These 4 Gutenberg Hacks Will Change the Way You Blog

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Why the ‘Cult of Creativity’ is a Myth

I am a copywriter. I am not ‘creative.’

Let me explain.

If you were to give me an assortment of craft supplies, and, with no time limit, tell me to “make whatever I want,” I will make nothing. (I might eat the glue.)

But if you were to give me that same assortment of supplies, a 1-hour time limit, and tell me to “cradle an egg from a 1-story drop,” I will have drafted ten ideas, picked five, tested three, and decided on one with five minutes to spare.

Why is that?

Because ‘creativity’ in the so-called ‘traditional’ sense isn’t real.

Why the ‘Cult of Creativity’ is wrong.

Evangelist John C. Maxwell calls creativity “the anticipation that a problem has a solution” — or the energy that empowers a creator to find an answer. For Maxwell, limitless problems contain infinite solutions, and creativity is the expectation of an ultimate solution. In other words, Maxwell believes that the spark generated from finding an idea can power a project from concept to publication.

The problem, though, is finding that spark.

The ‘Cult of Creativity’ is the fanatic misconception that something can come from nothing — an ideology that pedestalizes writer’s block, worships the Muse, and treats inspiration like some arcane, well-guarded secret. It’s the same mentality that insists ‘good work’ only happens in certain locations between specific hours of the day. And it’s utter nonsense.

That said, a startling majority of my former colleagues at university worship the ‘Cult of Creativity.’ Several of them teach ‘freedom’ as the key to good writing; a few of them even encourage their students to pick their own paper topics and grade themselves. Unsurprisingly, the result is confusing, rushed, often incomplete work.

It seems the Muse only ever strikes when the deadline looms three hours away.

If ‘creativity’ doesn’t work, then what does?

The difference between free-thinking and thinking outside the box — is the box.

Take a look at the grid below. Using only three lines, can you connect all four dots? Give it a shot. I’ll wait.

Can you connect these four dots using three lines?

If you try to think within the dots, it’s impossible to connect them; however, if you consider the space beyond the dots, the solution becomes obvious: a triangle (Barry 14, 308).

True creativity — the kind that works — is critical thinking. It’s acknowledging the parameters of a problem and poking its boundaries until you find a solution.

It’s a process.

I particularly like Luke Sullivan’s approach to creativity:

Creativity happens in response to a problem… In my experience, the best strategies and the best work usually come from a place of conflict and tension: strategies built on top of — and powered by — tensions. (Sullivan 145–46)

For Sullivan, creativity isn’t an energy; it’s a methodology — a technique that seeks feasible solutions to real-world problems.

It’s a cycle of tests, failures, and adjustments.

How to think critically about your ad copy.

Most marketing coordinators at work treat ads as a means to an end. They’re billboards that relate landing pages, verbatim. Daily, I read recruiting ads that read as follows:

[Insert number] sign-on bonus! [Insert number] average pay! Apply now!

This text doesn’t solve, or even acknowledge, a problem. Instead, it bypasses the problem and jumps straight to the happy ending: “working for us makes money.”

Yay! But isn’t that the spiel for every job ever?

Benefits aren’t problems. They’re solutions. And solutions are boring. Remember, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey, man.

Instead, find a point of tension, and figure out how sign-on bonuses and pay numbers solve those problems. Do some research: are the client’s sign-on bonuses greater than their competitions’? Do they pay more? Or, if the client’s bonuses and pay are average (or below average), take a look at their reviews on Facebook and Glassdoor. Do employees enjoy the atmosphere? Do they like their boss? Is the work stimulating? What separates the client from everybody else?

Try to see the ad through the audience’s eyes. Are sign-on bonuses and wages enough to convince me to click an ad? Probably not. But an ad that asks me whether I can afford Christmas presents for my kids is liable to stop my thumb on the page.

Draw the triangle that connects the dots. Find the problem, then pursue the solution.

This is true creative copy. It is neither arcane nor secret; it’s merely methodical critical thinking.

And I think you can do it, too.


Anywho, that’s me this week. What’s your definition of creativity? What do you think of the ‘Cult of Creativity’?

Let me know in the comments.

Cheers,
Jake

FYI, irrecolletions is now on Twitter. Follow along for insights and daily snippets.

Works cited

Barry, Pete. The Advertising Concept Book. Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2016.

Sullivan, Luke; Boches Edward. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This. Wiley, 2016.

4 Things Bodybuilding Teaches Us About Writing

About six months back, I started exercising again. I’d grown tired of looking like Andy Dwyer and decided to become Star-Lord. So I cut out beer (mostly), started running 15 miles per week, and developed a weekly full-body weightlifting regimen. Continue reading 4 Things Bodybuilding Teaches Us About Writing

6 Ways Kanbans Help You Get Stuff Done

Blogging is a part-time job. Literally.

Between brainstorming, researching, writing, editing, and posting, I spend about twenty hours per week creating content. For me, writing is that thing I do when I have nothing else to do. It’s my Netflix, my video games; it’s the glue that fills the cracks in my already packed life. I write in coffee shops, in waiting rooms, in transit–I started this post while eating a banana on my lunch break.  But sometimes my schedule makes it hard to keep posts and deadlines straight. Enter kanban: a simple production flowchart that keeps work organized. It helps me stay afloat, and I think it can help you, too.

What is a Kanban?

A kanban is “a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing” (Wikipedia). Simply put, it’s a chart that visualizes, schedules, and track projects. I use mine to keep organized, assure quality, and set soft and hard deadlines for myself. It’s the only way I manage two blog posts per week, and it’s the most effective way to keep my fiction from stumbling over itself.

