What All Content Creators Need
to Learn From Roger Ebert

image of Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert’s name is synonymous with movie reviews. Many of us remember him bantering with Gene Siskel on the TV shows Sneak Previews and At the Movies. But he doesn’t banter much anymore. He lost his ability to speak due to complications of thyroid cancer in 2006.

Ebert may have lost the lower part of his jaw, but he hasn’t lost his voice. He continues to receive new acclaim and appreciation for the quality and feeling of his writing in books, newspaper reviews, and criticism.

It shows a deep sense of character. But it also shows a few other valuable traits we as content creators would be wise to develop in ourselves.

Keep a sense of humor

I’m sure Ebert must have some bad days. He can’t speak, eat, or drink.

But it never affects the quality of his writing. His words continue to sparkle and shine with life.

He receives continual praise for the power of his insights and the humor sprinkled within his work. Ebert’s recent criticism of Glenn Beck show that his wit and sensibility are still strong. He doesn’t go for the laugh-out-loud moment, but he uses sharp observation and quiet humor to pull the reader in, as he does in The London Perambulator.

Lesson: There is little in life that’s more valuable (to you and to your readers) than a sense of humor.

Focus on what you can do well

Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer before becoming a famous film critic. Some people think his writing is even better since he lost the ability to speak. His ability to analyze and reflect on movies (or virtually any topic) is strong. He writes in a way that reaches both the average person and his peers.

Ebert is rarely in front of cameras any more (his recent appearance on Oprah is a memorable exception), but he remains a prolific writer. He uses notepad and pen to communicate in person and the keyboard for larger audiences, and he communicates constantly.

Profiled recently in Esquire magazine, Ebert offered up a journal entry to explain the power of writing:

When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

Lesson: Be thankful for what you can do well. Do it as long and as vigorously as you can.

Be honest

Ebert has plenty to complain about. For that matter, so would a couple of other smart guys like, say, Jon Morrow or Stephen Hawking.

None of them is wasting his time whining, though. They’ve had their fair share of happiness and fulfillment. They all enjoy what they do and they are damned good at it. They don’t look for pity. They are sincere when they say that they are doing what they love to do.

The Esquire article features a small picture of a Post It note written by Ebert:

There is no need to pity me. Look how happy I am. This has led to an exploring of writing.

In his post Putting a Better Face on Things, Ebert gives a frank and insightful look into his feelings about reconstructive surgery and prosthetics.

Ebert’s journal has produced close to half a million words of honesty that are touching thousands, if not millions, of readers.

Lesson: Use your life experiences to fuel your work and offer others education and inspiration. Be forthright and frank whenever you talk about yourself.

Let your passion save and sustain you

Ebert makes this point loud and clear in the Esquire article: Writing is what saves him.

His journaling has led to a gripping and moving exploration of the art of writing. Writing provides him with continued purpose in trying circumstances.

How many people is he inspiring with this new phase of work? Millions?

Can you do the same? It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?

Lesson: Your passion can carry you through hardships. If even a fraction of that passion spills into your content, the potential to build your audience and develop true fans is huge. Don’t phone it in. Bare your soul. Engage.

And follow the examples set by the greats like Ebert. They know how it’s done.

About the Author: Mark Dykeman is the founder and main brain of Thoughtwrestling, a blog devoted to developing ideas and bringing them to life. He is the author of the award-winning blog Broadcasting Brain. His work has appeared in numerous blogs, including Mashable.com, Dumb Little Man, Pick The Brain, Copyblogger, and more.

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Comments

  1. What an inspirational article.

    While many of us complain in our lives, ‘we cant do that’ ‘i cant do this’ ‘i am too young’ ‘i am too old’ …..

    This man is commendable for what he is doing and he has shown us better habits to apply in our lives, even though we have no disability, he has shown us better habits.

    “Be thankful for what you can do well. Do it as long and as vigorously as you can.”

    This is so true. We sometimes forget about what we DO have, and focus on only things we don’t have.

    This man is an example for us.

    Nabeel

  2. I’ve learned that the worst of my life’s experiences have produced some of the most valuable and beautiful things in my life. It’s because it made me grow. I guess people are no different from plants – if we are going to bloom big and beautifully we’ve got to have a little (or a lot) of manure poured on our heads :)

  3. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for writing this post. It’s very inspirational. It’s so important to live your passion.

    Have a great weekend…
    Josh

  4. Well thought out, and totally agree. For me, your point of “focus on what you can do well” rings true, needs more input on my side to work through that one and the others. Thanks for writing this one up.

  5. Great inspirational post… we often lose sight of how well we have it and we need to be reminded by someone about it.

    Good point about losing one thing makes another thing stronger.

  6. What a wonderful article! Thanks for sharing and inspiring us this morning. I know it’s put me in a mood to work!

  7. I’ve never been a fan of the guy. His story is inspiring, but I don’t trust anybody that base an entire life’s work on criticizing others.

