How to Create Online Content Like an Immortal Renaissance Artist

image of leonardo da vinci

So you want your online content to get noticed, huh?

Maybe you’re an blogger that aspires to crack into the A-list crowd.

Perhaps you’re a promising author with an irresistible story idea.

Or you may simply be an online freelance writer with big league dreams.

Kudos if you are, because the exploding digital content universe needs you to be at your best.

But there lies the prime question — how do I rise above the billowing obscurity blanketing the digital content universe to achieve online relevance?

Thankfully there is a simple (though not easy) answer to this question.

Sorry, it’s not entirely about Twitter tricks, smart SEO, or self-promotion wizardry. Those elements are all useful, but you need to do one thing first:

Create content masterpieces.


Yup, masterpieces — those iconic and enduring creations that withstand the tests of space, time, and short attention spans. Ironically, the best role models to emulate for crafting such online masterpieces are long dead and from a very un-digital world.

Enter Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael — the holy trinity of the supreme Renaissance artists.

We remember, celebrate, and idolize these creative legends because they were both epic and prolific. Their works are immortal, as are their legacies.

Plus, they’re the namesakes for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How cool is that?

It goes to show that our three Renaissance friends have a thing or two to teach us about creating masterpieces.

So put down your keyboard and pick up your quill and ink, because it’s time to create content like it’s 1559.

Write with urgency like Leonardo da Vinci

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

Leaders act with the utmost urgency. Both Leonardos (the Renaissance pioneer and the Ninja Turtle) took up that charge.

The same quality holds true for you in your quest to build content masterpieces worthy of notice and praise. You must lead yourself (whether you like it or not).

This includes …

  1. Marshaling your creative ideas into a tenacious writing force
  2. Squashing the inner gremlins that seek to destroy your determination, and …
  3. Establishing high standards for your creative output

As Jonathan Fields puts it, “that’s what pros do.” In January alone he published 17 blog posts, wrote 25,000 words and completed the manuscript for his next book, tweeted hundreds of times, and much more. And according to him, that’s not an unusual month.

Hello urgency!

Do you operate with the same drive?

Are you taking full initiative to create your most vivacious masterpieces? If online stardom is your aim, then you should. Here are a few ideas to get you started …

  • Set a daily writing goal, like 1,000 words. This is Chris Guillebeau’s benchmark.
  • Publish consistently and frequently. Don’t sacrifice quality, but ‘show up’ often.
  • Sharpen your unique creative identity. Become memorable for who you are.
  • Write larger-masterpieces (think books, special reports, and manifestos) that give a bigger picture of your bold style and story.

My friend Corbett Barr advocates this urgency premise in knockout fashion — write epic sh*t.

Are you being epic today?

Be one with flow like Raphael

When one is painting one does not think.

John Cleese of Monty Python fame teaches that “if you get into the right mood then your mode of thinking will become much more creative. But if you’re racing around all day ticking things off lists … and generally keeping all the balls in the air then you are not going to have any creative ideas.”

John’s recommended solution to conquering this “frenzied world that we all live in” is to construct our own “tortoise enclosure.”

Yes, we’re talking about a turtle shell that you can escape into away from life’s bombardment of interruptions. It’s here in this protected space that your “tortoise mind,” as John calls it, can fully play.

Here are the basic building blocks for your masterpiece-incubating (ninja) tortoise enclosure …

  • You must establish strong boundaries of personal space and time
  • You must permit no distractions (electronic or otherwise)
  • You must focus on a single task at a time (stop multi-tasking)

Your playtime within this shell is vital to the unlocking of your full creative potential.

It’s the time you’re able to devote to such play that leads to Flow — the state of mind where your deepest and most vivid ideas pour out of you in a single, consistent stream of consciousness.

And that’s precisely what Raphael meant by “not think[ing]” when painting.

When you’re in this fluid state, you don’t really think as much as ride the waves of creativity to the shores of your content masterpieces.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if John Cleese was secretly the Ninja Turtle behind the red mask, I think you might be right. :)

Free your angel like Michelangelo

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

The exploding digital universe, which includes the publication revolution, has brought with it a tsunami of new writers.

