how you best serve others, and I believe you’ll be rewarded for it.

Ultimately, I believe that is what the world needs from me. What do you think it needs from you?

How Running Taught Me to Grind

48082_10100407839398622_1704875925_nRunning has become a great teacher in my life, but it didn’t start that way. The value of work and contribution was instilled in me at an early age. I had chores, mowed the lawn, washed cars, vacuumed, all sorts of around-the-house work. My first cash job was assembling trophies at the shop of my friend’s dad. My brother and I would go in on the weekends, or after school, and work for a few hours, be handed a $10 bill, and happily ride our bikes home.

Working at summer camp helped too. Being a counselor is an all-day job, though not all of it feels like work! But I still had to learn to be present and engaging even when I didn’t feel like it.

Sports also helped round out my grind ethic. Football two-a-days was another valuable lesson in putting aside temporary fatigue for the good of the team and long-term goals.

But perhaps my greatest teacher in learning how to grind has been running. I was a sprinter in high school, and before moving to North Carolina, had never run more than a 15k at once, and honestly that had only been once!

My transformation in to an endurance athlete isn’t the point. The point is training for and running these long distances has engaged a different part of myself, and has coincided with writing more. After never running more than a 15k (9.3 miles), I have now run 5 races of a marathon distance or longer, stretching up to 40 miles. When training for a race of that length, you regularly need to run over 10 miles. So yes, it’s been quite a change.

When you’re moving for that long, a lot happens. You’re constantly making little binary decisions about what to do.

“Do I eat? Stop to stretch? Go to the bathroom?”

Those are easy compared to the non-stop mind games doing their own laps through your brain.

“What are you doing?” “This is such a waste of your time” “Why don’t you just flag down that truck there” and my favorite, “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

Which is just perfect for the Resistance, because when I’m writing I hear the voice saying,

“Shouldn’t you be running?”

Remember those binary decisions? I’ve found even in writing I am tempted to make similar little decisions that can distract me from the task.

“Should I make more coffee now?” “Check email?” “Go for a run?” “Cook?”

In any type of endurance event, you’re constantly giving yourself positive self-talk, reminding your weary body why you can complete this task. That the payoff at the end is worth the temporary pain. Running in the woods for hours on end taught me this in a way nothing else has. It taught me that I can stay in something for a long time, longer than I thought was possible.

I never thought I could run 40 miles in one day. I still don’t like driving 40 miles! But grinding towards that goal has opened my mind to other “impossibilities” I once thought were unattainable.

  • Starting a blog and waking up early or staying up late to write? In progress
  • Completing an Ironman? One day
  • Starting a business? Possible
  • Speaking to 400 people? Last month
  • Reading the Steve Jobs book? Working on it :)

There is a mental switch to turning physical lessons (running) to cognitive work (writing), but the non-cognitive traits and lessons learned make the process possible. Traits like resilience, endurance, positive thinking, patience, and simplicity are applicable across different kinds of work and relationships.

And I learned them in the woods.

Question: Have you found that you’ve learned lessons in one aspect of life that you realized were applicable to another part? Please share in the comments.

Information Hoarding and the Value of Action

There is more information available to us now than at any point in history. Millions of blogs exist (Technorati counted approx. 164 million in June 2011), social media accounts, books and people giving advice. There are smart, generous people who are giving away their advice for pennies on the dollar, and in theory, you can learn all you need to know about almost anything in a relatively short amount of time.

This is a wonderful time to be alive and curious

This is also a dangerous temptation.

The single biggest challenge of all this information is that we will continue to collect it, hoard it, and do very little with it.

Hoarders

This is a struggle for me. I think, “I need to read this book and then I can start.” Which is total crap. I have all the knowledge I need to start small, fast, and learn, then adapt.

I’m not against reading and learning, 100% for it! But I’m also realizing too much reading is a trap, simply another form of stalling.

Here’s a recent example, does it ring true for you?

I was in my coffee shop last week, and the owner was inside. I have an idea to partner with him in an event, but couldn’t bring myself to talk to him about it. Excuses are as follows…

“He’s too busy right now” he was cleaning windows

“Maybe I should email him first” so I can do the exact thing I’m considering now?

“I haven’t even decided on the event, I’ll decide on that first!” the coffee is a pretty big part of the idea, so I couldn’t move forward without securing the coffee!

So I walked out, realized I was stalling and making excuses, and then still got in the car and left.

You can learn what’s necessary to start (fill in the blank) in a relatively short amount of time. Start a blog, a project, even a business.

I’m not trying to butter you up with well-wishes or make something sound easier than it is. Doing any of those things takes passion, smarts, and endurance. But too often we kill our own momentum before it even takes hold, thinking we’re not smart enough, experienced enough, or rich enough. What we fail to do is put aside the stacks of books and hundreds of blog posts, and go ask some tough questions.

