In writing, “there is no there there.” No matter how hard you practice, no matter how many hours you log, perfection is illusory. And yet, I keep writing. Recently, I asked myself: Why?
What motivates me to write?
Why — despite people’s shrinking attention spans, the volume of ephemeral content being created every day (burying yesterday’s content), and the many, MANY great writers that humble me — do I still take up this Sisyphean task? Is there a point?
It’s not for SEO. Because with all the analytic and algorithmic gymnastics Google does, no one really knows how to truly optimize content anyway as AI and deep learning get better and more sophisticated.
It’s not for social shares. Just because someone shares a post, it doesn’t mean they read it. And it’s not because I’m a great writer and have to share my “talents” with the world.
I write to learn. Writing helps me learn something new about a subject, about myself, or ideally, both.
Try to look past the triteness, but writing is about the journey. The most satisfying part of writing, for me, is the process.
The relief of hitting “Publish” and meeting a deadline feels great … but it’s fleeting. So, I don’t write to meet a deadline. I don’t write to a keyword. And I don’t write to justify the ROI of this or any other blog post.
I have to put those as secondary considerations if I want to give myself any chance of continuing to enjoy writing.
Content marketing isn’t writing for writing’s sake
Writing for writing’s sake is, to me, the most thankless task in content marketing. And it feels like that sometimes.
The need to push out content has all but sucked the romance out of the art — which means it’s even more important to remember that writing starts with a purpose.
My purpose with writing is simple: I want to learn and try to make it interesting for myself along the way.
“But I’m in the driveway repaving business. That’s boring to write about, and who wants to read it, anyway?” (And please, take no offense, driveway repavers, it’s just an example.)
I completely disagree.
There are no boring topics, only boring writers
I read a book by Marc Levinson called “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.” It’s a whole book dedicated to the lowly shipping container.
It was riveting.
Levinson pulls back from just focusing on a shipping container by tying its significance and impact on you and me, labor and global economics.
And for those who don’t have time to read a book?
How about Nicola Twilley’s article on “The Rise of the Plastic Disposable Coffee Cup Lid?” This, too, is an article that has stuck with me since I first read it five years ago. Roughly 1,000 words on the forgettable, oft-overlooked coffee lid — and yet again, a wholly fascinating read on its evolution and design.
I’d argue that more obscure topics like driveway repaving are more interesting than seeing (much less reading) yet another article on Donald Trump or Twitter trolls or Instagram stealing from Snapchat.
If a talented writer can make coffee lid articles great again, why can’t we do the same for driveway repaving or window blinds?
Ask yourself: “Would I want to read this?”
I spent the first half of my career writing for life science and biotechnology clients. Before writing for my client’s audience, I had to write for myself first. That meant trying to make the most banal subject matter interesting.
How would I know it’s interesting? Simple. One question: “Would I want to read this?”
If you’ve ever had to find or do research on a driveway repaver, the amount of boring content has surely astounded you. So if you’re a copywriter, and your client is in driveway repair or window blinds, you have an opportunity to create something that stands out and is unique.
The opportunity to write something great for niche industries is an unchartered territory in content marketing, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Writing unique content for niche industries is the crux of Rand Fishkin’s comment in Real Smart Marketing’s video: “How Will Content Marketing Evolve in 2017?”
Content marketers are going to have to get more unique with the types of content they create; they’re going to have to get higher quality, and I think they’re going to have to get more niche.
If you’re an agency copywriter or an in-house copywriter tasked with writing about something that typically bores you, ask yourself: “What would I want to learn about and read?” For the vast majority of industries, the bar is low to create something great.
And by “great,” I don’t mean by Google’s search engine standards or by social sharing standards. I’m talking about your standards.
Write for yourself first
The growth of media (podcasts, video and blogging) has given us all unprecedented access inside the minds and psyches of super-creative people. I’ve never once heard a successful creative talk about how they made something for someone else. They always made for themselves first.
Authentic interest and enthusiasm from the creator rub off on the reader (or viewer). Creating enthusiasm is a lot like everyday life. I’m more apt to get excited when I see or feel other people getting excited, not when someone tells me, “You should be excited right now.”
If you write for SEO, for social shares or for fleeting notoriety, you neglect your most important audience: you. And when you’re not excited about your subject, and you’re not excited to learn, guess what? The reader isn’t either.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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Author: Patrick Armitage