On balance, we’re all “authors,” capable of being published with the click of a button (blogs be praised).

It’s an exciting ecosystem to be a part of. But it’s not a utopia. Case in point is the now herculean challenge of standing out and getting noticed in the crowd surge of online writers and the subsequent overload of content.

This atmosphere fosters an inconvenient truth — good content isn’t good enough anymore.

If you want to achieve escape velocity from the masses, you must — as Michelangelo says — continue carving your content until you set your masterpiece free.

There’s a common term for this all-important skill: editing.

I believe that sharp editing has become an invaluable competitive advantage within the digital content universe. And I’m not alone. Thom Chambers, for one, agrees.

Thom is the brilliant editor behind In Treehouses, a free e-magazine focusing on topics that will help you reach your 1,000 True Fans.

In his latest edition, titled We’re All Publishers Now (featuring The Domino Project, eBookling, Chris Guillebeau, Issuu, By Bloggers, and more), Thom writes that “with more and more content appearing online each day, the value of editors and curators is rising.”

You may not actually hire or collaborate with a skilled creative editor. Although, this is likely a smart decision if you’re a major league online author or someone who aspires to become one.

The key point is that you put your content through the full writing process.

Don’t just write and publish like most online writers do. To create a genuine masterpiece worthy of much attention and fanfare, you must write, edit, and publish.

And consider executing the writing-editing loop a few times first.

Go Ninja, Go!

Supreme online attention and relevance is reserved for those dedicated to creating content masterpieces.

It’s as simple as that.

Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo are apex examples of this axiom. True, we online ‘artists’ have traded paintings for pixels. But that doesn’t excuse us from learning and applying the timeless lessons that these grand masters of creativity have to teach.

Not a history buff? Don’t care about Renaissance artists? Not a problem. Just get your Ninja Turtle freak on.

You could do far, far worse than aspiring to be an online writing “hero in a half-shell.”


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Reader Comments (74)

  1. says

    Dear Matthew,
    Reading this blog has always been a great great great pleasure for me…but this pleasant crosses all limits when I see I am getting just what I need. Leonardo is my dream intellectual. I respect all of his works all the time. Now I got your post. It is my first time to go through your post and for the first time I have got a wonderful combination of information-rich post and example of one of the greatest artists…People should be wordless reading this article…
    Thank you (but thanks is not enough here though)…

  2. says

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for this post! It’s a really inspiring one.
    I especially like this bit:
    “those iconic and enduring creations that withstand the tests of space, time, and short attention spans”

    Anyway, you use words that I really love.
    This post will stand the test of time, I hope.

    • says

      Hi Akos-

      I greatly appreciate your mention of my words. I do in fact love the fine art of finding the just the right word to convey an idea. I’m certainly no grand master. But I do strive for such a benchmark.

      Thanks for anointing this article high in your pantheon of articles :)


    • says

      I knew someone was going to ask for Donatello!!

      It’s not that I don’t like the staff weapon or the purple accents, just that i couldn’t find a trustworthy quote. The historical Donatello, though famous, didn’t seem to leave behind a usable quote. Sigh!

      Thanks Mary!


  3. says

    That’s what I’m talking about!

    Wanna win? Start putting out masterpieces, or… fail!

    Bloggers, unleash NOW the awesomeness you are full of!

    • says

      Well put Raul. Going full-tilt on your writing abilities is among the few fantastic ways of unleashing your potential.

      I agree with the famous quote that most are more afraid of their genius than of failure. We must strive past that barrier if we are to create masterpieces.


  4. says

    Great post, what sucked me in was the pic of the old man. I just had to see where that was going. Epic Shit is something we all should strive for. Finding a place to write is very important especially if you have tons of distractions around you. I find that blogging at my day job on lunch gives me tons of creative ideas, but when I get home, I am at a loss. I am just glad I found that median balance so I can get shit done.

    • says

      Here here Sonia!