“Hi, I’m Matt and I’d like to sell your coffee at running events. I have a willingness to wake up early and sell coffee to weirdos like myself who want to run 40 miles up a mountain. What do you think?”

But I haven’t asked that question. This simple question can tell me a lot about whether this is an idea capable of gaining traction, worth a partnership, worth pursuing. It will probably lead to several other questions which will enlighten my initial idea.

Asking questions is terrifying, because the answers will poke holes in all our ideas sitting on the desk. The answers will peel back the layers of what we thought was necessary, and reveal what really matters to the most important people in your world.

People

People you are trying to convince that trading their resources or attention for what you have to offer is a good thing. And if you care, this transaction is good for both parties.

Steve Blank calls this “getting out of the building”, taking your initial idea out in to the world and asking questions which can lead to validation. Blank, a career entreprenuer turned Stanford professor, is a great motivator at getting his students to get out and test their ideas in the marketplace. His guidance and shoving students out of the building has helped Stanford become the top university for successfully funded startups (source).

So enough reading today, of my blog, the book on your desk, the newsletters filling up your inbox. How can you take a step towards starting something today? Can we have the courage to stand up and say “this is what I’d like to do.”? What you do doesn’t have to mean quitting your job, but this call to action does mean you can do something in your own company, to make a ruckus and try something new.

Start small, learn quickly, and keep making a difference.

I hope you find this useful, but most of all, I hope you do something with it.

- Seth Godin, at the beginning of every episode of Startup School

Best of Life, Prioritized 2012: What the Numbers Mean for 2013

Image by Christian Ferrari

Image by Christian Ferrari

As the year is closing, the time is ripe to review your stats from 2012. For me, it’s an interesting mix between posts I really enjoyed writing and ones that were really popular. Not all the popular posts were tedious to write, in fact all of these were enjoyable and I was proud to ship over 100 posts this year. I’ve written about this effect before, but sometimes posts you feel awesome about fall flat, and one you felt was average will receive a bunch of traffic.

Here are my top 5 posts for the year, and then 5 other posts I really felt great about writing, whether they performed well or not. Page views are in parentheses.

5 Most Popular Posts

My 5 “Other” Favorite Posts

What Did I Learn?

  1. List posts work - 6 of 7 top posts were lists.
  2. Images work – The Hobbit post was #2 for the YEAR, despite only being live for 3 weeks!
  3. Guest posting works – The sources of most email signups and dedicated followers have come from guest posts for Michael Hyatt, Goins Writer, TentBlogger, and Buffer.
  4. Money works – StumbleUpon and Facebook offer fairly inexpensive ads, just be careful how long you allow them to run.
  5. Social media works – My biggest referral source was Twitter, followed by Facebook. Pinterest made a strong push late, and I’ve seen good results from it. The Hobbit post was strongly tied to traffic generated by pins (74 post pins). See the board here.
  6. Name-dropping works – My biggest post (11 Priority Secrets) was one I put a lot of effort in to with contacting bigger bloggers. They were incredibly kind about offering me a little blurb, and in turn shared on their site or on social media. It also helps even if you profile them in a positive light, as in the Generosity Model post from last week. Simply send them a quick email and let them know you wrote a bit about them, ask them to check it out, and if they like it if they would share with their followers.
  7. Consistency works – I’ve seen the best traffic and engagement when I’ve been able to focus on keeping my schedule consistent. Even if you begin by committing to 1 post a week, you’ll end up better than just posting on whim.

Looking at 2013

I really enjoy analyzing stats and trends, not just in blogging, but I was a nut about it when I was a lacrosse coach. But in writing, this analysis offers a unique challenge. You must write to drive traffic, but also to provide value, and write about what you care about. I’m not going to beat out the big sites in terms of pure clickable content every day, but I (and you) can offer such personal, in-depth information and researched content that blows them out of the water.

I plan on focusing more on a framework of post topics which will force me to be creative within the constraints of a topic. I can use this information to know what works for traffic and engagement, but also leave room for making sure I write about topics I really care about, even if they don’t convert as well.

What are your blogging thoughts for the upcoming year? What did you learn from your stats and engagement in 2012? Please share in the comments!

Find your stats 1 of 2 ways (via Michael Hyatt)

  1. Google Analytics:
    • Log into your Google Analytics account.
    • Select the appropriate website (if you have more than one).
    • Select Content | Site Content | All Pages.
    • Set the “Primary Dimension” to Page Title.
  2. WordPress (self-hosted):
    • Make sure you have JetPack installed. (It’s free.)
    • Log into your WordPress Administration page.
    • Under the Dashboard, select “Site Stats.”
    • Now select “Top Posts & Pages.”
    • Select Summarize “Year.” (Be patient, this can take a while to tabulate, depending on the number of posts you have on your blog.)

