30 Days of Writing Complete. What now?!

It’s been a number of days now since I’ve written anything. Having completed the 30 for 30 Challenge, I’ve taken a physical (but hardly mental) break from writing to clear my head and see where I want to take things next.

In the meantime, I have been reading and listening a lot to Jeff Goins.  Jeff is an entrepreneur and writer who is passionate about helping other people find their writing voice, and teaching what it takes to build a platform and audience. I discovered Jeff’s work in the midst of my writing challenge, and probably would have approached things differently had I encountered his advice first.

Here is some of what I’ve learned, and what i hope to apply to this blog going forward.

Finding one’s voice: Developing one’s voice is essential not only to creating authentic content, but carrying with it a spirit that will attract others. Goins says,

When you write for everyone, you write for no one. Exclude everyone but those who are most important to you. This is the only way to truly connect with an audience.

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Your voice is what resonates with you, and what resonates with an audience.

I’m still figuring out the niche my voice fills, and even what that voice is. Part of developing my voice ( I think), comes from exploring content areas offline, and honing in on the one or two that really resonate with me.

Developing Content: Looking back over my thirty days of writing, and analyzing the topics I chose, I noticed a consistent pattern.  I tend to focus on politics, sociological/psychological phenomenon in our culture, and areas of self-improvement (financial, spiritual, relational). There are a number of blogs out there that already seem to do this. As such, I think I need to narrow my focus going forward.

According to Goins, finding one or two ideas, and writing ONLY about them, is how one broadens their audience. Trying to write for the masses by being all things to all people actually makes less people interested in what one has to say because one isn’t really talking to anybody but your own ego’s desire for fame.

Ironically, the more specific and limited one’s topics, the more readers will be drawn to the work, as it will speak to specific people more directly as opposed to more people more generically.

Who is it I’m trying to attract on this blog?  How can I make my writing more focused and specific? What unique perspective do I offer, and with what type of audience might that perspective connect?  These are questions I’m grappling with in thinking about how to move things forward, and one’s I’m sure many other bloggers have as they start to think their blogs to a higher, more professional level.

Choosing a Platform: Once one finds their voice, one needs to then think about how they will go about presenting themselves. Goins names five platforms he feels every blogger fits. I personally think I am a mix of the Prophet, Journalist and Artist platforms. But according to Goins, you have to pick one major one, and one minor one.  You can’t be them all, otherwise your saying nothing by trying to say everything to everyone. In that case, I’d have to choose Journalist (major), and Artist (minor). He says,

Understanding how your passion connects to the needs of an audience is essential to building a platform.

One cannot merely follow their passion if they want to be successful and have a tribe.  Writing for writing’s sake is fine, but if you care about people reading it, you need to figure out how to develop a tribe of readers and followers who are interested in that passion as well.

One of the websites I admire and go to every day to satiate my intellectual curiosity is Branpickings, by Maria Popova.  Brainpickings is defintely a platform and style I aspire to. It’s the epitomy of what I think of as the Journalist platform, with a mix of the Artist platform. Maria has developed a knack for asking a bunch of very interesting questions on a variety of intellectual subjects, and then delving into pieces of literature that explore those questions, while also curating a set of images and art that add a visual element to the story.

Getting Permission: What does it mean to get permission? Goins says about content and getting permission from an audience,

Anticipation is everything.  If I’m waiting for your message, I care about it. If not, then I don’t care – no matter how good it is.

The term for this, coined by the blogger, marketer and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, is Permission Marketing. The antithesis to this is Interruption Marketing.

The idea behind Interruption Marketing is that by interrupting enough people, a small percentage will, by serendipity, find the content interesting and continue to follow or subscribe to the message. Done enough over time, people will to start to follow.  Keeping this idea in mind, ask yourself, how many times have you become a loyal reader of spam mail? Likely none of you. Spam mail, of the digital or analog kind, is Interruption Marketing at its finest.

Contrary to this is Permission Marketing, whereby people “opt in” to receive the content. In this way, they have already expressed an interest by choosing to receive the message. They are primed to receive it, and open to it.

Unlike Interruption Marketing, which can be blanketed as far and wide as one has the resources, Permission Marketing takes time and the slow development of trust. People have to want to receive your message.  This usually takes a while to develop, and is created through consistently providing content that has value. The staying power of getting permission is much more lasting in its effect than interruption can ever hope to achieve.

Main Takeaways:

  • Carefully curate writing to that which most strongly represents one’s voice and worldview.
  • Work on structure so as to allow for a less distracting reading experience, and one that is developed in a way that allows those who are interested to easily find the topics of their own volition.
  • Slowly build a following (a tribe) by creating content that matters, and that is expressed through one’s unique voice.
  • Be less diffuse. Narrow focus of content to areas that one has a strong passion, but that are also approached from a unique in perspective.

Themes for Longform Writers

 

Does anyone have experience using any of these themes? I am particularly interested in their functionality and how conducive they are for long form writing. Decisions, decisions!!