      The decompression zone (aka our turtle shell) is perhaps the most important element of the creative masterpiece creating process. Find that best place for you and maximize your quality time in it.


  5. says

    Great article! Cleese’s tortoise mind reminds me of a quote by Virginia Woolf: If a woman is to write, she must have money and a room of her own. If we’re going to write, we need the space to create, and the drive to follow through.

    • says

      HI Kathryn-

      Nice corollary with Virginia Woolf. And I particularly enjoy, and echo, the need for drive. It’s not near enough to just create the cavity of space and time, but to also fill that cavity with resolve.

      Great point :)


  6. says

    My inner child is pretty sure this article is awesome simply for your Ninja Turtles references :)

    Chris Guillebeau’s writing strategy is spot on as far as I’m concerned. When I was 15 years old I wanted nothing more than to be a novelist. I decided that summer to write my first novel. Within 2 months I had a 86,000 word rough draft as a sophomore in high school. Sure it was terrible, but I did it by committing to write at least 2,000 words every single night.

    I never let myself go to bed without those 2,000 words and some nights I cranked out 4 – 5,000. It cemented pretty quickly how important it is just to START. Just to get the words on the page no matter how uninspired they might seem at the time. That’s what editing is for, right?

    • says

      Starting is everything. Our Renaissance Artist friends would never be where they are today (which is to say permanently etched into human memory) if they hadn’t at some point put ink quill to parchment and chisel to stone for the first time.

      And yes, editing comes next. Let me know if I can help on that front :)


  7. Hayley Huong says

    I really love it when you merge your academic knowledge with your article. Very convincing!

    • says

      Hi Hayley-

      It’s fun to be a geek on both the academic and cartoon side of things at the same time; makes life a little more enjoyable ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for the comment!


  8. says

    I saw the angel’s flaws in the rough draft and edited until I set him straight.
    ~Shane Arthur ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Nice post. I like your writing style.

  9. says


    Really great post. Very well organized and full of good approaches, many of which I know work beautifully, like the 3 building blocks you list, and the practice of setting a daily writing goal. I recently read something that worked well for Earnest Hemmingway, that’s been working well for me: write the first paragraph the night before of what you intend to work on the next day. It makes for a very productive morning because you’re already started!

    You mentioned flow, which is something I’ve read a lot about. It’s a mental state originally identified and studied by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. I wrote about it in this post (see section 2).

    Tenacity and squashing inner gremlins are key as well. There’s a very specific way to go about squashing gremlins (which does wonders for one’s tenacity). I recently posted about it:

    Thanks for a very well written, useful post. I’m quite sure it’s going to help a lot of writers. I look forward to reading more of you.


    • says

      Great commentary Susan.

      I adore Hemmingway’s wisdom, but hadn’t heard of that piece of advice before. Thanks for contributing that. It makes a ton of rational sense in an otherwise crazy endeavor, writing.

      I’ve read research on Mihalyi before too. Genius stuff! Glad we share that interest.

      All the best!

  10. says

    My shell is always the period I take off from all of my responsibilities. I always come up with tons of ideas while I take that much needed physical and mental break. I even forbid myself from making any lists, so by the time the period is over, I’m jotting down tons of ideas.

    I hate to give such a standard thank you, but… thanks for this post. It rocked. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • says

      There are no standard Thank You’s :) I greatly appreciate it Elizabeth!

      I like your approach to idea generation and just getting in the “flow”. Keep those ideas coming.

      Best wishes,

  11. says

    Cowabunga dude!!!
    What a beautiful run down memory lane, and loved how you connected it all together!

    Thanks for inspiring me to keep doing what I am doing, only to do it with more urgency.

    I do not want to stop at being a writer, but a content creator. Videos, songs, stories, what have you. What’s stopping me? Only me, myself (and sometimes Irene? :/ )

    • says

      Hi Momekh-

      The future of digital publishing is bright for multi-media specialists who offer stories in more than the written word. I think you should absolutely keep your dream alive and keep pushing.

      There’s nothing stopping you; go make it happen!