Disclaimer: Though I was planning on a post like this regardless, I did borrow some formatting and structure ideas from Michael Hyatt’s similar post

The Generosity Model

Quick.

Name a low-cost, effective way to grow your readership, connect with other bloggers, and gain the most valuable asset of all – trust.

What did you come up with? Comment down below! Feeling stumped? I’ll tell you my answer …

Be Generous

Give us this day...

photo credit: krislitman, creative commons

That’s right. Give outrageously valuable content away. Help people out and expect nothing in return. If you are open and generous with your time and talent, people will respond, they will tell their friends, and your blog will grow.

Does this model take longer? It may.

Do you make more money? Not in the short-term.

Can you build a high-traffic, profitable blog through generosity? Absolutely.

Don’t just take my word for it though, check out these 11 examples of people creating excellent, world-class content, and giving it away for free.

Tim Ferriss

I recently bought my first Tim Ferriss book, the 4 Hour Chef (if you’re going to buy it, get the hardcover edition, digital doesn’t do it justice). I wasn’t a fan of Tim’s at the beginning, thinking him too narcisstic, self-promotive, and even lazy. C’mon man, 4 hour work weeks? But, the guy does such a good job of being persistent, dealing with haters, and experimenting, that he’s won me over. He gives away awesome content and lessons on his blog, many of which end up making it in to his books. The language lesson below was originally written in 2009, and didn’t make print until this fall in the 4 Hour Chef. Are his tactics and lessons for everyone? No, but he doesn’t care about everyone, which is actually just fine. But I do believe you can find something that will help you on his site, if you take the time to read.

My favorite 4hWW posts

Pat Flynn

Pat runs SmartPassiveIncome.com, is one of the leaders in the Generosity movement, and practices what he preaches. One of the practices that sets Pat apart is he publishes his income reports down to the cent. You may think this is a bit narcissistic, but Pat includes in his blog the methods he uses to make money online! He writes well about different strategies for growing your blog, his how-to videos are incredibly helpful, and the SPI podcast regularly showcases great ideas to help you build and grow your blog or business.

Pat’s top hits

Check out my free workbook, Choose What You Love. A challenging and provoking look at what really matters to you.

Jeff Goins

Jeff runs GoinsWriter.com, a community passionate about writing, creativity, and ideas. Jeff is big proponent of being generous, and has given away almost every great work he’s shipped. Jeff strongly believes that free is your best marketing, and the most effective way to spread your story. He even gave away his book You Are A Writer for free on Amazon, and gained thousands of new readers.

Jeff’s top hits

  • The Writer’s Manifesto e-book (free resource via subscribing to his email list)
  • Intentional Blogging (12 week e-course)

Seth Godin

Seth is arguably the top blogger and business writer in the world, selling books by the millions, and speaking to top-dollar, sold out crowds wherever he goes. He’s a rock star. He also gives away great stuff for free, every day. Seth has posted on his blog every day for years, regularly testing content and ideas that make it in to his books. He’s launched a publishing service that is changing the way books are distributed (including sponsoring a few freebies), and is giving away an audio recording of his Startup School (which was $950 live).

John Saddington

John is more commonly known as the TentBlogger, a clever and biblical nod to the Apostle Paul’s chosen craft of tent making. He is open, honest, and regularly shares great tips and courses on how to make money online, build your audience, streamline your workflow, and more. If you’re in the market for a new blogging theme, John also crafted the popular Standard theme, which is all about simplicity and speed. If I wasn’t already tied to the StudioPress themes (which I still love), I would definitely look hard at Standard.

Michael Hyatt

Michael blogs at MichaelHyatt.com, a blog focused on Intentional Leadership. But he doesn’t stop there, doling out advice on publishing, writing, productivity, speaking, and more. Michael spent his professional career in the book publishing business, including a stint as the CEO of Thomas Nelson, so you know you’re hearing from one of the best. His podcast episode Advice to First-Time Authors (and part 2), is as valuable as sitting across from the CEO of a major publishing firm, which little ol’ me (or you) has no chance of doing right now. Michael bridges that gap and educates the masses, and is available for you on his blog.

Danielle LaPorte

Danielle first made waves with White Hot Truth and The Firestarter Sessions, and has followed up with fresh, engaging, and inspired writing for her community. In her about page (Here I Am), Danielle shares her highs, lows and many winding roads to arrive as one of the premier bloggers and speakers in North America. As with everyone on this list, Danielle shares content and resources on her blog that would normally cost hundreds of dollars to see her live. She’s building up one of the intimate and honest communities a writer could ask for by being generous with her time and spirit.

