How Tim Ferriss, Jon Morrow, and a Cat Lover Helped Me Become a Better Blogger

  • December 20, 2010 by Guest Writer
  • 43 Comments

Guest post by John Anyasor of HiLife2B

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about the authenticity of bloggers. Surprisingly, it’s something that isn’t done much in the blogosphere. There tends to be so much focus on ‘writing great posts’ and ‘creating content’ that we seem to have forgotten what blogging is really about.

Blogging is about the stories behind the blogger.

Ever since I revealed my true story on my own blog, I’ve gotten an outpouring of comments about the questions I posed about the state of the self help blog.

The main problem with the typical self help blog? There’s no story for the reader to relate too.

Yes, we know that ‘if we try hard enough, we can achieve anything’, but where is your proof? What have you achieved that makes me believe what you’re saying?

Make no mistake, there are people who have the guts to show people how they live and the stories they’ve made in their lives. But you know what I’ve noticed? These people are living conventional lives. They aren’t trying to achieve anything more than happiness in life within the status quo.

You’re probably asking yourself, “How does any of this apply to me?” Don’t worry, it does. The fact is that you can’t just sit down and expect great stories to emerge from thin air. People wait and wait for the right moment of inspiration, the right time for their pen to strike paper… and they end up waiting for hours, days, even weeks.

The lesson that must be learned here is:

Life inspires creativity

A blogger who merely shares blog tips is easily forgotten. A writer who gives advice on how to be a better writer isn’t memorable. But the struggling author who is trying his best to make his work known and gives advice on how to deal with failure along the way—that is someone we want to get to know!

His life is inspiring and his passion to achieve the impossible is what people crave.

Tim Ferriss got his book, now a New York Times bestseller, rejected 26 times before his 27th proposal changed his life forever. And do you know why it ended up exploding onto the world? Because he lived his life in a way that inspired people.

He found a way to work less and make more: what’s not to like? And look, he teaches you how to do it too.

At this point, you might be thinking, “I’m no Tim Ferriss (or any other celebrity for that matter). Heck, my life’s not even interesting. How is this going to help me become a better blogger?”

To this, I say you’re wrong. Your life is actually more interesting than you know.

What Jon Morrow and a nice cat lady taught me

Provided you have an interesting take, the everyday lives of normal people can actually be quite insightful. Take Yasmine, a cat lady who creates art for a living. Looking at her blog, it doesn’t take long to see what inspires it. Maybe living with cats isn’t exciting for some people, but for her, it’s a joy. That’s what inspires her art!

The life she spends with her cats drives her creativity.

But maybe you think cats are boring, and you disagree. She’s creative, not me, right? You’re missing the point. It’s not about her. It’s not about Tim Ferriss.

It’s about you and what YOUR life is about.

Ask yourself, is my life interesting to me? And if not, how can I make it enjoyable so that it can inspire me to create?

The experts will say that it’s not good to start a profitable blog around something you love.

Jon Morrow of Copyblogger said it best:

“Pop quiz. Which is better:
A) Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you?
B) Starting a blog about a topic the world is interested in, and then convincing yourself to write about it?
If you chose B, congratulations. You chose correctly.
Without even realizing it though, most people choose A. They start a blog about a subject they want to write about, and then they use every psychological trick in the book to get people to read it.
And sometimes, it works. If you’re a good enough marketer, you can prop up any blog or product, no matter how bad it is.
But why go through the trouble?”

Why go through the trouble? Because it’s what you love that pushes you to write.

I love testing assumptions and experimenting on life. I enjoy writing about the pink elephants in the room that everyone tries to pretend don’t exist. I could go on for ages about doing the impossible.

Why choose what everyone else is interested in when I don’t even care? Rest assured, a blog built around the pleasures of others (and not your own) will not last.

This post was written with the purpose of becoming a better blogger, but with the intention of helping you become a better human being. And what’s the best way humans learn how to get better at things they want to get better at?

Through example, that’s how.

Here are two steps to getting better at writing and life, in general:

1. Write about what excites you

By writing about what excites you, I don’t necessarily mean write about what makes you jump out of your chair with joy. ‘What excites you’ can also mean ‘what pisses you off’ or ‘what moves you to tears’. In other words, write about what emotes you.

What is making you mad right now? Share this on your blog. What makes you feel the most joy? Convey that emotion in your writing.

