You only have about 90 seconds to tell your story online. Probably less, but that number reflects conventional wisdom on the matter.
We all want to get pulled into a great story. It’s hardwired into our psychology. Storytelling has been an integral part of humanity since charcoal met cave wall.
And we’re surrounded by more and more stories every day. Stories we read, stories we listen to, stories we watch, and the stories we share with each new digital mode of communication that arrives on the scene.
And — if you’re lucky — you’ll get a minute and a half to tell your story (may the late, great film director Tony Scott rest in peace).
But if your stories aren’t original, creative, and relevant to your audience … no one will listen.
Here’s a few ideas on how to change that outcome …
Your content is your story, so tell a good one
Behavioral psychologist Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. notes:
Research shows that stories create images in the mind that may also trigger mirror neurons. Use stories if you want to get people to take an action.
Sounds a lot like the basic principles of Content Marketing 101, right?
I think the first rule of Copyblogger needs to be revisited here. If your content sucks, no one will tune into your story, and no one will take the action you want them to take.
But where does great content come from? Google thinks that relevance and originality count for quite a bit. Your search rankings — good or bad — prove this.
The online market is the big conversation we’re all having, and your product is the content and the story that you share with that market. If you’re not telling an original story, in the voice of a normal human being, people tune out your message, and incoming traffic to your site literally stops.
“Original” stories are found, not born
Need some help finding some creative inspiration? It’s all around you.
Well known voices in the field of “combinatorial creativity” like Kirby Ferguson (filmmaker), Maria Popova (journalist and interestingness curator), and Austin Kleon (NY Times bestselling author of Steal Like an Artist) all tout a well known secret of highly creative and prolific content producers.
“Everything is a remix”. Nothing is truly original. All stories are really mash-ups and derivatives of stories that have been told before.
Great ideas come from taking two completely different ideas and jamming them together to come up with something utterly original and new, but somehow familiar.
This is what all audiences crave. It’s why Hollywood still makes combined billions on remakes and adaptations of stories we’ve all heard a hundred times before, but want to see told again and again.
Star Wars, one of the most influential genre films of all time, borrowed elements from Joseph Campbell’s work on mythological traditions, classic Sci-Fi television serials, and Japanese samurai films to become something original and relevant.
Great copywriters have been borrowing from each other forever. They collect something called a swipe file of succesful ads to see what’s been proven to work, and to cull inspiration for new projects.
Austin Kleon writes “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”
Of course fabrication, lying and outright thievery aren’t new to content creation either.
It happens every day, especially in high stakes journalism and publishing, but you don’t want to be that kind of storyteller.
Do your research. Combine what you know and love with your audience’s needs and desires to create something utterly unique, memorable and worth sharing.
Your original, creative content is your unique story, and if you tell it right, your audience will keep coming back to hear more.
Remember: The writer runs this show.
The underlying framework of all great online content is the written word. The blog post, the book, the podcast, the screenplay, the checklist for your fantastic interview, they are all words written by you.
The discipline of the writer
Write, write, write … and then write some more.
That’s the amount of writing author Henry Miller thought you needed to get down in order to find your voice.
The original, relevant, and unique voice that makes you stand out in a crowd.
Sounds a lot like Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule”.
How long does it take write a million words?
“Ray Bradbury wrote at least a thousand words a day from the age of 12 on.”
He was making a living, and earning accolades as a writer in his early twenties. Coincidence?
Over to you …
Maybe you don’t have an NEA fellowship, or you’re not independently wealthy. You can still set aside the time to write, every day, no matter who or where you are.
Scribble those flashes of brilliance when you’re stuck in traffic in a small notebook (I never leave the house unless it’s in my back pocket). Beam your ideas into Evernote.
Wherever, whenever, whatever it takes to sketch the foundational ideas that will eventually grow into your timeless story.
As Mr. Ferguson reminds us, “Copy, Transform, and Combine.”
Now that you have all the tools you need to tell the story your audience wants to hear … what are you waiting for?
Note: In the spirit of derivative creativity, the headline of this post is a mash-up of a Gandhi quote “Be the change you want to see…”, a quote attributed to author Carol Shields “Write the book you want to read…”, and the classic copywriter’s workhorse … the how-to.