Check out Danielle’s collection of free interviews, worksheets, and images.

AppSumo

The Head Sumos serve up great deals on web apps, services, and courses to help your blog, business, or cause. I really like what they do and how they deliver it. The language is salty, the humor irreverent, and certainly have a flair for self-promotion. Plus, they do their video shoots in Sumo suits (at times). AppSumo isn’t for everyone, but they provide killer products at great prices, and have fun doing it. They also give away some incredible content, including interviews, courses, checklists, apps, and bundle deals. They have mastered the art of grabbing attention and keeping you tuned in.

You’ll have to dig through the list, but you can find lots of valuable freebies from AppSumo.

Ashley Ambridge

Ashley’s site, TheMiddleFingerProject.org, is fun from the moment you type the address in to your browser. She has a funny, refreshing, and honest style that goes against the grain. A marketer and copywriter by trade, her blog is full of helpful advice for small businesses and freelancers, including this great post on how photographers should introduce their pricing.

Find Ashley’s free ebook just below the fold on the front page.

Buffer App

Joel and Leo have built one of the most useful web apps in social media. Buffer allows users to space out their tweets or Facebook updates at specific times during the day, freeing you from tweet bombing people when you happen to be available. It’s an awesome service, integrates with almost any reader client you have, and is absolutely brilliant. So of course, they give it away. Yep, you can use Buffer to schedule 10 tweets or updates at a time, which easily lets you get through 1-2 days without refilling. They also share incredibly useful tips and hacks on their blog.

Morgan Ragland

Ok, a tip of the hat to my courageous wife, who is launching a fitness blog, something she has always been passionate about, and is ready to take the first step and start shipping on January 1st. TheSimpleGym.com is a community dedicated to simple but challenging workouts you can do at home or a nearby park. She was tired of gyms being crowded, inconvenient, and without enough space to move in an active workout. It certainly helps that Morgan is a certified personal trainer, but she will be posting 4 workouts a week, along with lifestyle and nutrition articles. Check out the launch page, and get an early start on your workouts by getting on the email list. Early training begins December 26.

Generosity also applies to physical businesses and goods

When Moe’s Southwest Burritos opens a new restaurant, they will often have a free burrito/taco day, or hand out an absurd amount of free food coupons to local groups, leagues, and even to people passing by the store. Moe’s understands that once you get people in the door, you now have the opportunity to win their loyalty through good food, kind service, and a welcoming environment.

You can do the same with your blog, giving people valuable content will get the “in the door”, and then you have the opportunity to wow them through showing the readers how they can improve their life, business, or relationships. If you can do this, then eventually you can sell something, and they will trust and appreciate that your product is something worth paying for. You’ve gained trust and permission, the 2 greatest assets in marketing and business today.

Don’t drown in a sea of noise. Give something away, and watch it spread

click to tweet

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Competition, Community, and Cartels

The incredible opportunities available to people to share their creative work and build a tribe are unprecedented. Whatever your work, cause, or mission, you can use the web, social media, and digital publishing to spread the word. The gatekeepers have been shoved aside, and never before in the history of mankind have such opportunities existed.

And we’re drowning.

Rebellion of the sweets

photo credit: Wimena Kane, Creative Commons

There is a dark side to the wide-open digital world we’re living in. You have the opportunity and the tools to succeed, but so does everyone else. Odds are, someone is creating a project strikingly similar to yours. The competition is staggering.
This isn’t exclusive to the digital and creative fields, small businesses are growing, the local goods movement is fueling a new breed of Mom & Pop stores and restaurants. Competition is everywhere, and it’s fierce.

Therein lies the opportunity.

The first job I had out of college, we were in direct competition with another established brand. I can remember my boss saying,

Competition is fine, and we’re only going to get better because they exist. We will push each other to provide a better service to the customers, or we will go out of business. That’s all there is to it.

Those words have stuck with me, and I’ll always view competition as an opportunity. If you’re comfortable in the status quo, soaking in a monopoly, unwilling to serve the customer’s needs, then you need to be shaken up a little bit.

Build the Community

While the temptation to tear down your competitors may arise, resist! The market is now large enough to support each provider, assuming both are willing to serve, engage, and evolve. Don’t waste even one moment of thought to how you can attack the competition, because the social mechanisms in place will expose any breakdowns or poor service. In fact…

Embrace the Competition

In a culture of mass information, millions of blogs, and billions of tweets, there is more to consume and fight against than ever before. So, love your enemies (I remember someone else saying that once). Realize that if you successfully eradicate the competition, there will likely be a decrease in demand as well. To quote Jeff Goins,

Maybe the pie is bigger than you thought and the world smaller than you realized.