There’s a lot of kanban software out there. This is my Trello.

Note that ‘kanban’ isn’t a software; rather, it’s a word for a kind of software. I use Trello for my blog and Jira for work, but those aren’t the only programs out there. Kanban Tool, for example, has a clean, simple interface; Leankit is a little more intensive. My advice: play around and find the one that meets your needs.

Remember, it only works if you stick with it.

1. Manage your ideas.

Kanbans are great for dumping ideas.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my production cycle starts on Saturday. I wake up, crack open a notebook, and jot down ten to fifteen post ideas. I rarely spend more than fifteen minutes brainstorming, and I almost always fill two 2×3 notebook pages. Some of those ideas are great; some are horrid. All end up in my Trello backlog. Whenever my fifteen minutes are up, I type them into my kanban. Then I tag them by type (green for evergreen; brown for “Morning Coffee“; red for my upcoming series) and sort them from “most excited to write” to “scraping the bottom of the idea barrel.”

2. Stay organized.

Remember that old Lisa Frank trapper keeper you wore out in middle school? Kanbans are like that, but without ripped holes and crumpled paper.

I split my Trello into six categories: backlog, researching, writing, editing, making graphics, and published. Each post lives somewhere on the board. That way, I always know what I’m writing, when it’s due, and how close it is to “done.” If I’m looking for blog ideas, I pull from the backlog. If I’m researching, I drop my findings into the “researching” category. So on; so forth. Rinse; repeat.

On average, I typically work on three posts at once: one short fiction post, one long fiction post, and one evergreen post. Without a dedicated flowchart, I’d have to rely completely on my memory and notes–and I have the brain of a goldfish and the handwriting of a med student. No bueno.

So do yourself a favor: kick Ms. Frank to the curb and get organized like a grown-up. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Treat writing like car assembly.

Kanbans were invented by a Toyota employee, so it makes sense that they’re basically intellectual assembly lines. As a project progresses, its card moves along the kanban. When the card arrives in a category, it cannot (read: should not) move again until its respective parts have been assembled. For example, when I research, I attach my notes and references to the card. The card cannot move to “writing” without those attachments. That way, if I need to pull a quote or write a bibliography (or, for fiction, look up characters, items, events, or settings), I have everything on-hand. No need to scrounge around looking for it. It’s there, ready, whenever I need it.

4. Keep your writing and editing separate.

When I used to teach freshman composition, the biggest complaint I heard from students was this:

“Writing is so hard because every time I write something, it sounds stupid. So I end up erasing it, starting over, and erasing that, too. Gah!”

Have you ever had a similar experience? I know I have. Loads of times. Gah.

I’m not a great writer. I hardly call myself a good writer; all of my rough drafts read like they were written in crayon. But a good fifteen minutes with a red pen can clean up awkward phrases, tie up tangents, fix passive language, and change oddball verbiage.

But remember, you can’t fix anything until you’ve written it.

Having separate kanban categories for writing and editing helps me get more done by forcing me to focus on each separately. As soon as I’m done researching, I move the card into “writing,” and I vomit all of my thoughts onto the page. When I’m done, I transcribe the draft into WordPress, move the card into the “editing” category, and begin scanning for content errors. I refuse to edit while the post sits in “writing,” and I refuse to write new material while it sits in “editing.”

The “editing” phase is also where I format for SEO. It’s nearly impossible to draft with search engines in mind, so I don’t bother. I write first, edit second, and optimize third, and my title is almost always the last thing I write. That way, it aligns with my focus keyword, sub-headings, and editorial tone.

5. Regiment your time for tedious work.

Let’s face it: your post will never feel done. And the more you tinker with it, the less done it will feel.

It’s time to set soft deadlines for yourself. If you’re shooting for a 500-word post, regiment yourself about three hours to research, write, and edit, and set a due date that reflects your workload. With my work schedule, three hours of work takes about three days. If I brainstorm on Saturday, I typically set a soft post deadline for Wednesday morning, around 8 AM.

I like scheduling in my kanban because it allows me to not only set post due dates; it also allows me to set category due dates. Smaller deadlines allow me time to research, write, and edit well before my post deadline.

Remember, 1,500 words is daunting, but five sets of 300 words are do-able.

6. Catalog your victories.

Blogging is a lonely hobby. It’s long hours in front of a notebook, followed by long hours in front of a computer. It’s easy to get discouraged. That’s why I archive all my work on my Trello. Whenever I’m feeling blue, I like to gander at my completed tasks. That’s typically enough to spur me onward.

It’s also nice being able to recycle my notes. Finishing a post doesn’t suddenly make the work invalid. If you’ve done the legwork, then you should continue to use it. Whenever I find myself in a pinch, I finger through my archive and see if there’s anything useful I can dig back up. More often than not, there is.


Anywho, that’s me this week. What do you use to keep yourself organized? What does your post schedule look like? What kinds of software do you use to stay afloat?

Let me know in the comments.

Cheers,

Jake

FYI, irrecolletions is now on Twitter. Follow along for insights, daily snippets, and refills of Morning Coffee.

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Update: We’re Moving! (Sort of.)

Irrecollections has (and always will be) a haven for fresh-squeezed content, both fiction and nonfiction.

To better meet your needs, we’re undergoing some renovations. Major renovations. And we’re pretty damn pumped about it. The metadata’s all packed, old articles have been trashed, and all-new content’s primed and waiting to post. All that remains is a flip of the switch.

And the best part–you don’t have to go anywhere. Same address, new house.

Thanks for all of your support. Thanks for all the comments and emails; thanks for the notes and encouragement. You’re the best.