On my blog, I wrote about how I angry I was that I missed out on the world because my parents’ constant hate for each other. It not only allowed people to relate to me more, but it helped me feel so much better about myself. I no longer hold ill will towards the past.

2. Be willing to share pain

This might be hard for many people. Actually there’s a chance that none of you will follow this advice. I’m willing to take that risk.

The perfect life is something that none of us have. Most of us are still trying to get it, even knowing that the perfect lifestyle doesn’t exist. But you know what? On our journey to reach our dreams, we’ve been through a lot of pain. Remember Tim Ferriss? People could relate to him because he had been through much hardship in the beginning. Years of failure plagued his mind, but alas he finally came out on top!

Even Leo Babauta, the purveyor of one of the top blogs in the world, experienced much hardship to get where he is today. It is the pain that draws people to him and forces them to take his advice much more seriously. He has been to the edge and back.

We don’t simply connect to words on a page, but the stories behind those words. The life behind the prose.

Dusti talked about her imperfect journey of minimalism. Is she Shakespeare? No! You, don’t have to be a “talented” writer to BE a good writer.

Ash brought forth her painful story of endurance which eventually led to online success. Is she a world-renowned poet? Not to my knowledge.

Life inspires creativity, not the other way around

If your life doesn’t interest you, you have to be willing to make it interesting. Reading about how to write better isn’t going to help you unless you’re a beginner. Devouring self help isn’t going to change you. You have to write about what moves you. Reading about what moves you and then writing about it — that is a brilliant start.

As I near the end, I’d like to quote a post from my blog about authenticity (edited for coherence). I hope it encourages you to write with great passion:

In a world where it’s easy as pie to find someone who [writes well], it’s no longer profitable to pick the person with the most qualifications. Yes, the world wants smart people. Yes, the world wants creative people. But most of all…

The world wants REAL people! People by which others can identify. So expose [yourself] and push past your insecurities. Give the world what it wants.

So, I guess the question is: are you living a life that inspires creativity?

John Anyasor used to write self help, but now he writes about experimenting on life and location independence at HiLife2B. Follow him on Twitter: @cjanyasor.


Think Traffic is now The Sparkline. Click here to check it out.

Or View The Archives

TrafficColeman December 20, 2010 at 7:57 am

John..People love to hear stories about a person who was once in there shoes..them you become an mentor of them.This is how I been able to build my community is to tell my story.

“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

John December 20, 2010 at 8:53 am

Nice! That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. A lot of people think themselves authorities just because they can parrot what others who’ve actually been there have said. But that doesn’t build trust and definitely doesn’t make for a good story.

People want to know who you are. So give it to them.

Hans Hageman December 20, 2010 at 8:59 am

John,

This was very helpful. I’m a 52 yr. old with a family. I left a six-figure job to create a living around my values and to better leverage my talents. I sometimes think that I was irresponsible and crazy to do this but your post got me thinking that maybe the irresponsible thing was to not have done it sooner.

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thanks, Hans. It’s great to hear that you’ve taken life past a mere wish and are actually trying to achieve things for you and your family. The way I see it, there’s no point in lamenting about the past. The fact is that you’ve made your choice and that’s all that matters now.

Glad you decided to share your story. Good luck with the future :)

Tom Meitner December 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

This is great, John, and way to go on nailing it. I’ve been blogging for a few years, and only now am I discovering that I need to find that authenticity to connect with my audience. I spent too much time trying to appeal to a wider audience rather than realizing that my story is interesting to somebody.

Heck, that’s why there are so many dang reality shows on TV – everybody’s story has a market, it seems.

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 10:09 am

Tom, you’ve hit a really important point: reality tv shows. Everyone has a story that can sell (whether or not you want to sell it is up to you of course), but the point is that EVERYONE can be compelling. Authenticity is what connects people to others.

I think you should write a post about that. Thanks for the thoughts, man.

James M December 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

From reading Tim Ferriss’ new book, The 4 Hour Body, it appears that he was influenced by a great personal development writer, Steve Pavlina. Story is what makes Steve stand out so much in comparison to other bloggers. He’s brutally honest with his audience (announcing publically his separation from his wife, his miscreant past, etc) and he is not afraid to write about what interests him. There are times when he will write a post that is in response to his readers’ questions, but I don’t think he would ever say, “Oh, people want to read about Snooki so I better write a post about her.”

I always encourage people to share not only their own stories, but the people around them, too. Everyone has an interesting story to share but not everyone has the means to share it.