WordPress.com News

Many of the themes in our Theme Showcase are great for writing and reading longer articles and stories, from our classic default themes — including Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Twelve — to popular personal blogging themes like Ryu and Manifest

Last week, we shared ten of our favorite longreads across WordPress, and we hope you’ve taken some time to sit back and savor these longer pieces. Below, we’ve gathered some themes that work well with longform writing and offer a clean, enjoyable experience for your readers.

Syntax

On Otium, Yale PhD student Sarah Constantin writes about mathematics, cognitive science, philosophy, and more. Aside from a colorful graphic header image, Sarah keeps her blog simple. You can click on the button on the left to open the menu and access her About page, but the site is minimal, which keeps the focus on her prose.

On Syntax, you’ll…

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Day 30 – What I learned from 30 days of writing

(This is the FINAL post in the 30 for 30 Challenge.)

The end has come. This marks my 30th blog post in thirty days.  I took up the challenge just after the Christmas holiday as a way to try and see if I could create a new habit for writing. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I had new habit forming activities in mind – things that would take me a month to ingrain, and the whole year to follow through.  There are some things I’ve learned from the experience, not only about myself, but about writing and creativity as well.

First, I need to thank the following people and blogs for their inspiration.  Their words, wisdom, and advice helped to keep me challenged and persevering throughout these last few months:

Mark Manson, Jeff Goins, David at Raptitude, Mr. Money Mustache, Maria Popova at Brainpickings, and my roommate Mallory, who puts up with all my early morning rummaging around the apartment as I prepare my pot of pre-writing/research coffee.
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Creativity needs space to thrive : Writing is a process, and it needs boundaries. It takes as much time away from it as it does sitting at the table, slogging through a bunch of roughly formulated ideas, in order for it to become something . While writing every day was a rewarding challenge, and one that I’m glad I did, I wish in retrospect that I had given myself a little more time in between each post. Also, I realize now that some of the topics I tried to delve into require more than 24-hours of processing time to think about and write.

There will never be “the right time” : As much as I wanted to believe in the idea that I would “feel” when the time was right, I soon discovered there really isn’t such a time. You have to make it the time. You just have to do it. It will likely feel forced and contrived at first as you start to put words to paper (or screen), but the act of letting the ideas flow opens something up after a while. You can worry later about having things make sense.  That’s what editing is for.

Writing clarifies ideas and makes them real : I have always been what one might call the overly inquisitive type. For every blog post, magazine, or book I start, there are many more waiting in the wings.  In reading all of these things, my mind usually becomes a swirling cloud of thought in search of common connecting points. This writing exercise forced me to organize my thoughts, and in some cases, leave them on the table for another day.

People will listen if you engage them : Putting something out there for people to read is one thing, but finding and engaging readers is another matter entirely. Since starting this challenge, I’ve steadily increased my email subscribers. I am convinced one of the ways this has happened is by acknowledging every comment made, and actively sharing my content on multiple platforms while also engaging with other writers and creators by sharing and commenting on their content. As Jeff Goins says, we all need to develop our own tribe of followers who support us and look forward to receiving our creative output.

I have at least a few books in me : Throughout these thirty days I’ve had a number of book ideas. Most of them are books of non-fiction concerning particular societal phenomenon, but some are purely for entertainment. One idea I have is for an illustrated, tongue-in-cheek coffee table book about the particularly humorous types of people we all have in our lives. These are all nothing more than kernels of thought at this point, but the initial ideas are there, and thus the seeds have been planted.

Always write down ideas as they come : As with the book ideas, I’ve learned that I can’t wait until later to get them out of my head and somewhere tangible. If I wait, they will most likely vanish into the recesses of my brain, never to be heard from again.  For that reason, I’m now always ready to capture the fleeting ideas before they pass my conscious mind like butterflies in the jungle. I’ve started carrying a means for documenting these random thoughts. For ease of capture, I prefer the notes feature on my phone, but keeping a small moleskin notebook works too.

Be sensitive to the modern reader’s tendency to scan : There is some debate in the online writing community about whether or not we should promote scanning in our writing styles. Which came first? Was it the scanning reader pushing writers to present content in a more simple way, or did writing and presentation styles change, creating readers who scan? Simply put, I think the answer lies somewhere in the fact of our culture’s demand for more convenience and “on demand” entertainment and information. I for one am inclined to writing in a longer format, admittedly, sometimes too long. I’m trying to find that happy medium between the two. Blogging is inherently a more informal platform than, say, a book or news magazine. However, blogs can still retain their intellectual merit while also being designed with the modern reader in mind. Based on the length of this paragraph, I’m clearly still learning how to find this balance of conciseness and thoroughness. :)

This has been quite the ride. What at first felt daunting and scary, has become something I now look forward to each day. The challenge of exploring ideas, both familiar and unfamiliar, has become an activity that I now welcome. The habit I set out to instill has now taken hold. The idea of not writing is now what creates the feelings of angst, as opposed to the other way around.

