“If only I had all the time in the world, my blog would be perfect.”
That thought has probably crossed your mind more than once. I know it’s crossed mine. I find myself lost in daydreams about how amazing my motorcycle blog could be — if only I had more time.
When writerly productivity is measured in words written, posts published, traffic attracted, and opt-ins secured, there is always room for improvement. It gets overwhelming, keeping up with the treadmill of constant growth … not to mention the rest of our lives.
No wonder we feel so busy all the time.
But what if our busy schedules aren’t obstacles to overcome but opportunities to embrace?
Before we put our fingers to the keyboard …
Being a great writer is about more than just putting words on the page.
The work we do sitting at our desks — pouring out the first draft, revising, optimizing for SEO — is only part of the writing process.
Certainly those are important and useful steps that take time and energy, but arguably the more important work happens before we put our fingers to the keyboard.
To produce good writing, you have to start with good ideas. A spark, an inspiration.
The rest of the writing work you do builds upon that initial insight. No matter how good you are at editing, you won’t be able to turn a bad idea into a dazzling article. (Unless that editing helps you discover a better idea, which is another story.)
So, where do we get these great ideas?
With so many ways to measure content performance, it’s tempting to look to our platforms for help. If only we had more time to dig into Google Analytics, surely the great idea would surface from its charts and tables.
It’s a seductive idea … that all of our content troubles might be over if we only had enough time to conduct intensive keyword research and social media monitoring. But for the busy content marketer (and aren’t we all), it’s also self-defeating.
Yes, great content ideas can be inspired by Twitter and Google Analytics. I’m a data analyst, so those measurements are my bread and butter.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. The main reason I’m so good at my job (I can say that, right?) is that I know these metrics don’t tell the whole story.
Content performance metrics are valuable, yes. But they are only indications of a deeper alchemy. Sessions, likes, comments, conversions … those numbers only tell us what happened, not why.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you need to spend hours analyzing data to come up with good content ideas.
The best ideas still can (and frequently do) come to us the old-fashioned way: through experiences and observations.
How to produce writing that isn’t hollow
In the mid-nineteenth century, in his secluded Walden cabin, Henry David Thoreau penned one of his most famous quotes:
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
It’s still true, and perhaps even more relevant than when he wrote it.
I used to see this quote as an admonishment — how dare you write before you’ve lived a life worth writing about!
Now, I see it as a benediction, a challenge, and a directive:
Go out and live, gather your experiences and observations. Then come back to write. Repeat.
Thoreau saw living as essential to writing. Without it, writing is hollow, no more than a performance.
Our lives are not an impediment to good writing; they are its lifeblood
The next time you’re tempted to blame your busyness for sub-par content, ask yourself:
What are you overlooking? What is making you feel overwhelmed? Could others relate to it and benefit from the solutions that have helped you?
Being a writer isn’t just about writing. It’s a mindset, a different way of viewing the world and your place in it. It’s an ability to pay attention to your life, and use your experiences and observations to inspire your ideas.
When you do achieve writerly greatness, it won’t be in spite of your busy schedule or because you finally managed to find time to delve into Google Analytics.
It will be because you’ve learned to pay attention to the world around you, and to transform your observations and insights into content that means something.