  8. Michael Smith :

    I don’t know if this post is as good as I think it is, or if I’m just a Roger Ebert fan (or like inspiring stories). But thanks for posting. I always liked Ebert more as a writer than as a TV personality anyway. I loved to read and agree or disagree with his comments. He is a great discussion-starter.

  9. Phenomenal, absolutely great.

    I share your deep respect for Roger Ebert. His continued passion for the brilliance inherent in the written word well expressed is an absolutely shining symbol for any writer down on their own craft.

  10. Great piece of advice derived from the life of Roger Ebert, He is not only a prolific writer but an awesome human being as well.
    Thanks Mark, for making the lessons clear.

  11. This story is indeed an inspiring one. Sometimes I wish I had Ebert’s strength to smile and find solace in my gifts. But when you’re struggling to make it in the field you love without a strong support system or network, and there’s no perceivable end in sight, it is extremely hard not to get discouraged. By the rejection I face on a daily, you would think that I’m trying to get rich or be star by chasing some impossible dream.

    I know that I have talent, passion and a fire deep within that burns for knowledge, creativity and ingenuity. And I’m willing to go the distance for those gifts, because there is nothing else that I’d rather do. But, unfortunately I don’t have have the luxury of forgetting how well I have things, because in actuality I don’t have much.

    @Todd
    Art Criticism is a necessary thing in the creative world. Without criticism, some people would never push to define their voice or grow from their craft, because they wouldn’t have a clear perspective to see problems in their work.

    Criticism is a necessary system that highlights all the flaws and inaccuracies that muddle the creative process. If Ebert wasn’t there to do it or anyone else, I doubt artists or creative professionals would have the discipline or humility to do it themselves. The fact is–you need art criticism because it fights for the integrity of the craft. Not the artist.

    It’s not about breaking artists down. It’s about showing them their weaknesses and hoping they will take use that judgment to lift themselves up.

    Some critics are harsher than others. Some are complete snobs. But, I’ve always thought that Ebert was one of the better ones.

  12. I have to thank Mark for turning me on to Ebert’s blog, which is about much more than movies. Really a terrific read. Thanks Mark!

  13. If you are going to talk about Roger Ebert’s awesome writing, let’s not overlook the brilliant screenplay for the 1970 Russ Meyer classic “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
    Such inspired lines like: “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on sometime.” and “You’ll drink the black sperm of my vengeance,” are never far from my own grab bag.
    Another lesson in there somewhere – he avoided admitting to that for years…but it didn’t end his writing career.

  14. The Russ Meyer connection has always made me like Ebert a little more. Maybe it goes back to that sense of humor thing. :)

  15. Hi everyone. Thanks for your great responses!

    A few responses to the great comments I see here:

    @Nabeel: absolutely: focus on what you can do.

    @Kiesha: um, I’ll skip the manure, but I appreciate the sentiment!

    @Michael: well, if you think this is a good post, be sure to thank the editors of Copyblogger. :)

    @Akash: my pleasure

    @Beki: go for it!

    @Todd: I dunno. Criticism is an important think for personal growth, as long as it’s done thoughtfully. Funny, too, because Ebert himself gets criticized for not being critical enough at times!

    @Josh: I’m working on that…

    @Rick: you’re welcome.

    @Jeff: thanks!

    @Sonia: you’re welcome; his work is definitely worth sharing.

    @Martypants: I’ve never seen the movie, so I’ll take your word for it.

    @Sonia (x2): Dude…

    @Tamika: I share your admiration of Ebert’s strength.

    @Ian: thanks dude.

  16. Wow, that was really inspiring. I honestly do not tend to follow much of what Roger Ebert writes about movies, but when he talks about literature or life, my ears perk up. I have found him to be a very insightful and touching writer.

  17. Mark, here’s what I get from your post: We must pack our words with as much humanity and passion as we can possibly muster in each online interaction.

    In Trust Agents by Brogan/Smith they make the powerful point that we leave a lasting mark online with every piece of content we create. It all paints a picture of who we are and what we stand for.

    And the fact that our content is accessible to anyone interested in that topic both now and at any point in the future, means that what we create really *does* make a difference.

    Thanks for your encouragement, by Roger Ebert’s example and others, that we allow our full humanity and passion to shine through in all our work–not only to build our readership and online business, but to help make the world a better place for everyone who interacts with us (No, I’m not a communist :)).

  18. FYI, Roger Ebert won his Pulitzer Prize for criticism, not before he became a film critic.

  19. I’ve been following his journal for years and my only regret is that I haven’t bookmarked more of them. I’m constantly thinking, “Ebert wrote so well about that …” but not able to track it down. sigh.

