The Secret Key to Killer Content: Taking Time to Think

The Thinker

Have you ever had these thoughts?

  • “I wish my blog had content this good.”
  • “How does he come up with this stuff?”
  • “Boy, I wish I could write like that!”

Now for the big questions:

  • Why aren’t you writing content that good?
  • Why isn’t your content profound?
  • Why can’t you write thought-provoking content that rocks the blogosphere?

Are you satisfied just to shake it a little instead?

I know what you’re thinking. “Wait a minute, here. We’re talking about people with seriously insightful thoughts! I’m just an average person. I can’t think up great ideas like that!”

Oh, really?

Major player blogs in the field, like Maki’s Dosh Dosh, Yaro’s Entrepreneur’s Journey and Brian here at Copyblogger leave readers impressed with every new post.

Some writers sigh with envy. Some do manage a few stop-the-presses posts on their own blogs – just a few. Some others write some fine, thoughtful material, but… It’s not quite the same.

We want to be just like those major players. We want to captivate, evoke, and provoke. We want to see our blog stats shoot through the roof and have Technorati bow down before us. We want to launch the BIGGEST IDEA EVER into the virtual world and watch the tsunami effect.

So why aren’t we? I’ll tell you why: we don’t take the time.

The human mind is like a sieve. It can’t hold everything. Thoughts, memories, ideas… Your brain has a limited capacity storage locker. It has to let some stuff leak out to keep in the more important thoughts.

Forgetfulness seems to be a catching disease these days – and it’s no wonder. Our brains are saturated. There’s no more space. The world bombards us with stimulation nearly 24/7.

Add the crazy pace of new content released daily into the virtual world, and it’s no wonder you can’t be the next Maki or Brian Clark. You’re continually filling your mind up with someone else’s thoughts.

Where are you going to store your own?

Oh, wait – I bet you have a handy to-do list nearby so that you don’t forget a thing.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you spent a couple of hours just thinking? You have a brain; use it. Get away from the computer. Put down the books and magazines. Burn your to-do list. Cut off your feeds. Stop rushing around for a while. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you slow down.

Do as the pros do – think before you write. Scheduled thinking into your agenda, if you have to. Take a long drive with no music on. Plunge deep into your own thoughts. Examine your ideas as if you are scrutinizing a diamond for quality.

“But Brian (or Maki or whoever you like best) inspires me!” I know. These people inspire me too, and that’s a good thing. We all need inspiration.

So get inspired, and then go think a while. You might be surprised at all the inspiring, thought-provoking content you come up with all on your own.

If you don’t give yourself the time to think, if you seize an idea and slam it out before you forget, you’re just spinning your wheels in the snow. It may be okay content, but it’ll never be that insightful, well thought-out content you hoped for.

Major player bloggers don’t rattle off what everyone already knows. They shape their content. They take time to observe and to think. They put forth unique, valuable content that leaves people awestruck…

…and that’s what makes major players that good.

So just think. You never know what you might come up with – if you give yourself time.

About the Author: If you want some inspiration from insightful content on writing, blogging and web business, head on over to James’ blog, Men with Pens. Better yet, subscribe to his feed here.

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Comments

  1. Thanks James!

    I really recommend a web-based system like Backpack or Google notes to keep thoughts as they come to you. Good posts do require some mulling to reach their full potential. And it’s a great way to keep a nice supply of ideas and snippets for future posts, so you never get blocked.

  2. James,

    This is a great post; I could not agree with it more. I have definitely had moments where inspiration hits — a quote, an anecdote, something or another causes me to make a connection and I’m off, typing typing typing until I hit ‘submit.’

    But the pieces I consider to be my best are the ones I sleep on, toying with the idea in my head for a few days, or weeks, until I even begin to sketch it out on paper. And absolutely, these ideas always seem to hit when I’m in my car or in the shower, the only two places outside sources of stimulation have trouble reaching me.
    Keep up the good (well thought-out!) work!

  3. Thinking – who’d have thought?

    It’s easy to put into practice for “big” posts – I have one I’ve been mulling over for a week now. But it’s very easy to not spend that time when you’re writing up a small 1-paragraph comment or update. That doesn’t make it less important, though.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Thank you for this excellent point. We do not need to match the speed of the Internet or even compare ourselves to other bloggers.