Think about the opportunity! Everyone is accessible, and there is enough to go around. Maybe we won’t all make millions, but I’m sure we will make enough to live comfortably, provide for our families, and do work we love. A community of fellow writers, creatives, and businesses working together will allow the market to grow, and facilitate a culture of improvement, service, and fulfillment.

People must band together and fight the status quo, not each other (click to tweet that).

Cartel Rules

This type of thinking has come full circle today. I’ve been thinking about the nature of competition and community for years, am reading The Unconventional Guide to Art+Money (from Chris Guillebeau), and finally read this announcement from Jeff Goins and Joe Bunting. There’s a cartel in the works, and the name of the game is collaboration, not competition. When a group of like-minded artists band together to encourage, edify, and share each other’s work, the world’s going to change.

What do you think about this shift in behavior? Share in the comments

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Want to Create? Then Prepare for Pain – A Guest Post for Goins, Writer

Great news everyone!

Jeff Goins, author of the book Wrecked, and the brains behind the top writing blog, Goins, Writer, has kindly approved my guest post! Jeff’s writing has been instrumental in my own journey in to creativity, blogging, and the craft of writing.

You can access the article in the link below. I would greatly appreciate you reading it, sharing with a friend, or leaving a comment.

Want to Create? Then Prepare for Pain

While you’re on Jeff’s site, I highly recommend you checking out a few other articles. Here’s what I recommend:

You should also consider signing up for his email list, which in addition to updates, nets you his awesome little ebook, The Writer’s Manifesto.

If you found my blog from Jeff’s…

Welcome, I’m So Glad You’re Here!

The best thing to do is Start, but you can also check out the info below. Thanks for coming by!

Important Posts

If you enjoy my writing, sign up for email updates so you won’t miss any. I normally post 2 times per week. I will also send you my new workbook, Choose What You Love.

Click here to learn more about me and my journey as a writer.

Follow @mattragland on Twitter

Thanks again for reading, and let’s decide what really matters, then pursue it!

What to Do When Your Art Isn’t Working

I haven’t written in a week. Normally, I avoid the temptation to simply write about the emotions I’m having around the craft, because I believe it’s too easy and worldwide. “Oh, I struggle with the writing practice, just like a million other folks. Instead of actually writing about a topic that deserves attention, I will delve in to feelings and basically write about how terrible I feel.” But, I believe this is a challenge worth putting some words to.

Typewriter Man!

photo credit: starmanseries, creative commons

Because a week has passed between my posts, I had a gnawing fear inside. What scared me wasn’t fear that I had lost the desire to write, not at all, because I felt the need to write every day. The fear stemmed from thoughts which pervaded my mind, ready to pounce on my self-doubt.

You’re all washed up, good year with trying!

Nobody cares you haven’t written in a week.

The flip side: Everybody on your mailing list feels cheated because you haven’t written in a week. You said you post twice a week!

You’re not really going to write about what you’re feeling are you? What a cop out!

These feelings, the work of the Resistance, are the never-ending fight inside us to keep our art inside. For me, it’s writing, and for you art may be painting, web design, a golf swing, speech, or teaching. You will go through a dip, which may last a week, a month, or longer. Give the voices no quarter, and follow through. The gift you give the world by creating your art is bigger than you. Keep going.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, relays the story of a friend, who goes through the following ritual every time she writes.

My friend will spend 10 minutes writing about what a horrible writer she is, how she is worthless, lacks creativity, and has no business writing anything for anyone. After 10 minutes, she prints the page, tears it up, and picks up where she left off in her book.

Take comfort in the fact many artists and creators behave this way. The gnawing self-doubt and panic doesn’t really leave. If you believe in powers greater than your own (and I do), then you may also believe some are at work against you. These evil powers (whatever you have named them) take great interest in lobbing bombs at you whenever possible, and constructing vast roadblocks in your mind and even your physical life.

For instance, have you ever noticed that in the moment you’ve decided to take action for your work, the phone rings? Or you remember the clothes really need to be washed? Or you need to pay a bill? This is no coincidence, and likely, if you have put those chores off for this long, they can wait another 30 minutes.

When I’m feeling stuck, or without ideas, or I simply haven’t written in a while, here are 9 steps I follow to break out of the rut. You may find them helpful as well. Please share your own ideas and practices in the comments, or hit me up on twitter. Thanks!

1.  Turn my phone off

It only serves to distract me. I will inevitably receive a re-tweet which will drive me wild with happiness and keep me from writing.

2.  Set a time limit

I recommend 15-30 minutes.

3.  Write about anything

Mental state, what happened today, describe a happy day, painful day, a day in which “nothing” happened, the best/worst day of high school or college. Whatever, just write.

