See ya, 2016! We’re starting 2017 early this year.
This year has been a rollercoaster … so I’m proposing we kick 2017 off early.
To get where you want to go professionally, you’ll need to create excellent content, and to create enough of it to make an impact.
We want to support your efforts in doing exactly that in the coming year … so we have a new community project for you. Each month, both here and on the Copyblogger blog, we’ll propose a pair of “prompts” — one aimed at improving your content quality, and the other aimed at improving your content productivity.
We’ll sharpen our skills by having fun, enjoying the process, and putting the time in … all in the spirit of creative play.
In this 19-minute episode, I talk about:
- Why the key to creative productivity rarely lies in “resolutions” (and where to find it instead)
- Two creative prompts for December … to fit in when you can
- The habit prompt I’m playing with this month … and how it will help your year to come
- Some thoughts on working with habits during the craziness of December holidays
Our December, 2016 prompts
- Quality: Play with some fiction vignettes or snippets (see the resource from Stefanie in the Show Notes below)
- Quality: Write a short page about a value that’s important to you
- Productivity: Write a page or so “every day” (as you define it) at a consistent (-ish) time of day
Drop us a note in the comments — here or on the blog — and let us know if you’ll be playing along!
The Show Notes
- If you’re ready to see for yourself why over 194,000 website owners trust StudioPress — the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins — just go to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress
- Our own Stefanie Flaxman is offering weekly creative writing prompts you can play with
- My post on improving productivity with tiny habits
- My podcast on the “values hack” (and some other productivity boosters)
- I’m always happy to see your questions or thoughts on Twitter @soniasimone — or right here in the comments
Get Ready Now for a Creative and Productive 2017
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.
Sonia Simone: Copyblogger FM is brought to you by StudioPress, the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins. Built on the Genesis framework, StudioPress delivers state-of-the-art SEO tools, beautiful and fully responsive design, airtight security, instant updates, and much more.
If you’re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why more than 190,000 website owners trust StudioPress. Go to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress.
Well, hello there. It’s really good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast.
Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.
My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hangout with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always find extra links, extra resources, and the complete show archive by going to Copyblogger.FM.
My unofficial name for today’s episode is “Goodbye to the dumpster fire.” Taking a look back at 2016, plenty of things I’m not particularly excited about. Let’s try a fresh page for 2017.
I like to think of it as starting early on the new year, because I’m done with this one. I’ve been thinking about my new goals for the upcoming year. I’ve been thinking about content quality. I’ve been thinking about how to become a better writer, a better podcaster.
Before we head into the December holidays, which are always a little bit of a crazy time, I want to think about my own habits, my own goals, and my own processes for the new year, and just get a nice head start on doing something fresh and on really working on something positive.
I think you guys know, I really want you to get where you want to go with your content. Whether it’s your own business, or you’re working for someone else. Whether it’s your career, whether you’re a freelancer. I want you to have more of the things you want in your working life and fewer of the things you don’t want.
Why the Key to Creative Productivity Rarely Lies in ‘Resolutions’ (and Where You Can Find It Instead)
Habits are how that happens. When we improve our habits, we improve the quality of what we produce, the quality of what we create, and the quality of the day-to-day existence of our lives. I’m very much about habits rather than motivation, resolutions, or avowals that never really go anywhere. Habits are really how you get where you want to go.
I’ve talked about my ‘habit’ habit earlier. I will give you guys a link. Again, if you go to Copyblogger.FM, I’ll give you a link back to some other resources about cultivating these kinds of small habits. We’ll do the one-minute review now.
As you probably can figure out — it’s probably somewhat self-evident — what you do every day adds up to what you did this year and what you’re going to do next year. When you’re working on new habits, new ways of approaching your work, or improvements to your productivity, you always want — in my opinion, this is reasonably well backed up by science — 95 times out of 100, you’re better off starting very small. In fact, absurdly tiny is not too small.
We human beings are a funny kind of a creature. We really crave novelty. We crave new things, new experiences. We get excited by what’s new, and yet we fear change. Keeping your habits small is a way to introduce something new, exciting, shiny, fun, and interesting without freaking out the part of your brain that’s very change resistant and concerned that we’re going to go off the deep end and create some kind of havoc.
You know these are turbulent times. These are very swiftly changing times. I think that our poor little monkey brains are particularly resistant to change when the external environment is a little more stressed. Small habits will keep you from freaking yourself out, and they will help keep you from self-sabotage or just from that feeling that you want to climb under the covers and drink hot chocolate until March.
New productive change, new productive habits start with itty-bitty, teeny-weeny habits. And then grow them if you need to. If you’ve been on the same teeny habit and it’s not automatically taking off, then just nudge it up a little.