    Our speed is up to us and so is what we choose to ignore and what we choose to set as our personal thinking standards.

  5. The best material I have ever written has come into being either while I’ve been on vacation, when I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking, or when I really take the time to unplug.

    And then, it usually sits for a little bit while I mull it over.

    So I agree with this completely. Now, I’m very new to blogging and certainly not a pro, but I know enough already that this isn’t easy.

    Excellent post, James.

  6. Taking the time to write it well is important, too. That’s why I write all my posts in advance. Don’t just belt something out and hit “publish.”

    Great points, James!

  7. James,

    I agree 100%. Like a pot of great chili, the secret is in the simmering.

    Think, write, then rewrite. :-)

  8. One of the best ways to ‘take time to think’ is to use the Draft feature available in WordPress – you can jot down your ideas, let them sit, and then shape and mold your posting until it reflects the entire comprehensive range of emotions and insights you want to share.

    I’ve written essays that were over a month in creation…but wow, when they’re finally completed, they simply, well, rock. :)

    Enjoy,

    Barbara

  9. Excellent article, James. I think there’s a lot of pressure anymore to produce a LOT of content rather than GOOD content. You can have both, but it’s easier to have a lot. ;) Thanks for encouraging folks to s-l-o-w down a little.

    Kristen

  10. It seems like this topic has been coming up in a lot of different blogs. It is very easy to get caught up in the constant information of the internet, where everything is breaking news and nothing is ever standing still. There is always something to read, to watch, to listen and while doing something else. I firmly believe in order to be a productive blogger and one with sound judgment, thinking breaks are necessary.

  11. “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. ” – Hugo.

    Thinking is good. Nurturing process also good. Le penseur par Rodin for those who are after endurance, staying power, not just twitter and gone. Excellent post.
    All best,
    Jan

  12. Sorry, I don’t want to go for mind-blowing stats and have technorati bow down before me. Check out http://cheerfulmonk.com/2008/03/10/what-do-you-really-believe-what-do-you-really-want/

  13. James, great point. You’ve underscored a big shift in the pro blogger mindset for so many of us – going for the slow dollar instead of the quick penny, or for the long-term impact rather than the instant buzz.

  14. @ Jan – I think people assume that an “idea whose time has come” needs to be slammed out fast, now, before someone else captures it. It doesn’t have to be that way :)

    @ Kristen – Agreed. The pressure is on to have lots of content, fast, and make it good, as well as to be the first to seem to launch an idea out there. Slowing down often makes for better posts – look at how often Brian himself posts? And doesn’t he rock our socks each time?

    @ Barbara – I never thought of using the draft mode for WP to do that. Good one.

    @ Dave – You cookin’? I’m up for a free meal ;)

    @ Michael – I agree. Letting a post simmer a bit and making sure it reads well to convey the message we want is important.

    @ Brett – Yeah, you definitely seem to think over everything you write, which is very cool to watch. You seem to have a slower pace of life, and I envy you that sometimes. Only sometimes, mind you!

    @ Tom and Tony – No matter what the length of post or what the subject matter, thinking it over a few days before writing makes all the difference.

    @ Glenn – The posts that always seem to be ones I send to Brian are the ones that I’ve mulled over for days… weeks, sometimes. I think over the ideas for a long, long time. By the time I sit down to write, it’s just too good to keep at home, feels like. And it’s nice of Brian to support my “think slow, write better” theory.

    The car is a great place to think. Minus kids. And snowplows.

    @ Sonia – Indeed! And if I added that to my multi-idea solution system I already have going (Gmail, Calendar, Project Management system, two whiteboards and three pads of paper with different colored pens), I’d probably go mad.

    But that’s a great idea. 37signals also offers a very cool Whiteboard (free!) that is handy as all get-out.

  15. @ Dave – I *love* that analogy. Like chili, the words always taste better the next day…

    @ James – it must be continual bombardment with intense neutron radiation altering my genetic structure and causing a time dilation effect. Either that or having four kids.

    Seriously though, thank you for saying that. Coming from you it means a lot. I love reading your work. I learn something new every time.

    PS – did I mention that you rock for replying to all of these people?