4.  Save draft

Schedule publication for the next morning. If you want to include an apology to your readers, go ahead. I know I appreciate a little honesty, and have never unsubscribed from a list because the writer told me they were having a bit of a creative crisis. Now, if I continue to have a crisis, and am providing no value, please let me know ASAP.

5.  Dive in to post ideas

I keep a running list of ideas on Evernote, ready to go when I need a post the next day. Since I’ve warmed up with a big pile of crap, I’m probably ready to create something decent.

6.  Set another timer

I recommend 30-60 minute this time

7.  Write on your topic

Write without filter, spell check, or worries. Simply get through it, as if you were told to run as far and fast as you can, and when you were totally spent there would be food and water at the end. Now is not the time for judgement, it’s time for writing.

8.  STOP

Give myself a pat on the back. I’ve won a small victory. Revisit the topic in the morning.

9.  Begin again

I hope you found this helpful, and if you are not a fan of my rambling post on feelings and writer’s block, my apologies. I would actually enjoy hearing from you, so I can know I shouldn’t get away with this self-indulgent writing. This post has been largely about me, which is a total no-no in relationship blogging, but I do believe this is a problem that afflicts most people. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong, and I will keep it to myself next time. Thanks for reading, I appreciate every one of you.

How Many Is Enough?

“Matt, I really enjoy reading your blog, I look forward to your posts each time”

“I’m so glad you’re writing about this topic, I wish I had realized it when I was younger”

“Your writing inspires me to take a chance in my life”

In the pursuit of large subscriber counts, high traffic, and monetization, I can lose sight of the reasons I wanted to start writing in the first place.

I Want to Write

I Want to Help Others

I Believe I Can

Right now, I have about 70 subscribers to my site, which is fine number. I do hope to grow it, and reach more people with my writing, but I need to step back and consider the implications. There are 70 people who have given me their permission to send them an essay 1-2 times per week, and care enough to read it. This is awesome, and humbling.

Recently I was feeling down, that I put so much effort in to my writing, and only see the numbers tick up, one by one. I wanted more, to break 100 subscribers, 1000, 5000! A small army of readers to engage on important issues and build a community around. Each of the quotes above have been spoken to me in the last month. I also have seen LP on my cousin’s top sites, printed out by my grandparents, and picked up by larger blogs. It’s cool to watch.

1000 is the median number of true fans a person/business/brand needs to survive. With a thousand true fans, buying everything you put out, you can make a living. Your number might be higher or lower, based on your services and pricing models. But a thousand is a good place to start. Read Kevin Kelley’s groundbreaking post on 1000 True Fans.

The danger is that no number will ever be enough, and you’ll constantly hunger after more fans, more readers, and more traffic. However, this is not the answer. Writing for the sake of readers and eyeballs isn’t the way. Write the truth, what needs to be told, and attract the people who need what you’re writing (click to tweet that).

If you would have asked me last year if helping a small group of people is enough, I would have said yes. 70 people seemed far away then, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. Whatever the number grows to, I need to keep being honest, keep shipping, and give-give-give.

Drip, drip, drip – it adds up

Thanks for reading this post, if you liked it, please share with your network or comment below. Have a great day!

[Check out my guest post on TentBlogger, John was very kind to use my mammoth study on productivity and how it works. Be warned, it's not easy]

photo via mzacha

Interview with Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing

I am thrilled to publish this interview with Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing! Danny was kind enough to spend some time with me (and be patient through the audio kinks) and share his thoughts on building a business, discipline, productivity, and making responsible choices. There is a ton of great content on this interview, and I also put together a slide deck to add even more value to Danny’s advice. I hope you enjoy it!

Show notes are below…

How You Can Choose Between Good Things

The most difficult part about setting your priorities can be deciding what is really important to you. I’m not talking about making easy choices, i.e. “should I write this morning, or browse twitter?” Granted, I still may not even be able to make that choice some days, but I know the clear choice (for me) is to write.

My friends, the difficult part is to choose between the good parts of life. The actions, opportunities, and relationships which are healthy and serve our true selves. When you begin to choose how to prioritize those aspects, is when life gets really confusing. But press on! Making these tough choices means you are moving closer to doing work that matters.

Which Path Will You Choose?

What is Good?

While we could spend all day discussing the spiritual and moral implications of the question (I have a great story to illustrate it), here are several things I consider “good” in my life:

  • Spending time with family & friends
  • Running & Exercising
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Travel
  • Work
  • Sleep
On any given day, I need to choose what’s most important to me, and get it done. Leo Babauta teaches to pick 2-3 MITs every day, and do those 1st, before anything else. Concentrate on these tasks and complete them before anything else. Doing this gets the monkey off your back, and frees you up to be more present with the many interactions that will come up each day.

What about the inevitable good but tough choices that come up? When we’re sitting down to work on our newest blog post, podcast, or course offering, and a friend calls and says “Want to go mountain biking?” Both are good things, right?