Just a concrete example: If your tiny habit is “I’m going to write one paragraph every day,” and at the end of three weeks you’re still writing one paragraph every day, and the momentum hasn’t kicked in to start writing a page, two pages, or three pages, then you can just tick that habit up: “Okay, I’m going to write two paragraphs a day.”
You always want to schedule room for what some people call the ‘bonus effort.’ In other words, you want to whenever you can — you’re little “Okay, I’m going to write for one paragraph a day.” That should have some free time on the end of it, so that if you feel so motivated, you could write a couple of pages. You could write three, four pages. In a wonderful world, maybe you’d write five or 10 pages, if you just had a really hot day. When you can, schedule around for that bonus effort.
Two Creative Prompts for December … to Fit in When You Can
In 2017 both this podcast and the Copyblogger blog are going to give you some ideas. Ideas for habits, or practices. Fun, small, very achievable things you can do to move forward with your content goals. Because every content goal that’s worth having involves creating content of high quality and doing that consistently.
We’re halfway through December 2016, and I’ll throw a couple of ideas at you that you can play with. That you can just noodle around with, so you can hit it very seriously if you want to, if you’ve got some bandwidth.
Frankly, if you want a little bit of an excuse or a reason to disengage from all the hustle and bustle that the holidays can bring, just say, “Oh, I’d love to sit here and talk politics with my aunt and uncle for another two or three hours, but I’ve got my writing exercise to do, so I’m just going to do that.” If you need an excuse, I will be happy to provide you with one. I can even make some permission slips available, if we need them.
Here are some ideas for habits that you can work on in December. Not like crazy people. Not to put another thing on the pile that’s threatening already to topple, but just some ways to play, noodle, give yourself a break, and take some time for yourself.
The first idea is one that I have been doing lately, and I’m really enjoying it. Which is that the first thing I do in my work life for the day is I get some writing done. About a page is what I’m shooting for. Again, sometimes I go way over that, and sometimes I just go ahead and hit about the page. This is not a groundbreaking habit. We’ve heard this one many times before. I’m getting a lot out of it.
Now there have been times in my life when that was honestly the last thing in the world I wanted to do, was to write first thing. I’m not particularly a morning person. Right now I’ve actually managed to structure my life so I don’t have to get up super early, so that’s one of the things that helps me. I get up around eight in the morning – which, if you have a kid in school, is like princely late. Sleeping in — that helps me actually have a brain first thing in the morning.
If first thing doesn’t work for you, try last thing at night. That was always the one that tended to work well for me. It’s a little bit of free time for most of us, so maybe nine o’clock at night, ten o’clock. I don’t know when you go to bed. Let’s say an hour before you start getting ready for bed, you give yourself some space to do writing of some kind.
If that’s not workable, maybe lunchtime is workable. Try to find 20, 30 minutes in your day. You’re not necessarily going to need all of it. Where you can, just carve out consistently some time to work on your writing.
I like to do it every day. However, a lot of people like to put a Sabbath in there. They like to have one day off a week. Totally workable. Lots of great work has been done by people who take one day a week off. If you want to take the whole weekend off, totally legit. You structure it the way that works for you, not the way that works for me.
I like to do this page by hand most of the time. You may hate that idea. Again, structure it the way you want to structure it. Just as an idea for December, try doing one page of writing at some consistent and predictable time of day.
The Habit Prompt Sonia’s Playing with This Month … and How It Will Help Your Year to Come
One of the things that we’re working on here in December in a low-key way, in a way that we’re not beating ourselves up if we fluff a day or two, is we’re working on creating the space for our 2017 habits.
In December we’re just noodling around, finding that space. That consistent time, that consistent prompt before lunch. If you are in a day job, maybe it’s the first 20 minutes of your lunch break. Maybe it’s an afternoon break, when everybody else goes out for a smoke, and you go spend some time writing. I don’t know what it is. Maybe you go for a smoke and do some writing.
I want you to think about creating the space for your 2017 habits, because we’ll be using this space for working on becoming a better writer, a stronger writer. Writing better stuff. And that’s whether you write text, whether you write podcast scripts, video scripts, infographics. Even if you’re … let’s say you’re a graphic artist, so apply it to whatever creative form of expression that you are doing for your content.
Now for December, I’d like to use the time for basically play time. It would be my preference, if you can swing it, that you not work on podcast scripts or blog posts specifically, but more fooling around with ideas. Just noodling and playing with ideas, rather than trying to create finished work. Partly because, remember we talked about that craving for novelty.
It will be fun and interesting, and that will make it enjoyable and rewarding. If it’s enjoyable and rewarding, the habit will settle itself into place much more easily. It will be easier to switch gears and then do more worky work when we get started in January, February, or March.