  16. @ Brett – If they took the time to leave me a note about my post, then each one of them certainly deserves a personal reply. (Thank you – catching everyone isn’t always easy!)

  17. @ James – and that is why you rock.

    Sitting and thinking now about my writing, I’m looking forward to the snow departing.

    I have a tree in my backyard. I call it, “tree”. I like to sit under “tree” with a glass of wine, or a beer, and think about what I want to write. In the evening, the setting sun warms my face – just – because “tree” gives me shade.

    That’s my writing spot. Under “tree”. Too bad there’s THREE FEET of snow out there right now, because the sunset is beautiful today.

  18. Lately I’ve been a bit weird with my content. I am writing less often, but I am actually spending less time writing each post than I was before my 2 month blogging break.

    Before my little break I spent too much time on each post, and I thought too hard about it all, so my ideas rarely came out correctly (thinking too much is just as bad as not thinking enough).

    Now I just jot down some post ideas, pick one out, and go from there. Less worrying about content, more worrying about how to get the content in front of more people (something I never really focused on before)

  19. I agree that it’s a mistake to publish every thought before it has a chance to be fully formed. Every so often I go back through my drafts and look at the ones that never made it. I keep the ideas, though, because they can be useful another day. With Windows Live Writer, I can start a post, jot down some notes and leave it to simmer. BTW, it explains why your posts are all so thought provoking ;)

  20. It is hard to be original and exciting when you are constantly filling your head with other people’s ideas. You are right to say, “THINK.” Too many people listen to everybody else, the internet, mass media news, their friends or family and then go into the “me too” mode. Everything the have to say is somebody else’s thoughts.

    Be original…Be yourself…Don’t pretend you are somebody else, it doesn’t work. Never has and never will.

    I wonder how many people blog about blogging simply because of copyblogger or other blogs like it. They really didn’t consider another topic. Maybe one that they are more “expert” at.

    In any case I enjoyed the post!!

    The Masked Millionaire
    http://www.TheMaskedMillionaire.com

  21. We are not stressed because we have no time, but rather, we have no time because we are stressed.

    This is from an excerpt of an article my wife sent to me.

    Benjamin Franklin composed a satire, “Essay on Daylight Saving,” proposing a law that would oblige Parisians to get up an hour earlier in summer. By putting the daylight to better use, he reasoned, they’d save a good deal of money — an exact amount — that might otherwise go to buying candles. Now this switch to daylight saving time (which occurs early Sunday in the United States) is an annual ritual in Western countries.

    Even more influential has been something else Franklin said about time in the same year: time is money. Our society is obsessed as never before with making every single minute count. People even apply the language of banking: We speak of “having” and “saving” and “investing” and “wasting” it.

    But the quest to spend time the way we do money is doomed to failure.

    Your post is relevant and interesting in the sense of pace and relation, however, you should develop to include that time seems to expand when our senses are aroused.

    An ingenious bit of research, conducted in Germany, demonstrated that within a brief time frame the brain can shift events forward or backward. Subjects were asked to play a video game that involved steering airplanes, but the joystick was programmed to react only after a brief delay. After playing a while, the players stopped being aware of the time lag. But when the scientists eliminated the delay, the subjects suddenly felt as though they were staring into the future. It was as though the airplanes were moving on their own before the subjects had directed them to do so.

    The brain’s inclination to distort time is one reason we so often feel we have too little of it. One in three Americans feels rushed all the time, according to one survey. Even the cleverest use of time-management techniques is powerless to augment the sum of minutes in our life (some 52 million, optimistically assuming a life expectancy of 100 years), so we squeeze as much as we can into each one.

    Believing time is money to lose, we perceive our shortage of time as stressful. Thus, our fight-or-flight instinct is engaged, and the regions of the brain we use to calmly and sensibly plan our time get switched off. We become fidgety, erratic and rash.

    Tasks take longer. We make mistakes — which take still more time to iron out. Who among us has not been locked out of an apartment or lost a wallet when in a great hurry? The perceived lack of time becomes real: We are not stressed because we have no time, but rather, we have no time because we are stressed.

    Studies have shown the alarming extent of the problem: office workers are no longer able to stay focused on one specific task for more than about three minutes, which means a great loss of productivity. The misguided notion that time is money actually costs us money.

