Over the summer, I’ve gotten really into AMC’s hit series, Mad Men. We’re talking ridiculously-crazy-some-people-think-it’s-all-I-ever-talk-about into Mad Men. No spoilers, please – I’ve just finished season 4!
In one of the episodes, Don Draper says something about giving the creatives room to be creative – even when they’re not. This really struck a chord with me, and while I think it can certainly be interpreted in a few different ways, I keep coming back to content development.
How many times have you sat there, staring at a blank page, watching the cursor’s maddening blink, willing the words to come forth? How many times have you tapped your foot or drummed your fingers impatiently, waiting for the lightening strike that would inspire pure genius?
And how many times have you sat there, a little disappointed and mostly frustrated, because the only thing that comes out just doesn’t meet your expectations?
Too often, we try to force ourselves to be creative when the proverbial well is dry. Creativity is, of course, important to content development, and so we place these demands on ourselves and our time. Ideas, ideas, ideas. Create, create, create.
Creativity isn’t an endless stream. It’s a renewable resource. It will run out, but it will also replenish. As part of the content development process, we need to account for that because it will happen from time to time. No one is inspired 24/7, and that’s okay.
Still, it’s important to make sure that you don’t let a lack of inspiration or occasional lapse in focus derail your efforts. What’s more, don’t let it be an excuse for giving up. Taking a break is healthy now and again, but six content-less months isn’t really a break, per se.
It’s important to move words or keep at content development efforts with regularity, but forcing them can sometimes make the situation worse. If you create something just to have something to show, it might lack passion or focus. We’ve all been there, shaking our heads and saying, “it’s okay, but it’s not my best work.” The goal here is to make that as rare an occasion as possible.
While earning my creative writing minor at Susquehanna University, one of the earliest and most valuable lessons I learned was to write through “writer’s block.” Keep at it, even if it’s no good. Not every effort will be a winner, and it’s important to recognize the difference. As a tutor in the university’s writing center and, later, as a high school English teacher, I advised students to use a free-writing technique in order to get all the “garbage” down on paper. For every page of dead-ends or ideas that just weren’t very good, there is almost always one gem that can be used.
Do these lessons apply to content development? Absolutely. Whether you’re creating a blog post, white paper, infographic, eBook, video, or any other kind of content, understand that sometimes rough drafts help you find your focus. Does it take more time? Yes. Sometimes it does. And time is money, I know.
But taking the time to allow richer content to blossom could also get you more leads and, ultimately, more revenue than going with the “first thought, best thought” method. Your time investment is an investment in your business.
A Content Development Process for When You’re Not Feeling Creative
If feeling uncreative in your content development efforts is something with which you find yourself frequently struggling, try some of these tips (and I hope Don Draper would largely agree with them):
#1: Brainstorm. The good news is that you can do this anywhere. In the very first scene in Mad Men, Don is brainstorming ideas for the Lucky Strike campaign, scribbling ideas on napkins while having a drink and talking to the bar staff.
What ideas come to you immediately? Write those down somewhere so you don’t forget them. Whether you keep a pad of paper by your bed or you’ve got Evernote ready to go on your mobile device at a moment’s notice, keep your brainstorming organized.
No ideas? Ask yourself if you really have no ideas, or if you just don’t have any ideas that you think are good ones. If you have ideas that you just don’t think are all that good, write them down anyway. Bad ideas can be just as important sometimes.
If you truly have no ideas at all, move to step #2 anyway.
#2: Simmer. Don’t try to force ideas here. Just simmer for a while and see what develops naturally over time. You might be surprised how things will come to you when you’re not looking for them.
#3: Jot down some ideas. For me, it helps to do this on paper – especially if I need a break from looking at the computer (and who doesn’t need one of those these days, right?). As a matter of fact, this blog post began as a piece of paper with ideas scribbled all over it.
You might prefer Evernote (which is incredibly useful and my second method of note-taking) or some other application. Choose what works best for you, and whatever further ideas come to you in the simmering process, make sure you get them down somewhere.
What’s important to note about this step is that it often happens that you have more thoughts than you realize, but you don’t know it until you start writing them down. What starts as a single line or two disconnected thoughts can quickly turn into something of substance once you see it in front of you.
#4: Give yourself some time to not think about it. This is what Don Draper meant, I think. Or at least, it’s what I like to think he meant. Let your brain do other things besides worry about content creation. Inspiration often strikes at the least likely time, after all.
Go outside. Read a book. Meet some friends for coffee. Spend a little bit of time doing something you enjoy and something that will give you a break from beating your head against a brick wall, so to speak.
#5: Come back to it refreshed and ready to press on. It can make all the difference.
The moral of the story: Give yourself time for the content development process. You need time to form thoughts and ideas. Ideas need time to germinate. The best things are never rushed.
photo credit: green cricket salvage