It’s Day 4 of my latest 5×15 Writing Challenge; my writers have almost earned themselves a nice donation to global literacy nonprofit Room to Read. Through Day 3 we’ve got a completion rate of 100%—the highest I’ve ever had for one of these challenges. I’m thrilled to help so many people discover the joys of daily writing.
His post reminded me of all the things I loved about blogging daily. And all the things I’ve missed since I stopped a little over two months ago. I still write every day: today’s Day 640. But, well…Here’s the comment I left on Josh’s blog:
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Today’s post brings my daily writing streak to 570 words. Not letting go of that, even as I try to wean myself off publishing something original in this space every day. Is this post feeling too meta already?
Well, it’s about to get even meta-er: Yesterday I wrote on Medium about my blogging hiatus. The piece got picked up by one of the more popular publications on the site, so that could be a nice visibility boost. (Another boost: if you read and enjoy the post, could you “clap” for it? Apparently that matters.)
It occurred to me even as I wrote the piece that writing about not-writing still counts as—well—as writing. So perhaps I can scratch my ideation itch every day anyway, even as I seek World Domination Through Marketing a wider audience.
And speaking of audiences: I’ve got a free webinar coming up on Monday, November 20th: “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. I’ve got some stories to tell, some advice to share (expect that Seth Godin’s name will come up), and we can talk through some solutions. I’ll be leading the webinar live in the morning and evening, Eastern time, so the far-flung folks in my tribe don’t have to stay up to the wee hours to participate. Click on the link or the photo to register; I’d love to see you.
Do you ever hit what Seth Godin called “The Dip”? Nothing matters. The act of making words appear with your fingertips no longer seems magical; it seems like a slog. You wonder why you even bother to write.
You, my friend, need a hit of Neil Gaiman.
Hope, wisdom, kindness, comfort—I can’t think of better gifts. It’s like wrapping your readers in a soft, hand-knitted afghan. And then surrounding them with puppies. (Assuming they’re not allergic to puppies.)
However hard the writing may be, it can’t compare with the payoff for your reader. Whatever story you’re telling, someone needs to hear it. So write, already.
I’m not just being flippant: Who you write for depends a lot on why you’re writing.
I write my Frequent Questions posts for whoever asks the question, for the most part I’m writing my other blog posts for an intellectually curious writer with a serious sense of humor. In other words, for myself. My marketing writing is for me, too. The me that hasn’t yet done the work I’ve done to be able to teach what I teach.
When I start with a new group of writing students, I always do an exercise aimed at helping them see themselves more clearly through our favorite medium, words. It’s also a great self-esteem boost—and who couldn’t use one of those on the regular?
Seeing themselves more clearly helps them see their ideal audience more clearly—if you agree with me that the ideal audience is someone very much like yourself.
Marketing to your ideal audience
I was talking about this with my writers yesterday and they asked me what Seth Godin had to say about the subject in his Marketing Seminar. So I broke out my notes and found that—eek!—I’m diverging from Godin’s teaching a bit.
One of the questions he encourages us to ask is how our ideal audience differs from us.
Can our audience be like us and be different from us at the same time?
I think yes.
Because if we have something unique that they do not: our experience, our product, our wisdom—whatever it is we’re marketing.
While my ideal audience may be smart, creative, committed writers, they’re writers who have not walked in my shoes. I can tell them where to position the cushions to avoid blisters.
Being like me is not the same thing as being me.
But, listen, if any of you out there are me, could you find someone else to do the dishes?
By now, pretty much everybody in my life is used to my 15 minutes of writing a day. As I tell my writers when they start out,
If you respect your commitment, the people around you will respect it too.
When I arrived at my cousin’s house the other day for a quick overnight before an early morning trip to the airport, I wanted to visit with her. But I also needed to write. So I did something I don’t usually do—I plopped down on the sofa to watch the baseball game with her (did I mention we’re related?) and I opened up my laptop. My cousin understood.
So instead of 15 minutes of focused writing, I did several innings’ worth of semi-distracted writing—the first time I’ve done that, but I don’t think it showed. Still, I’m glad I did it, because the question my cousin asked—well, the minute she asked it I knew I’d be blogging about it:
“Do you do this for yourself?”
15 minutes for me…and more
And I realized that the answer was both yes and no.
No—not in the sense she meant. She didn’t know about my blog (someone’s not reading her email; she subscribes to my Occasional Flashes of Brilliance). And I guess for a person who lives a very offline life, the idea of throwing upwards of 300 words into cyberspace every day seems a little baffling.