    And it costs us time. People in industrial nations lose more years from disability and premature death due to stress-related illnesses like heart disease and depression than from other ailments. In scrambling to use time to the hilt, we wind up with less of it.

    The remedy is to liberate ourselves from Franklin’s equation. Time is not money but “the element in which we exist,” as Joyce Carol Oates put it more than two decades ago (in a relatively leisurely era). “We are either borne along by it or drowned in it.”

  22. To add to the notion that the post should expand on the notion that we “don’t take the time” is just like saying that we don’t have the credit, currency, or buying power to develop rich content… however, this is false. Time is almost a silent language, a means of communication that we don’t even realize (we want to hold peoples attention for at least 10 seconds) so we normally process our thoughts into segments that would allow for “lead time” or “grabbing” or “lingering” concepts that seem to all flow to a perception of time as a form of communication.

    Now, to say, “take your time” to think, is good advice, however, what other ideas, practices, or methods do you have to enhance your time to create dynamic content?

    I’d like to hear some… personally, I find that writing is a craft. I find that creating posts because you “have to” and have nothing to say is rather dull.

    However, William Burroughs has some great writing exercises he used to teach… such as telling his students to simply walk home, after class, and only focus on the color yellow. It’s pretty interesting what you find. (Read “The Adding Machine” a book of his essays.)

    I have my own silly and useful techniques that I use before I post, however, the main point here is what… to think before we write?

    I would hope so.

    Or not force a headline that we should take some time to develop? I would hope so as well…

  23. Great point, James.

    When I first started my blog – Jan 1 2008 – I was fast and furious, having thought of what I wanted to blog about for most of December.

    Now, I’ve slowed down my pace, spending a lot more time thinking and writing up my posts.

    This, when I also have a full time job, and 2 kids that will cause quite the ruckus if left unattended.

    Thank goodness for bedtime (for them).

  24. Hey James,

    I really enjoyed this post. Even though I don’t believe every blog post has to be ground breaking, I do think they need to be personalized and thought out.

    I’m considering cutting my blog posting down to once a week (especially since I run four blogs) and leave the rest of time for thinking of ideas and mind-mapping.

    Sometimes I don’t know how you keep up your remarkable writing on a daily basis.

  25. Great post James — I heartily agree!

    I scan the web looking for bits of info that are interesting to refer to in a longer post, or to get inspired by new idea from a smart person.

    But some of my most popular posts have come from spending time spacing out while watching my kids play, or doing the dishes or taking a walk.

    Creativity, like really good coffee, needs time to brew.

    All the best,

    -Pam

  26. I was talking to a good friend of mine, Terry telford, and we were discussing about creating a killer content. We had lots of insights with regards on how to create outstanding contents. But with all those insights, we end up agreeing that what every person need is TIME!

    Just like what you said in the post, “Get away from the computer. Put down the books and magazines. Burn your to-do list. Cut off your feeds. Stop rushing around for a while.” Spend some time to think!

    This was a great post!

  27. Yeah,
    that’s all i worry for to writing to a blog.but sometime think takes many of my times.
    Maybe it need practice often until you get use to it.
    anyway..this is a great post.

  28. Good point. Thinking takes you into the zone and then you don’t have to think no more! It’s like chaining your conscious and setting out into the uncharted vastness of your subconscious. The place where ideas reside.

  29. I like your post, but it still makes me frustrated.

    I understand about taking time to think for great content. And I’ve tried!

    But somehow, the words just doesn’t come out right, or it doesn’t look appealing or sexy, or it don’t attract people. I figure it’s got something to do with writing ability or talent?

    But I’m not giving up. Sigh. Would just want to find out what works for me.

    -clearice

  30. Don’t forget to take action after finish thinking. :p

  31. @ Mohsin – Ahh, the Zone. I love that place. But you generally can’t bring chains. Forcing it to happen never works out well :)

    @ Chad – Sometimes I don’t know myself, either ;) Not every post has to be ground-breaking. But those who often sigh in envy over other people’s posts wish they *could* have ground-breaking posts. And they can, if they just cut back and stopped to think.

    @ Nez – Jobs and kids definitely have a way of sucking away all time. I feel for you, man, I do…

    @ Mask M – The “me too” mode drives me CRAZY. One post goes up, and a small flurry of copycats whip around the blogosophere. Yuck. Better to save that time and think a little more to dig deeper into what the original post inspired.