K00kyKelly December 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

Love that you pointed out that “what excites you” can be negative stuff too. I recently started a blog called Undercover Feminist because the way popular culture thinks about feminism is terribly misleading. People seem to think sexism is all men’s fault when really women are just as guilty as men, just in different ways.

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 10:34 am

Kooky, you rock.

I feel the exact same way about feminism. I will definitely be checking out your blog.

Thanks for stopping by :-)

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

Nice, I just got 4 Hour Body. Not done with it, but it’s a really great read so far.

As for Steve Pavlina, I’ve actually been quite against him on my blog, not because of his authenticity, but kind of having an opposite affect of many self help bloggers. He’s achieved so much and he has warrant to give people advice, but I’ve seen people (myself included, I’m sad to say) create blogs that just parrot his advice. The result? People feel good about themselves for a little while, deluding themselves long enough to forget the fact that their lives really haven’t changed as much as they’d like to think.

Now, make no mistake, nothing’s wrong with personal development. But it becomes an issue when people use reading and writing it as an excuse to do nothing.

Stories are what inspire people to do great things. I believe that EVERYONE can share their stories, and sharing other people’s stories (like I did above) creates community.

By the way, a blog is FREE. Community is FREE. I guess the one thing that would make it difficult for someone to share their story is no internet connection, which isn’t too difficult to afford these days.

Thanks for your comment, James. Inspired a lot of thoughts.

James M December 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I’m not sure you can blame Steve Pavlina for the number of blogs out there trying to duplicate his success and pass along his advice. He’s aiming to help people grow, and a lot of people have made changes for the better – for example, the number of people switching to a raw or vegan diet. You could make the same case for Tim Ferriss and the number of sites who claim The 4 Hour Work Week as a major influence. Both want to help people, but they are powerless to control how people use their information. It’s the same story with fitness and diet professionals, financial advisors, educators, etc.

Internet access at home is cheap, but computers are still not affordable for people living in poverty. Some people may have a computer and net access, like my parents, but they don’t know about how to blog or have a desire to do so. It’s up to the people who do have a desire and the means to share stories to find people like that and share them with the rest of the world.

Joshua & Ryan | The Minimalists December 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

John,

We totally agree with your “sharing the pain” comment. You don’t have to dwell there, but it is important to show people that you struggle just like they do. Whether it’s getting out of debt, getting rid of your stuff, losing your job, or losing your marriage, we all experience the pain of hard times. It’s important to share that with others. It creates a connection and makes the communication of your message more real, more true.

Take care,

Joshua & Ryan

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Exactly! We all struggle, and that message seems to get lost when we see successful people enjoy the results of their struggles.

People don’t connect with perfection and instant stardom. People connect with people and the stories that make them unique (even though in reality, our struggles are all the same).

Happy Holidays, guys.

Penelope J. December 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm

John,
Can’t thank you enough for this motivating piece. It’s done for me what Jon Morrow and a nice cat lady (and Tim Ferris) achieved for you. I know where I’m going with my blog, I have a message that I believe is important to many others. Even as I was reading, the theme for my next blog post – after a two-month absence – jumped into my mind. And it’s strong, challenging, and involves my readers in my struggle, which is theirs as well, to make a new start after job, home, and status loss. The cards may seem stacked against me/us, but who says we can’t overcome the obstacles in our path and find another way up?

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

No problem, Penelope! Glad I could help. My hope for everyone is that we overcome our struggles in practice, as opposed to simply wishing for it.

Matthew Needham December 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I was thinking as I read this article John, that these points apply equally as much to running a business as to they do to wrting a blog. Great pointers and I particularly like Hans’ point about it never to late to take action. The crime is not to take action.

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I suppose so. If you sell wine, but don’t drink it, wouldn’t make for a profitable business!

Santiago Rial December 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Totally agree, John. I heard that the only key to creativity is being yourself. Dont try to be a success, dont try to stand out. Just have fun and please yourself.

Then the doors open.

Great post!

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm

In terms of blogging, I agree one hundred percent.

Thanks, Santiago.

Ryan Renfrew @LifestyleDesign December 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Great post John,

I totally get it, there are too many bloggers just reguritating the same old sterile crap. People want to be entertained, amused and jump aboard the emotional rollercoaster. Great post man.

bLAZE yOUR tRAIL

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

And it’s those same people who end up not growing at all. People aren’t stupid; we’ll see through the regurgitation and realize that the blogger who merely repurposes isn’t going in any new directions. Challenge the reader! Expand his mind! Test a theory!