  12. says

    Wow! This was just the precise information that I needed to really take my blog ‘over the edge’. I had sensed I was doing something wrong…but you pinpointed the exact problem. I KNEW I needed to edit more and take more time in my writing. I’ve always had the problem of being too verbose. But I didn’t allow myself to admtit that it was critical to good writing because that meant more T-I-M-E. I know..pretty dumb!

    Creativity–that’s the easy part. I love that flow and go with it. I’m a fabric artist, song writer, and organizational guru..and I love being ‘in the groove’. I never lack for great ideas. But here was the one little kink–I’m a mom with three super busy teenagers, two adult kids and grandkids. Lots of people–lots of needs. Too often, my writing has been just one of many tasks.

    Thanks to you, I realize I need to find that quiet place and focus JUST on my writing. I’ve worked hard to develop my photography skills this year. I have lots of great ‘real life’ projects to share..but the writing needs that same drive and attention I’ve been giving everything else.

    Thanks seems like such a paltry word to describe my feelings! I’ve been hooked on your blog for some time now thanks to Maria of Colour Me Happy. But today–well–you just hit the spot! Great post!

    • says

      Hi Donna-

      You and I are quite similar in that I can be quite verbose too. A natural glitch with me :) So it takes concentration and devotion to edit well, which is why I love it. It’s both challenging and rewarding!

      I’m thrilled that I brought some new wisdom into your day. Indeed, find that quite space to let your creativity not only flow but funnel down into those sharp edges. Then unleash them!

      I’m honored to have along for my writing adventures. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful comment.


  13. says

    Really inspiring post! In your blog you don’t set apart us from the great minds. You tend to combine us all and let us know that we can write and be great writers like many great minds have been. Great job!

    • says

      Wonderful observation Brian. We each possess the innate ability and strength to become immortal titans of creativity. All that stands in our way is the false fear that we aren’t worthy of such greatness.

      Absent that falsehood, we gain more experience, which refines our skills and hones our creative eye. That experience yields more, better concepts. It’s quite the uplifting cycle.

      Good luck on your own adventures!


    • says

      Nice!! Many would do well to follow suit and unleash their inner Raph :) I’m the same way. But default I’m more like Leo. But I’ve been working on harnessing the power of the Red bandanna more.


  14. says

    Pure greatness. Illustrating the techniques in this fashion really helps it all make sense. New bloggers or writers of any kind will get a great benefit from this, but even those of us who have been doing it for a while should come back and read this as a refresher from time to time.

    • says

      Thanks Bill! It’s always tricking trying to create a useful article to both ends of the writer spectrum – beginners and veterans. I’m thrilled you think I struck a good cord for both.

      Hope you’re well.


  15. says

    Hey Matt

    Found this post through a RT to your little black book. Read that post – very cool, tweeted it out. And while following you on Twitter through I’d come over and check out your Copyblogger debut.

    Dude, you wrote a great post.

    With the explosion in self publishing – love the quote in one of the ‘In Treehouses’ magazines that i read earlier: We are not bloggers who publish, we are publishers who blog – anyone, back on track, with this explosion it’s become imperative to create quality content to stand out.

    Editing is one of the ways to create higher quality content.

    Actually practicing writing is another way. I’ve written about this on posts on my blog in the last few weeks, tied it in with the field of Talent Aquistion/Deliberate Practice – and have been amazed at the response. It’s a topic that ‘bloggers’ seem to be blissfully unaware of. Hopefully your post will open the eyes of a few people – and lead them to re-examine the quality of their output and strive to raise the bar.

    Excellent post. Looking forward to reading more of your Epic Shit – either here or back at your site.


    • says

      Hey Paul-

      Killer comment and observations. My great thanks!

      The quote you shared of Thom’s is a personal fave of mine as well. Publishers are we – and many (most?) would do well to take that responsibility to the heights of its potential. As you say, editing is vital to that process. No magazine worth its salt ever (EVER) goes to “print” without exhaustive edits.