    @ Jeremy – That makes sense. If you’re trying too hard and it’s not coming easy, it would be a struggle and be tough to be creative. When I take the time to think, I find the actual writing takes much less time – I’ve already thought over every angle.

    @ Brett – Only three feet? Vive le Quebec. We have four.

  32. @ James – I think it’s a localized effect due to the nuke plant… :)

  33. This has to be one of the most inspiring post I have ever noticed.
    Thank you for this !

  34. Great post James and very thought provoking. I’ve also moved from “just posting” to trying to blog ahead of time and it is amazing what it has done to my readership and comment section.

    It isn’t rare that I delete my drafts too, since often it helps me to put thoughts to (paper) and eventually come up with something totally different. Kind of like a brainstorming session.

  35. A very good post James. I’m only just beginning with my blog and only looking at a few blogs on the web myself. Thought provoking blogs are definitely more interesting to read. It’s funny that as writers we probably take a lot of time to think through what we’ll write but to blog….we just may not take that same amount of time, although we should. Thank you again for a great post.
    @James and Brett I think in Ottawa we’re at 3 feet of snow however if some of the snow hadn’t melted I think we’d actually have 6 feet. It’s been quite the l-o-n-g winter!

  36. Jamie Simmerman :

    I feel like a MWP groupie!

    Thanks James for another great post about taking writing to the next level. I think content writers and bloggers have a responsibility to strive to improve the quality of the web with original content, not clog it up with repetitious drivel. You inspire me to write from my heart, not my head.

  37. @ Jenny Burr, I’m west from you over in Deep River, we usually just get the start of it here, and then it starts to dump in Ottawa, and then just hammers James…

    We might have to help him dig out soon!

    @ Jamie Simmerman – nothing wrong with being an MwP groupie (I should know…), they’re great guys.

  38. @Brett Sure we can help him dig out, after we get our own driveways cleared, our vehicles cleared off, the plows (snow plows) have been out on the roads…etc.

  39. @ Jenny – sounds good… I tell you, the greatest invention after the wheel and fire, has to be the snowblower…

  40. @Brett and fourth in line…a neighbour with a plow on the front of his ATV whom I pay to do our driveway. Unfortunately, this last dumping, even got him stuck in his own driverway so he called in a local farmer (fifth best invention) with his huge tractor/blower and within 10 minutes the driveway was done.

  41. @ Jenny, that reminds me, I’ll have to take a run at my neighbour’s drive this weekend. He lives out of town and only returns in the spring. Last year (pre-snowblower for me) I watched him out the window struggling with a shovel, trying to dig out a winter’s worth of snow.

    By the time I went out to help, he’d called a contractor to do it for him. But I think I’ll give him a hand this year… :)

  42. Great post James!

    I used to clean in a factory on 2nd shift and had to spend 8 hours without seeing a single face. I was so bored that all I had to do was think. I ended up writing my thoughts on paper toweling and eventually, this practice led to my first published piece :) Since then, I’ve tried to set aside “me-time” every day, in hopes of thinking up some decent ideas.

  43. @ Brett and Jenny – Snow is a four-letter word, you know.

    @ Jamie – You’re welcome. Writing from the heart always gets better results, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish.

    @ Monika – I have tons of drafts started and unfinished, but I never delete. Sometimes, six months down the road, I can finally find the words I wanted to use to get my message across. Keep up the good work.

    @ Daniel – You’re very welcome.

    @ Buddy – When I’m done thinking, I write. Then I send it over to Brian ;)

    @ Clear Ice – Start by writing for yourself first. Forget everyone else. Forget results. Write for you, because you love it and nothing else.

    Then, practice. Even the pros need to practice sometimes.

  44. @ James – oops, I keep forgetting (insert Muttered French Curse here)

    @ Monika & James – I’m with both of you, I do the same, thousands of words written and never throw anything away. It’s funny, my last blog post just popped out of words I’ve had inside for years, and the one I intended to post will go back into the pot for a bit to simmer some more…

  45. I recently found out that getting laid up with mono makes for some great “think time.” ( and no, I’m not still contageous )

    Great post, James. Made me think.