Calmly thank your friend, decline, and ask if he would like to go later, or another time. Take a deep breath, they’ll understand. Your friend is being a good friend, but right now he’s unknowingly working for the Resistance, trying to rip you away from your work. Make the choice, and do the work.

For me, I can be a people-pleaser. I thrive on the compliments and good graces of other people. On the Enneagram, I’m a 3 (Performer-Achiever). Many of the times I choose something which is still good, but not what’s needed; it is because I want to make other people happy, or not deal with their frustration.

How can we create the space to do meaningful work, and have time for other good things? Here are 3 rules to follow:

Create Boundaries

Give yourself time to do your work by scheduling it in to your day. I work on my site for 30-60 minutes each day, and I have found giving myself a healthy time frame to work in really helps. The days where I sit down and think, “Well, let’s see what happens” are not as productive as knowing I have 30 minutes to produce. You can also schedule in batches, for instance write 3-4 days a week, then spend 1-2 on maintenance, marketing, etc.

Communicate Your Schedule

Once you’ve created those healthy boundaries for your work, it’s time to communicate them. Create a shared calendar on Google, and have your main events listed. I don’t have mine down to minutiae, but people can see when I’m at work, writing, spending time with others. Family, co-workers, and friends can view and see I’m busy. This helps cut down on how often you’ll have to say “No, I need to write”. You’ll probably encounter some resistance early on, because it’s hard to grasp why a person would sacrifice sleep or parties to sit at a desk and pour everything out. But it’s ok, they’ll understand (or they’ll move on).

Be Consistent

Start small. Write for 30 minutes a day, 2-3 days a week, about anything. Establish a rhythm of work. Don’t pile so many expectations on yourself that you’ll burn out after a couple weeks. If after a couple of weeks you find yourself consistently leaving your desk with more to give, add a day. Create draft posts with outlines so you can remember what was percolating in your mind. Give yourself goals, say 500 words a day, or 2000 words per week. Try the SMART goal system. Have a deadline for your bigger projects, and break them down in to little daily tasks. Again, start small!

Friends, this is one of the most difficult types of Resistance we will encounter. There is nothing wrong with going to dinner with friends, exercising, and reading. They are all good things! What we have to be on the lookout for is when these good things consistently get in the way of our great work, which we have been called to do.

Question: How have you seen your creative work fall by the wayside for other good activities and actions? How have you combated these things and broken free to do your work? 

 

The Priority Secrets of 11 Great Bloggers

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Since I began blogging, I’ve been blown away by the community of writers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who are willing to connect and share. These people inspire me to do great work, create something lasting and valuable, and to be generous. Often, when I read their work, I sit back and think, “Wow! How did they come up with that?” Then the resistance pops in to my head, telling me I can’t write like they do, make money blogging, or create a different life.

An Important Lesson is: Heck Yeah You Can!

It takes hours of work, daily practice, patience, generosity, and a ruthless dedication to prioritizing what is truly important. But you can do this! I reached out to the people who have come before me, and made their dream a reality. My new work has driven me to stay up late, wake up early, and continually jot down notes during the day. The catch is I’m still working a full-time job, and can’t fully dedicate myself to my blog yet.

Every day, there are choices we have to make about good things! Yes, I must write, but also spend time with family, be present at work, pay the bills, eat healthy, and stay fit. I’m starting up, not established, and moving towards making this work a reality. But, like many of us, I’m not there yet.

So I asked these inspiring people a question:

“In the start-up phase of your blog, how did you prioritize the work you were passionate about with other important areas of your life?”

The responses were just as inspiring as the rest of their work. They have been at the beginning just like everyone else, and have done the work to make it through. Even though I haven’t met a single one of them personally, they spent time to respond, and shine a light on the path they have traveled. Creating this kind of life isn’t easy, it requires the sacrifice of time, money, sleep, and maybe relationships. But it’s worth it. I’m waking up at 6:00 am ready to work, even spend 30 minutes to write or read. I won’t sacrifice my creative time, even if I don’t go to sleep until 1:00 am.

We have choices to make, and a path to follow

I hope you’re as inspired and motivated by these people as I am. Happy reading…

Jeff Goins – Goins, Writer

I’m not great at balance. For me, life is about seasons, and in my startup season, I didn’t try to balance things too much. My wife and friends and family all understood this was a short-term investment that would have long-term gain.

That said, I didn’t check out of everything. What I did was something I’ve avoided doing for years. I got up two hours early every day for a year. This didn’t mean I deprived myself of sleep. At first, it was hard, but then I started going to bed earlier and cutting other time-sucking activities at night.