      I like your interlay with Talent Acquisition. I have some years under my belt at a Fortune 100 giant. Needless to say, the metaphorical need for more writing and editing is rather apt for such mindless environments.

      In all, I’m thrilled you’ve discovered my simple writing :) Glad to have you along for the ride. It’ll be fun, promise!


    • says

      Excellent question. While I wouldn’t say that this article is an “epic,” I do humbly think it’s of high quality. And this one took (draft to final revision) 6-8 hours.

      I could have been more efficient, maybe. But in the digital universe of more, I’m perfectly content publishing less so long as it’s effective to the highest quality possible.

      Hope that helps!


    • says

      It’s funny, too, because sometimes the best posts (or any kind of writing) come in a kind of flash. But you don’t get that until you’ve put a whole lot of hours in writing other things. :)

  16. says

    Hi Matt, this was the perfect post for me today. I started blogging two months ago and today I was just not motivated at all to write a blog post. Fortunately, I subscribe to Copyblogger and read your inspirational post. It is relevant because I live in Italy and see how much influence these three artists have until today (they are sure immortal!). More importantly, there were some points you made that really hit home.

    I wrote a post about this and want to personally thank you for motivating me to not only write one post but two today.

    Many thanks!

    • says

      The pleasure is mine Diana. It’s wonderful to make a new friend from Italy. I adored my time there a few years ago. Breathtaking!

      I’m grateful to have brought some usable inspiration into your creative process today. That’s the best part of what we do online – help lift up people precisely in their moment of need. It’s the best of feelings :)

      Congrats at being two months into your online writing journey. Keep it going. Believe in your talents and push yourself to publish the best ‘you’ possible.


    • says

      For me personally, well, I should actually come clean and admit that Michelangelo does all my ghost writing – that is when he’s not screwing around with his nunchucks ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. says

    Matt, your post is awesome! I loved how you tied in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Raphael was always my favorite.

    I agree about writing, editing and then publishing. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about putting the manuscript away for at least one month before taking it out to edit.

    When writing, I wait at least one day before looking back over the blog post and always find something to edit, whether the sentence was too clunky or it needed more detail.

    Love that post 1,000 True Fans. So true. Thanks again! Printing this one out for a reminder.

    • says

      Lovely comment Gabrielle!

      Stephen King’s On Writing is a fantastic read. All writers (yes, bloggers too) should read it. Stephen would know the extreme value of a smart edit. Even his works go through the full process. And if I had to guess, I’d say that Stephen is glad that they do!

      All the best!

  18. says

    Great article, Matthew. It’s a good counter to the ‘pump out content for three years = success’ approach. I think that view is missing something… no one will listen if all you do is bad content.

    My contribution here is that people should really invest in everything they do. If doing something costs you plenty of time and money, there’s a lot of motivation to do it right, rather than just put up just another ‘me too’ blog post.

    That means research from actual books, attention to layout and typography, all sorts of stuff that isn’t often done. If I did all that and posted just a ‘me too’ post, I’d feel annoyed at myself for wasting my time. :)

    • says

      I agree very much Patrick with your sentiment that the quantity approach is “missing something.”

      Mass production of content alone isn’t a winning strategy anymore. There is simply too much to consume.

      Standing out for quality in unique and impressive ways is the timeless way to become a leader and legend.

      Thanks for the sharing this important point :)


  19. says

    It’s been proven over and over again, on this blog and many others, that if you overcome the distractions of social, SEO, and all the other things you have to worry about daily, you can create something that will bring all those other pieces together.

    People I work with get so impatient and A.D.D. that they start marketing their blogs without having spent the time to first make their content remarkable enough for readers to care.

    They say they don’t have enough time to write, research, etc. everyday, but that is the core of every popular blog on the web today. The other stuff – popularity, following, SEO, links – it all follows epic content. So you’re actually doing most of your work by clearing your head and desk and sitting down to do something great.

    • says

      Well said Jack. Many still aspire for overnight success, and (I think) turn to Twitter schemes, SEO, and other tools to try to make that happens. These tools are useful, no question. But they’re tools, not strategies.

