Imagine this, if you will.
An old woman, near the end of her life. Shivering in a fleabag apartment without heat in the winter. Walking four miles each way to the food bank, to carry home unmarked cans of mystery meat. Not even a cat to keep her company, because cat food is expensive.
Then one day she dies, and the neighbors find $2.7 million wadded up in her mattress.
It’s a natural human impulse to hold on to what we have. We figure we can handle whatever discomforts we might be facing now, and who knows how bad it could get down the line? So we hoard, saving up our riches for some mythical later time.
What does this have to do with writing?
Everyone who writes faces this at some point. We come up with a powerful idea, something we think will capture a lot of attention. This is the kind of content we know we need to grow our blog and our business.
So of course we can’t waste it on our measly 300 subscribers (or 100, or 12). We start scheming about how we can make it a guest post on Lifehacker, or convince Seth Godin to link to it. We scribble our great idea on a Post-it so we remember to write it up when we hit some magic number of subscribers–500 or 1000 or 10,000.
The Post-it gets dusty. We never hit that magic number. Because we took our best content ideas and stuffed them into a mattress. We didn’t think our small audience was good enough for amazing content, so we never got a larger audience.
The muse is spiteful
Your muse is a fascinating creature, but she is not necessarily very nice. If she sends you a killer idea and you don’t do anything with it, she can get downright mean. She’d rather go play cards with the boys in the basement than think of more great stuff to send you, because you blew her off last time.
Your muse doesn’t care if you’re a flake about your mortgage or your job or that 10 pounds you’re trying to lose. But if you’re a flake about your writing, she’ll turn a cold, cold shoulder. She’s volatile and she has a damned bad temper. So frankly, you need to humor her a little.
(If this sounds like a drag, sorry. Welcome to the life of a person who creates something out of nothing. You always figured there had to be a catch–well, this is it.)
When your muse sends you an amazing idea, you have to do something with it. If at all possible, sit down and write the idea up as soon as it comes to you. If that’s not an option, at least capture the idea and scribble down any details you find exciting. If you can do it, think of a couple of good subheads. Then schedule a time when you can flesh it out.
Ideas go stale quickly. Get to your keyboard and get that post written as soon as you can manage it.
How to get the most value out of your best post ideas
Instead of saving your best ideas for later, get the most out of them today. Don’t just create one cornerstone post–squeeze some extra value out of it.
Create a series. Spend a few minutes mind-mapping, and come up with 5 or 7 spin-off ideas based on that original post. A series is a tremendous traffic builder, even more so when it starts with a strong concept. You might try putting a well-selected, relevant keyword phrase in the title of each post to start collecting search engine traffic.
Create a Squidoo lens. Rework your main points and build a Squidoo lens (a very simple Web page) around them. Work your keyword phrase into the lens title and first paragraph. Link to your post or your series, using that same keyword phrase. Squidoo lenses tend to rank very well in Google. Web searchers can easily discover you there and, if your content is good enough, will follow you to your blog. Remember that you can include an RSS feed to your blog in any Squidoo lenses you create.
Expand it as a free eBook and offer it as a bonus for subscribing to your blog or email list. Be sure to put the blog’s URL in the footer of the eBook, so when it gets passed along, new readers know where to find you. You don’t even necessarily have to expand it–I created a PDF of my 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew post, which keeps popping up in unexpected places and funneling traffic back to me.
Offer it as a guest post . . . this week. A lot of us get hung up on pitching guest posts to the biggest sites in the blogosphere. We get all worked up trying to figure out how to attract the attention of the big guys.
That’s all good and well, but when you’re just starting out, don’t overlook guest posting opportunities that are closer to your blog in size. As a rule of thumb, look for blogs with anything from the same number of subscribers you have to 2-3 times your numbers. To keep procrastination from doing you in, write the post first, then figure out who to pitch it to. You can always tweak it to suit your host blog’s readership. Keep offering it to bloggers in your topic until someone bites.
Hoarding ideas is the same as throwing them away
Sometimes you’ll have magnificent ideas that are too far off topic, or too personal to share with the big wide world. Or, even worse, they’re perfect for that next project you have planned, and you don’t want to waste them on the project you’re working on now.
Write them up anyway, even if they never get posted. You don’t have to post every great idea you have, and you probably shouldn’t. But you can’t hoard your best stuff, either.
Your reputation is being built based on what you’re doing now. Grandiose schemes for what you’ll create when you have a gorgeous new blog theme, a wise and loving mentor, enough time to work on your true life’s work are just that . . . schemes.
Your imagination is part of your greatest wealth, but imagination without action is a drug that will waste away the best part of your life. Don’t save the best for later. You might not get any later. Put your best, most glorious work out now, and your spiteful muse will turn into a trustworthy ally.