Brett McKay – The Art of Manliness

I was in law school when I started the blog, so law school definitely took precedence. To balance school, work, family, and the blog I just stuck religiously to a schedule. In Law School, I had my days planned to the minute. I usually blocked time out in the morning and late evenings for the blog.

Thankfully, since graduating from school and working on the blog fulltime, I don’t have to be so strict with my schedule.

Leo Widrich – Buffer

What I found is that when you get involved with something new, it is like a newborn child, it needs a ton of focus and prioritizing. That’s very hard and involves “doing what you have to do” and cutting out a lot of things. In my case, I had to change a lot of things in my life and stop doing them. In order for me to really develop a key focus for Buffer, here is what I did: I Picked 3 Priorities and Nothing Else

1. Working on Buffer and making it successful. 2. Staying fit, going to the gym, swimming and so forth. 3. Learning to code in evenings and on weekends. There were a lot of tough calls to make, but that’s it.

Corbett Barr – Think TrafficExpert Enough, & Start a Blog That Matters

During the startup phase of my blog, I was on a sabbatical road-trip through Mexico. Because I wasn’t working and was away from my typical home life, it was easy to spend lots of time exploring and being with family and friends, while also laying the foundation of my blog. It’s not for everyone, but getting away for an extended trip can be a great time to start something new.

Matt Frazier – The No Meat Athlete

I actually found this to be pretty easy. I had always wanted to start a business, so when I finally saw it happening, working on it was all I wanted to do! I started waking up an hour earlier to write a blog post each day — back then, I was posting every day, because I knew if I missed a day I might start to slide and then give up. But my posts were quick then too, so an hour was plenty of time to write, edit, and publish.

Writing posts became the top priority, at least in the sense that it was the first thing I did each day. And then I did all the behind-the-scenes work whenever I could — at lunch, in the evening, and on weekends. Since my blog was about going vegetarian and running, it was pretty easy to stay on track with that stuff even while I was spending an hour or two a day on my blog. Being super-focused on your topic, especially early on, will help.

Scott Dinsmore – Live Your Legend

Prioritizing was simple. I was so damn fired up about what I was doing that there was always time for it. It might have been super early in the morning or really late at night, but when it comes to passion, you always find the time. It’s getting yourself to take a break that’s the hard part!

Pat Flynn – Smart Passive Income

I made sure to dedicate X number of hours per week to SPI, and made sure that my fiance (now wife) understood what I was doing and why – but also I had to be disciplined and make sure I don’t work or think about work when I’m on family time or play/fitness time. For fitness, again, it was making sure I got in that hour each day – and even though I have the freedom to not have a schedule, a schedule keeps me very sane – so schedule it out would be my advice.

Jay Cherry – Lespwa Means Hope

I remember the feeling of deciding to move to Haiti. It was a combination of feeling like I was walking into a death of my own self coupled with an impatience to jump in, trusting that such a scary place would bring even more life. It was hard for me that some people thought we were being very unwise to quit jobs, drop 401k’s, move away, have no concrete plan, and do so with no steady income (I ended up making $500/mo in support when we moved there, which was enough to live on, but did nothing to plan for retirement that the world says to start preparing for). I viewed this conflict of fear and excitement as confirmation from God that we were following where he wanted us to go.

James Clear – Passive Panda

I would say the key is to demand that you and those around you respect your time and effort. I’ve noticed that when I have been very clear about when I’m doing work and when I’m not, the people around me have respected that. It makes it easier to have friends and family not interrupt and it makes it easier to stick to your schedule when you know how much time you have.

I would say the worst thing you can do is just work with no time frame in mind. That’s when you find yourself wasting time. That’s when you find others interrupting you when you get in a good flow (because you didn’t make it clear when you were working). And that’s when you start to sacrifice other key areas like fitness and sleep.

Michael Hyatt – Intentional Leadership

Michael was speaking at Blog World when I asked him about this post, but his writing has been so helpful for me that I had to include him. Michael does speak very openly about his work-life balance, and how early in his career he needed to re-structure his priorities. The best resource for hearing more is on episode 9 of Michael’s podcast, Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?  I highly recommend listening to it. Another resource I’m excited about from Michael is his new book, Platform (affiliate link), and I’m giving away a copy here!

Jonathan Fields Millburn - The Minimalists

The stuff will never make you happy. The meaning of life is growth and contribution. Nothing else matters.

 

 

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who contributed to this post! I have been amazed and humbled by their willingness to share advice. A piece of advice I kept hearing was “I’ve been where you are, keep working at what you love!

I hope all of us can take heart in their wisdom, and the calling in our heart. Keep creating for no other reason but to realize the passion inside your true self.

Now, it’s your turn… how do you prioritize time for the dreams and creative endeavors you have? I would love to hear your stories! Please share in the comments