    Along with the humor aspect, Ebert isn’t afraid to say he was wrong or to question himself. He’s as much a critic of himself as others and I think that is where great writing comes from: the ability to question our own thinking and beliefs. The other end of the telescope! :)

  20. Even though I don’t agree with his political views and many of his reviews, Roger is a treasure. He make me angry, sad, joyful, contemplative and touches some raw nerves on occasion. To me, that’s the essence of a great critic.

    As the father of a quadriplegic daughter who struggled every day of her courageous 34 years, I salute Roger Ebert. His body may have let him down, but his spirit, soul and inner voice refuse to be silenced.

    Steve Benedict

  21. Awesome info!

    So many blogger these days, focus so much on the business aspect of things, so getting some spiritual advice definitely puts a nice change on things.

    CJ

  22. Write like you were dying!

    (because you are, second by second, heart beat per beat, letter upon letter, word for word.)

  23. I didn’t know what had happened to Roger Ebert and I’m so glad I read your article. It brings to mind the phrase I’ve heard in another context, “No excuses!”.

  24. I’m so happy to read this thoughtful post that brings an entirely different flavor to advice on writing. It’s incredibly inspiring. At the same time, I know that eventually we have to let go of our passion too, so it’s best not to be too attached to that either. Thank you so much!

  25. Ebert is inspiring. He is living proof of the power of the written word to communicate, inspire, and heal.

  26. A very eye opening and inspirational post. Instead of continuously bantering on Don’t haves, cherish the DO’s :)

  27. Mark, this is an awesome post. Very inspirational. We should all learn to use our passion as Ebert.

  28. Inspiring post Mark!

    Loved your lesson: “Your passion can carry you through hardships. If even a fraction of that passion spills into your content, the potential to build your audience and develop true fans is huge. Don’t phone it in. Bare your soul. Engage.”

    Powerful words. Quote-worthy.

  29. What an inspiring read!

  30. It’s funny, because Rogert Ebert and I belong to the same fraternity together and we used to brag about it. The whole idea of social proof, but I am extremely proud of how everything has turned out.

    We all have struggle, opinions and we all want to share them, the truth is do we have the courage to do it, and do we have the courage to improve the way we deliver our message?

    Such a great post on humankind.

  31. Thanks for giving everyone something to contemplate…

  32. There’s so much good stuff to read online these days…and so much ‘incoming’…and less and less time to read for pleasure, it seems. But this post caught my attention and I read it completely. I had no idea about Roger Ebert…thanks for sharing this inspirational post. A strong man, a big career, a brave soul. Wishing him many good things.

  33. Every time I sit there, uninspired by the prospect of writing another press release or stuck on a new blog topic, I’m going to think about this article!

    Our company motto is that we’re not really working. We’re DWIL-ing — Doing What We Love. We believe the magic is not in what or even how – but it’s the WHY we do what we do. Ebert’s unfortunate condition has helped him hone in on this. He is a strong and brilliant man to be able to turn it into a blessing.

    http://www.moscreative.com

  34. “He can’t speak, eat, or drink… But it never affects the quality of his writing.”

    Ah but it has! Hardships and difficulties and obstacles often become the anvil and hammer that make for strength and depth of character.

    But of course, that’s what your article was really saying…

  35. Hi guys,

    Thanks for posting this Blog. I have not seen Roger Ebert in such a long time. I’m glad that he is an overcomer of his illness.

    Kind regards,
    Sam
    X

  36. Hardships change us. And, for many “celebrities”, hardships send them in to a spiral of destruction. It’s awesome to see someone like Roger Ebert take the hard path he’s been given and excel.

    I wonder if not having to do the TV show and other obligations around the TV show have allowed him to focus on his other writing.

  37. This is really wonderful and totally inspiring. I especially like how Ebert talks about how his condition led to an “exploration of writing.” What a positive and AWESOME way to look at a shitty situation. Thanks for sharing, guys!

  38. I’m more like a religious blog writer. But this one is inspiring in a way that boosts the professional inside us.

  39. @Mike, good point — although he’s been a strong writer for a long time, there seems to me to be a new depth and a new bravery to his work.

  40. This is exactly what many people need to hear…. including myself sometimes. I have been meaning to pick up Excuses Begone by Wayne Dyer as it follows the same kind of message.

    Bottom line is we all need to remind ourselves of things we should be grateful for and focus on those things so we can get the most out of life. There is absolutely zero sense in whining and complaining (I need to send this article to some people I know personally).

  41. What an inspiring article! It’s true! Passion overcome fear and obstacles. The positive energy you generate, despite of any trials and tribulation, will attract bountiful opportunities.

  42. Thank YOu for posting this helpful Information about “What All Content Creators Need
    to Learn From Roger Ebert”. I like it. just keep on posting. :) I love Roger Ebert.

  43. So do what you do well and do it passionately! Sounds like a positive recipe for a good life there!

  44. I agree with you. Passion and doing what you do well are important factors for anything that you do.

  45. WOW! What an inspirational post and a great message to share. Thanks for reminding us all what we should be grateful for!