      Thoughtful content that probes deep into questions, examines new perspectives, and offers new conclusions from valid research are smart content aims that return lavish dividends. Build to last; don’t just build to build.


      • says

        Some smart dude somewhere said something like “Twitter and Facebook are where people go to get the highlights among their interests. Blogs are where they go to dig deeper into them.”

        Actually I think I just improved on what the smart dude said – or ruined it. But hopefully you get the gest…er, gist.

  20. says

    There’s nothing quite like another inspirational CopyBlogger piece, My website would probably have been confined to the scrapheap a long time ago without this site.

    The urgency part in particular is very though provoking – mental note: stop procrastinating.

    • says

      Hi Gareth-

      Procrastination is a menace all writers confront. So you’re not alone. The writers that do well don’t try to run in the opposite direction. They confront the challenges of procrastination and then blow past them.

      Good luck on your ventures. Keep pushing!


  21. says

    Great advice, especially about writing epic content. Sometimes we just go with the flow and churn out content like a drone, simply because it needs to get done. This doesn’t make it bad content, but it doesn’t make it great content either. Being great takes a lot of work and even more time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it!

    • says

      Everything can’t be epic…that’s for sure. But we should all strive to improve the ratio between good and great. And while there might be some short term costs (e.g. more time commitment, more drafting/editing required, etc) the long-term rewards are well worth it.


    • says

      The past has a tendency to repeat itself, so it’s fun to apply the lessons of legends to tomorrow’s potential :)

      So thrilled you enjoyed the read. Thanks for the kind words.


  22. says

    Nice job, Matthew.

    Of course your title was really amazing, and that, (besides the fact that it’s a post on Copyblogger) gently encouraged me to read it.

    I wish had had headline copy down that good.

    Thanks for mentioning Jonathan Fields. He’s a great writer, and has been a huge help to me.

    I could go on, but now I’m trying to think of an amazing headline for a post…

    The Franchise Kingยฎ

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words Joel. The title went through a few revisions itself. I ardently believe, as any good Copyblogger disciple should, that the headline is a supremely vital component to any article.

      I hope yours turned out well :)


  23. says

    Hi Matthew,

    I am a huge fan of comparing bloggers and online content creators to Renaissance artists.;)

    This is delicious, very absorbing writing. Thanks for putting these two worlds together like chocolate and cream filling!


  24. says

    In a world of free article directories and PLR with their abundance of poorly written and obviously unedited items, your post is a timely reminder of what we should really be doing. For those who regard writing as an art, this is, if I may say so, the flagship article to remind us that in our distract-me-now, slap-dash, quantity-without-quality world, we have good reason to “construct our own ‘tortoise enclosure.’โ€ Not for us the mediocrity of Grub Street, but rather “the unlocking of [our] full creative potential.” Thank you, Matthew, for this inspiring article and the eight hours you spent creating it.

    • says

      “…flagship article…”, I’m honored :) You’re very kind Owen!

      You really nailed my sentiments on the subject; namely the gross over-abundance of low-quality articles force fed into an unassuming readership. I don’t at all demagogue people’s genuine spirit to get online and share their stories. But writers (as well as readers) have a responsibility, I think, to learn their craft well and “do no harm” when publishing content.

      Thanks again for the comment!


  25. says

    Hi Matthew!

    I so love this post! Made me relive my fascination with the Ninja Turtles. Was really expecting you’d say something about Donatello, too! :)

    Love the quotes from the great artists themselves. Will definitely serve as an inspiration for me this week.

    • says

      Hi Elmar-

      I’m glad I could spark a trip down memory lane for you! Go Ninja go :)

      Agreed on Donatello – I just couldn’t find a reliable quote. Shucks.

      Hope you’re well.


  26. Andrea says

    Hi Matt,

    Absolutely loved this post! I do social media for an art museum, so it was great seeing you apply communication strategies to Renaissance artists. Also, I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so the childhood nostalgia earns you an extra bonus of appreciation. :)

    Keep up the great work!


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