And yes, of course I do this for myself. My 15 minutes a day has made me a better writer. It’s helped me be braver about the topics I take on. And it’s helped me make a connection to you. I’ve enjoyed that.
My coach Samantha Bennett (no relation) suggested the 15 minutes a day format. My virtual mentor Seth Godin said that blogging every day is the best business decision he’s ever made. And who’s gonna look at Seth Godin’s career and not start blogging daily? Certainly not me.
So here we are, you and I and my 15 minutes of commitment. If you’ve ever thought about doing it, do it. Today. For yourself.
What did I do over my Labor Day break? I learned the art of truth-telling. Well, more about truth-telling than I’ve allowed myself to learn before.
Now, in business I’m scrupulously honest. But in real life, if you ask me how I’m doing, as the chipper waiter did last night, I’m likely to dazzle with you a smile and a very sincere “Great, thanks!” Why burden a stranger with whatever’s chipped my chipperness? What purpose could that serve?
It could serve to create a human connection, that’s what. And if that advice sounds familiar it may be because it’s advice I give you—oh—just about every time I talk about writing or speaking.
Taking my own truth-telling medicine
Well, I wasn’t feeling chipper Saturday night, so I decided to engage in some radical truth-telling:
“I’m not doing so well,” I said to the waiter. “I’m coming down with a cold.”
He took what he hoped would be an imperceptible step backwards (I don’t blame him) and asked what he could do for me. “There’s a chicken spaetzle soup on the room service menu, but I don’t see it here in the restaurant.”
He smiled and said, “I think I can get that for you.” And he did.
The receptionist at the hotel I landed at Sunday—Day 1 of Yep, It’s Definitely a Cold—took that to the next level. Before I’d even left his desk, he ordered up some chicken soup to my room—his gift. I’d no sooner set foot in the room when room service called to say the chef was whipping up some soup just for me and was there anything else I’d like. More blankets? Pillows? What kind? “If you need anything else, just call me direct because it’ll be faster than calling housekeeping.”
Do I feel taken care of? You bet. And would any of this have happened if I’d returned chipper with chipper? Of course not.
Truth-telling and asking, Amanda Palmer-style
Fortunately for me, I’d been passing my plane rides (5 in the last 5 days) by reading Amanda Palmer‘s wonderful book The Art of Asking. Seth Godin recommended it during his Marketing Seminar and he’s right (of course); it’s brilliant. A combination of Palmer’s autobiography and the things she’s learned as an artist and as a human about being vulnerable enough to ask for things.
I finished the book about an hour ago and I already want to re-read it. And I hardly ever re-read books—certainly not the minute I’ve finished them.
P.S. My dinner just arrived, piled with extras: ginger ale, Italian water, hot decaf tea. And no check. Extra pillows showed up shortly after that.
I’ve got one more thing to do before I crash: write a thank-you note to the hotel while I still remember my benefactors’ names.
Truth-telling won’t always get you a free grilled chicken breast. But it will get you a human connection.
I met Anaik Alcasas through The Marketing Seminar, Seth Godin’s new vehicle for spreading his insights and provoking new ones. She describes her business as providing “brand strategies for remarkables.” Follow her juicy #100booksinayear journey on Instagram @anaik_ed.
Eavesdropping to “wow” your reader
by Anaik Alcasas
How in the world can this writer be connecting directly with me—my pain points, core desires, need for affirmation and inspiration, insight and encouragement?
These are the kinds of things you would have heard four years ago if you were eavesdropping on my inner dialogue in the bookshop down the road.
Three years of in-depth research later, using a unique color-coding approach, have revealed several recurring themes in the most engaging motivational and prescriptive non-fiction. In brief, the most engaging writers seem to connect consistently with their readers—or so the research has shown—by touching on elements of audacity, credibility, storification, vulnerability, affirmation, illumination, generosity and inclusion, among others.
So let’s take that step by step, testing this theory, eavesdropping on the inner dialogue of your reader—that reader you’re writing for and to. We’ll italicize these thoughts, to remind us that this is potentially the inner dialogue of that reader:
If you’re saying what everyone else is saying, just with a few minor adjustments, I’m not interested. Challenging the status quo? Tell me more. Disrupting some big traditional gatekeepers with your proposition? Tell me more. Challenging the oppressive troll under the bridge (whatever that may be) who scares people away from crossing over into more freedom, more opportunity, more fruitfulness, more solutions, more vital growth, greater resources to make a positive dent in the universe? Yep, talk to me.