There will be many posts to come for sure. I am currently exploring a redesign of my platform, as well as purchasing a domain name that is more fitting. In the meantime, I am taking a few days off from posting on the blog, but not from writing. I have a number of future posts in development that I want to take the time to research well, and flesh out.  They will be out soon.

I close this post, and thus these last thirty days with a quote by the writer and man with his finger on the pulse of humanity, Joseph Campbell. These words from his book The Power of Myth have become a daily inspiration:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Day 29 – Snow Day!

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

For all of my friends in the mid-Atlantic states today, take care and take cover.

The last time we had snow like this in the region was February 2010, given the hyperbolic name of Snowmagedon by the media. I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and remember the endless snow, blowing winds, and brave (stupid?) drivers navigating the blanket of white where roads used to be. The city was pretty much shut down for a week which gave me a LOT of time at home to myself. No distractions from friends to go out and spend money. Just me at home, the white stuff coming down outside, as if by machines that someone forgot to turn off.

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Snow days 2010

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Day 28 – Thoughts on Finding Meaning

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge.)

What does it mean to be fulfilled?  To have a meaningful life?  As sentient beings, aware of our past and future selves, how do we reconcile our sense of meaningfulness in the present? Some of us find solace in religion, and resign to its teachings of  mystery and sacrifice as a way towards greater meaning. Others find meaning and purpose in how they make their livelihood, or the activities that make up their daily lives (parenting, teaching, cooking, etc.).  Still others find their deepest meaning when silencing the mind, and disconnecting from their worldly relations. Continue reading

Day 27 – This post is NOT about Sarah Palin

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

The only thing seemingly newsworthy of the Sarah Palin endorsement of Donald Trump is the fact of her increasing inability to form sentences and coherent thoughts. I didn’t think that was possible based on past appearances, but little ceases to amaze me these days. My favorite headline of the endorsement which sums it quite nicely was from Slate titled “Hot Mess Endorses Dumpster Fire”.

But I will not be talking about Sarah Palin, at least not directly. Continue reading

Day 26 – 10 Netlfix Documentaries for People Who Would Rather Read

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

Today’s post is Buzzfeed inspired.  That is, I’m giving you a glorified list of things.

A little over three years ago I cancelled my cable (part of my path towards financial freedom), and decided I would read more.  Even though most evenings I would rather spend curled up with a good book, like anyone else, I still enjoy the occasional Netflix evening – minus the “and chill” part.

What I don’t like, however, is the endless scrolling through the infinite choices of things I’ve never heard of, or worse.  Passing over gems like Sharknado and Zombeavers, one can easily become discouraged and reconsider that book. But in most cases, the addiction of scrolling simply continues ad infinitum.

Not to worry.  I can save you the scrolling. Here are ten documentaries currently available on Netflix streaming that you won’t regret spending time wathcing on a Friday evening at home: Continue reading

Day 25 – A New Financial Mindset

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

At some point in our adult lives, we’ve all said some degree of the following: “If only I had more money, I could take care of XYZ and everything would be better.” After living with this mentality for years, and after having received multiple promotions and raises, I realized after a while that I continually ended up in the same place that I started at the end of every month- broke.

Each pay period I would pay my bills, save a small portion, and then see how much I had leftover. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this money was a motivator for more spending. The more I had leftover, the more I felt obliged to spend it on nicer things for myself.  The way I figured it, I had done my part by saving a little and paying all my bills on time, so I “deserve” to get these other things as a young professional for my career, health, lifestyle – name your spending category.

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We convince ourselves that having more money will close the gap between having money and not having money at the end of every pay period.  If only we could see that it is not so much the lack of money coming in, but the amount of money going out that keeps us in a perpetual rat race. It takes time for most to realize this, some never do. Continue reading

Day 24 – Black Mirror : A Look at our Dystopian Future Selves

I may be a little late coming to this, but the British show Black Mirror, currently streaming on Netflix, is one of the best pieces of dramatic social commentary I’ve seen in some time.

In this anthology series, each episode tells a different story from the perspective of a not-so-distant future “us” that has somehow allowed certain technologies to progress to their logical, albeit dystopian and destructive conclusions. Continue reading

Day 23 – Why is Everyone so Busy!?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

Ask someone how they’re doing nowadays, and in varying ways they’ll say, “I’m so busy!” Are people actually busy, or do mindless activities consume their day which people call “being busy”? Never mind the fact the question of “how are you doing?” isn’t really asking about activity, but a state of mind. It is interesting that people choose to describe busyness as their state of mind. Rather than saying, “I’m doing well.” or “I’m really feeling good/bad today.” – they say “I’m busy.” Given the fractured and frantic nature of the average person’s attention these days, it’s no surprise that a feeling of constant busyness defines how we think about our state of mind. Continue reading