  46. There is nothing better than a good hour of jogging a day
    to get your ideas and thoughts together, and is also good for your health…. :D

  47. As my old Greek mentor told me, “Wander and wonder”. Great advice!

    No destination, no specific problem to solve = one mind ready to write.

  48. So true, I find myself thinking that way or asking those questions every day! Now I set aside one hour nightly (from 8pm-9pm) solely for researching for my blog. As I prefer unique content, I try to read the latest news for the industry first, as well as forums for what is hot and what is not.

  49. One of my friends once asked me to design his bands website. I told him to take a look through some CSS galleries for some inspiration to generate some ideas and to provide me with examples of his likes and dislikes.

    He said, “no way; and you’re not allowed to look at any websites for one month. I want your head clear of all thoughts so you come up with something totally original”.

    I was like, yeah, alright. I still haven’t made that site… ha ha, but still, I’ll do it one day.

  50. @ Chris – Ouch. That’s a great way to end up racking your brains for inspiration. If you want to dive in the swimming pool, you need a jumping-off point :)

    @ Info – I noticed that the less I read, the better I get! (And that I think better in the morning, too.)

    @ Maggie – I think I’ll make “wander and wonder” my motto!

    @ Felipe – I skate. I skate laps around the ice rink with nothing but me and my thoughts, and it’s always a pleasant experience to achieve that “wander and wonder” Maggie mentioned.

    @ Amy – I didn’t do it. Wasn’t me. I swear.

  51. Thanks for the great reminder to stop and think. I recently became completely stressed out with all the balls I have in the air, threatening to rain down and knock me out. So, I stopped listening to music in my car and lo and behold, when I got home, I was able to concentrate on my work because I had been thinking about it the entire drive home.

  52. another great post. I wish I could write like this in my blog. Hehehehe

    I hope I can stop spinning my wheels in the snow, and try to examine ideas as if I’m scrutinizing a diamond for its quality… :)

  53. Love this post, thank you for your valuable comments and reminder. True, we don’t take enough time to think when writing copy for our blogs and that extends into many other aspects of our lives. Think, digest, indulge the senses, to really get deep into any subject. That’s where the real stuff will spill from. Once there, the mind goes beyond what we ever imagined it could. Sometimes we know so much that we minimize what we know. It’s also important to break the topic into bite size chunks and think deeply about each bite. It’s very surprising when this is practised, the results reveal one layer after another…and there’s a lot of information stored at each layer!

  54. James,

    You are right on with the fact that ideas come to all of us if we focus on what comes to our brains.. Lacking patience is common reason for the bloggers to get frustrated. What if someone has great content yet not known to that specific niche audience ?

  55. @ Shilpan – I agree. Some very bright people I know hold themselves back by trying to pound out content as fast as they can. When they relax and take a break, think it over for a few days, the results are amazing.

    @ Cathy – Exactly. I grab onto a bite, and when I don’t do anything with it, just wander around for days and muddle and chew the thought over, I find I come up with much more insightful content. Like this post!

    @ Jezheel – Snowgrips. They work wonders to stop spinning ;)

    @ Julia – A ride in the car with nowhere to go and good music on the radio always does me wonders. I hear ya.

  56. Great post…the bottom line is simply TIME. This is the hardest for anyone if they have more responsibility than just taking care of themselves. Tack on a spouse, kids, career move whatever and the big factor is time.

  57. I enjoyed reading this and you’ve really made me think about this point. I will go out, smoke a cigarette and think and improve my thoughts and idea’s. Thanks.

    – Stefan

  58. I 100 % agree. The time factor is very crucial to create a killer content. Brainstorm, contemplate, think of ideas. By doing these, an intuition will spark; when you come up with a good idea, this is the time to organize your article or post; after organizing your thoughts, then write an attractive first sentence; after that, your thoughts will run smoothly, saying what you want to say in relevance to your topic or title;

    Just write; never mind the mistakes and grammars; after you have written enough or have already come up with the conclusion, then check for the grammar mistakes; after this, revise, revise, and revise until you come to a point of diminishing returns.

  59. I agree that polishing a post to become a killer content takes time. This is what I’m doing now. I may not be a good writer but now I’m striving to think deeply and intelligently to come up a better article for my readers.

  60. Thanks James Chartrand for the share