While you’re articulating your audacious proposition, don’t forget to articulate the opposition (my pain points) and the promised transformation (why I should keep reading). And feel free to cycle through those things all throughout our time together – proposition, opposition, promised transformation.
You’re not just stringing together nice-sounding words that you think will “sell” people (we’ve all tasted the cream-puff positive-psychology bull-o). Your credibility involves having done the hard yards for yourself, demonstrating you’ve put in the years, garnered real-world experience, done the reading and the research. Show me your roots and show me your foundation.
Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure you answer my unspoken questions “Why you? Why this? Why now?”
I’m wired to read stories, so package your knowledge and wisdom into stories, anecdotes, metaphors and analogies. This is the great antidote to cut-and-dry advice. If I wanted the preachments I’d go talk to my outlaws or that know-it-all neighbour—you know the one—always ready to dole out insular “advice” with an overtone of judgmentalism and a side of “you should.”
Storify your wisdom and I’ll lap it up and ask for more.
If you haven’t fallen far and hard, suffered loss, run head first into severe obstacles that banged you up–if you’re too perfect and you’re hiding the real parts of your journey in the hopes I’ll trust your “perfect” image more than the next guy who’s sharing about his stomach-lurching lows and dizzying highs, think again.
I, your reader, am a deeply flawed human being with a business that might fall into dire straits without some actionable solutions, and I need to know that your teaching works for deeply flawed human beings and flailing businesses.
My favorite word after my personal name is “you” (copywriters know this), so what’s the “you-quotient” of what you’re trying to teach me?
I know, I know, it’s hard work to distill your training, wisdom, knowledge, and solutions into insanely useful content. But I don’t really care about what you’re saying unless you can bring it back to me through your affirmations and applications. Bring it back to those pain points you already identified. Empathize with my reader’s doubt and answer it directly, point by point.
You’ve presented your data, stories, case studies, examples, and affirmed to me that these are written for me, right now, and can move me forward into the promised transformation I long for.
Keep on going! Your illumination provides context so you’re not just giving me a data dump, but you’re stringing it all together, giving it relevance and meaning for those pain points we talked about, and helping me to get excited.
These are the “aha moments” in your content, the tweetables. If you’d said them before the credibility and storification and all the rest, they would have merely been pontifications–unproven claims. But I’m totally on your side now, and I’m nodding along. Illuminate away.
If I’ve read this far, it means I’ve already found a sense of tribe, a sense of belonging, within your content. You’ve already joined the ranks of one of my virtual mentors. Guess what’ll tip it into the realm of lifelong loyalty, something that really wows me, something that makes me get even more engaged and possibly make the deeper changes necessary for genuine progress? Your generosity elements – the checklists, summaries, recaps, bonus downloadables, and insider goodies designed just for those who are most on board … your ideal target audience.
You won me over, I voluntarily enrolled, I made the significant time investment to read your book, or watch your free webinar, or work through your ten-day-email tips course. Are you content with a one-sided conversation or do you want to move this into the realm of two-sided? If so, invite me to join your tribe, to sign up for more generous tips and insights, invite me to join a Facebook group, or to email you with questions.
Inclusion can be done many ways, but this is one of the most significant opportunities, one of the biggest differentiating factors between books and content BIE and AIE (before internet era and after the start of the Internet Era).
What would any of us do if we could—just for one day—read the minds of our ideal target readers? Certainly, we might change the depth with which we attempt to engage, personalize, and empathize with them.
The theory is that, what the most engaging writers have done intuitively—thanks to long-time leadership experience and high emotional-IQ (EQ)—we can learn to do intentionally, by paying attention to and “hearing” those readers we most want to serve with our writing.
So now it’s your turn to let us eavesdrop … which one of those nine elements describes your inner thought processes when you pick up a nonfiction book? And which one would you most like to nail in your next piece of writing?
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“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”—SEO hates negative keywords. And you can’t get much more of a “stop word” than stop. But translated into a positive frame, the wisdom turns bland and boring, essentially:
It’s a good thing for all of us that Confucius never had to deal with SEO. And yet, somehow, his work has gone viral enough that’s still being quoted more than 2500 years after his death. Now that’s genius.
Of course, his name wasn’t really Confucius. Wikipedia notes that as a Latinization of Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子, if you want it in the original). Over the centuries the philosopher has picked up a number of posthumous nicknames,. My favorite is the first, coined in the first century AD: “Laudably Declarable Lord Ni.” May we all be “laudably declarable,” lord or not.