I’m talking about writing every day. Please note I’m not talking about publishing every day. I think a lot of times we hear that advice — “Writers should write every day” — and we think that we’re supposed to be writing a blog post every day or something like that.
I think that’s fatal to good writing. What it makes you do is it makes you write safe, it makes you write tight. You’re fearful of committing to anything kind of whack, because it’s going to get published.
Just write something. It might be nonsensical, it might be an experiment. It might be a little bit of dialogue, a story. Write something that pleases you and interests you. If it turns into something publishable, that’s fine. Don’t try and force yourself to write content for publication every day. That’s a whole different ballgame.
If you’re a journalist and that’s what you do for a living, you’re kind of used to that rhythm. That’s fine. I’m talking about playtime, not necessarily about published work, for this little fun habit that we’re establishing.
Playing around with Fiction-Writing Prompts
If you’re at a loss for what to write about, you could actually start playing around with a little bit of fiction. Fiction writing is so powerful for content creators, because it’s all about capturing dialogue. It’s about capturing mood in just a sentence or two. It’s about subtext. It’s about subtlety and nuance. Fiction writing, screenwriting, and poetry are marvelous for content creators.
Our editor-in-chief, Stefanie Flaxman, has a personal blog of her own called the Revision Fairy. She’s been doing fiction-writing prompts on her blog. She just gives you an idea for a little scene, a little scenario, or a vignette, and you can just write a page on that.
I would advise you not to try and write finished short stories. That’s not play. That’s already work. Just write a little scene, write a little scrap. Write an interesting little vignette. Again, just for your own eyes. If you ever polish it, that’s sweet. That’s wonderful. Just write something for your own eyes and play.
I will give you the link for those writing prompts at Copyblogger.FM. I’m also going to be talking about our content goals on the Copyblogger blog, so you can catch all the links there as well.
Some Thoughts on Working with Habits during the Craziness of December Holidays
Another exercise you might want to play with this month, partly because it’s the end of the year, and I think it makes people reflective. Partly because we have some very meaningful holidays in this year and the different traditions. This might be a great month for you to do some prompts from your values list, from your list of the values in your life. Things like freedom, justice, community, family, faith, or integrity. You know, those abstract words that stand for what really give our life meaning.
That’s another idea for a writing prompt for one of these days, is take one of your values or take a bunch of your values and just write a paragraph or two, a short page about what that means to you. How it’s playing out in your life, maybe how you’re struggling with it.
I think sometimes people do this exercise, and they think that your values are what you’re already good at. But if you’re struggling with family — you’re struggling, you’re working a lot of hours — and you’re not getting your family what you want to, that’s a great thing to write about. Remind yourself of how important that value might be in your life, just as an example.
My intention this month — or for this year, actually, for 2017 — on Copyblogger is that every month I will give you guys a content prompt. So a prompt about making your content more excellent. And a habit prompt — something about your rhythm of working or your productivity that you might be able to tweak. We will work on both of those as a community.
For December our habit prompt is writing every day, defined by you. That could be every workday, it could be six days a week, or it could be seven days a week. Then the content prompt is to play with some fun writing. Play with some values writing, or play with some fiction. Again, for your eyes only. You only share it if you feel like you are ready to work it up into a publishable piece.
I have a proposed list for 2017 that I published on the Copyblogger blog. You can just go swing over there and look at it. These are the prompts I think I’m going to do for content quality for the year. This is the list I’ve put together now that I think we’re going to work on together.
We might tweak a few of those, because a year is a long time, and there might be something more fun or more interesting to work on. You can see the whole list there.
I really hope you will join us. I’m interested in this as a community project. It is all about doing our best, to show up to ourselves and honor ourselves as content creators. If you miss a day, nobody’s going to beat you up. It’s not about that.
It’s about striving, and literally every day, as creative professionals. Or as just creative human beings, we have to re-show up. We have to show up again to our own work and remake that commitment. We’re always falling off the wagon and getting back on. Always.
If you’re a little bumpy on creating your habits, we all have the excuse “It’s December. December is a crazy month.” Just play with it, and strive without kicking yourself in the teeth if it’s not perfect.
Do swing by the comments here at Copyblogger.FM or at the blog at Copyblogger.com. Let us know how it’s going for you, what’s interesting to you. If you have specific things in 2017 you want to work on, let us know. We can be flexible. I’m really looking forward to seeing you there.
Let’s bid farewell to this challenging year and start paving the groundwork for something really magnificent, wonderful, and transformational in 2017.
Thank you as always so much for your time and attention. I’ll see you on the blog.