But I digress
Whew! Almost went down a rabbit hole there. I’m sure there’s many a good story safari to be had in the life and wisdom of Kǒng Fūzǐ. But I’m more interested in this particular piece of wisdom:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I always feel like I’m going too slowly. I’m rarely satisfied with my own progress. My patron saint is St. Hurry-Up. Well, St. Expeditus—Santo Expedito in Portuguese. I first discovered him in Brazil, though why he’s not widely worshiped in New York remains a complete mystery to me.
So I feel like I’m never going fast enough. And yet to my clients and friends, I seem to be in constant motion—thinking, creating, shipping (to use Seth Godin’s term). No matter how gummed up I feel inside, I make sure Ship Happens. I’ve even set goals for my vacation. Not work goals, but still—goals.
Hey, at least I’m taking a vacation (next month!). That hasn’t happened in—wow!—probably a decade, since I went to Brazil and discovered St. Hurry-Up. So I’m, um, slowly making progress on slowing down. I guess I should count that as a win.
If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision. Starts June 22nd!
Did you know about the National Day on Writing? I just found out about it. And why is it not “National Writing Day”? Perhaps to give the editors something to do on National Editing Day. Anyway, you know it’s a real thing because there’s a hashtag: #WhyIWrite.
I wrote “National Editing Day” as a joke but then I figured I should check the Google machine. No, there’s no National Editing Day. But there is a National Proofreading Day (March 8th). Mark your calednars.
The National Day on Writing comes to us courtesy of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’m sure they’re fine people—two of my favorite teachers taught English—but they really ought to meet up with the National Council of Copyeditors. (Sadly, that doesn’t exist either.)
#WhyIWrite Every Day
The official National Day on Writing is October 20th. But longtime readers know that every day is Writing Day here at Bennett Ink. And it has been for the last 440 days.
I could offer a million reasons #WhyIWrite. But I hate lists, so I’ll just give you a few.
Because my clients pay me. But the truth is I write even when I’m not getting paid directly—I just get to choose my own topics and deadlines. Still, I love my clients. And (mostly) the topics they speak and write about.
Because it helps me think. For the past couple of months I’ve been working my way through Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar—there’s a summer intensive starting soon and I highly recommend it. When I get to the questions at the end of each module, my first reaction is, I have no idea how to answer these questions. Then I copy and paste them into a Word doc and start typing and it turns out I do have answers to those questions. Sometimes pretty good answers, too.
Because I love surprises. I love helping my readers shift their perspective and see things from a different angle. And my writing students discover their skills.
Because every time I do it, I get a little better. Not that everything I write is a gem, but bit by bit (byte by byte?) the bar gets higher every day.
Because it keeps me sane.*
Why do you write?
*within normal tolerances
If you’re secretly attached to your files full of unfinished writing …if you enjoy collecting rejection emails…if you worry that effective marketing would generate too much income for your business DO NOT register for my VIP class on Revision.
Seth Godin was with me at the Mets game on Monday night. Not in person—in my head. When the beer vendor made his first appearance, Seth leaned over and whispered, “People like us do things like this.”
Now, I don’t drink beer—or any alcohol, really—but this beer vendor caught my attention. Every other beer vendor I’ve encountered, in ballparks across this great land shouts, “Beer!” Or if they’re waxing poetic,
It’s a great phrase. The long E vowel sounds cut across the chatter of thousands of people. When the beer guy cometh, he doesn’t take you by surprise.
Monday was hot and sticky in the city. After weeks of early spring-like weather, summer came crashing down on us with two days of 90-plus temperatures. By game time, we were probably down to the high-80s. It was hot.
So the beer guy comes strolling down the stairs, shouting,
“Who needs a cold beer, besides me?”
Yes, that’s many more syllables than “Beer here!” but worth the investment of time and voice. In those few words he exhibited empathy for our plight—told us that he’s in the same position. He reminded us of the perfect solution to our shared problem. And that he, in fact, can provide it by selling us a cold beer.
People like us (hot, sticky people) do things like this (drink ice-cold beers).
I thought about getting out of my seat and talking to the vendor, asking if his spiel increased his sales. But the game was just too good. We beat the Cubs 6-1, with Jacob deGrom pitching a complete game. It’s been a while since people like him did things like that.
I’m heading back to the park this weekend. Hope I see some more great baseball, and more great marketing too.