People spend too much time in theory and not enough of their lives in action. I was once like this myself, to be fair. Blogging used to make me feel like an authority. Like I was giving advice and wise beyond my years.

Now, it’s just a hobby. I can’t teach people how to live their lives. I can only say what I want to say and see how people react to the story I tell and the ideas that I propose.

Andrzej December 21, 2010 at 6:43 am

Hi John!
I kept nodding after every point you made here. I was bloging for over 8 months now, but I saw it clearly just about two days ago. Jeez… am I slow or what? ^^’

Lately I did a vid on YT about not giving puppies as an Xmas gift (english version of it linked above), and in 12 hours it had more views then most of my previous ones anytime. Reason? It was first time I showed something that people could relate to by EMOTION. So they shared.

I’ll be honest – sitting around at home and typing article after article when you’re (or I am) borred won’t give much. I go shopping, maybe something interesting will happen then ;)

Merry Xmas!

Andrzej

John Anyasor December 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

Just watched your video, and yes, you’re right! And it’s not just the fact that there was emotion in the video. It’s just the fact that you cared and shared a part of yourself.

We’re all the same, we just need to stop trying to focus on what everyone else thinks is good content or what everyone else will find entertaining. Nine times out of ten, people will get the message that you yourself are trying to convey.

Great video, btw. Puppies wouldn’t be the best idea for an x-mas present (especially at my house).

Merry X-mas to you too! Glad to have you contribute, Andrzej.

Derek Potocki December 21, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hi everybody,
Do what you love…and go broke?
This is one of the best posts I have read recently. Thank you John. The issue is as old as world: “Do what you love, the money will follow” vs “Do what they love, the money will follow”. It is the core issue of every entrepreneur and business person and a blogger as well.
Let’s ask Robert Kiyosaki:
“Most think an entrepreneur needs passion for his idea, Wrong! An entrepreneur needs passion about business. The idea is just the vehicle that your passion drives.”~ Robert Kiyosaki
So the solution might be: Have two or more blogs. One where you share your core passion with the world. Another where you you share your passion for business and making money. For many people like Richard Branson core passion and business passion are the same. There is no dichotomy there.
What do you think?
BTW: I’m running a blog on goal setting which is very personal, because my goals are listed there at all times. I have so much fun writing it. But I also have passion for business, so I’m thinking about doing another blog for that reason, like niche marketing blog for example.
What do you think?

John Anyasor December 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I think you’re spot on, Derek. I myself have my personal blog (not exactly personal, but I love writing on it whenever I come up with an idea) and now an affiliate site (work-in-progress). Like many before me have already said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s not against the law to have more than one passion.

Great quote from Robert Kiyosaki. I love Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Hope I’ve helped you out. Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss anything else.

Ivan December 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

Hi John,

Rather than writing about what excites you, like JM said, write about what excites your readers.

That’s the goal, right?

Ivan

John Anyasor December 21, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I wouldn’t say that’s EXACTLY the goal. The focus has to be on you because it’s your blog. Sure you can help people if you’re able to (if you’re intrinsically interested in what your readers suggest, that helps too), but if what excites your readers doesn’t excite you, how are you going to write about it?

It’s your way or the highway, I say.

Take suggestions, but only if you can relate.

John

Jia Jun December 22, 2010 at 12:49 am

Agree that sharing happiness and pain with people, it will connect us with the world, the joy and the sadness in our life.
The past and what I learn in life inspire me for a better planning for future. ^^

John Anyasor December 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Well, yeah, but I think way you’re phrasing it is kind of getting away from the point of the post. Blogging and business are more than just tools, but ways to connect to the types of audiences we want to cultivate.

Sarah December 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

This is a great post :) I started blogging as a way to get me to write more often and the more I’ve done it, the more I’ve started to really enjoy it. Even if it’s just a blog about my opinions, my life and my personal projects, it seems to be steadily growing… and I love it.

If you do something because you think you should because thats the thing that will get you hits then it’ll come across in your writing and people won’t want to read you.

Thanks for the great post! :)

Sarah
x

John Anyasor December 28, 2010 at 7:45 pm

You hit the nail on the head, Sarah! I was that way almost 2 years ago; blogging for hits instead of genuinely connecting with other people. It didn’t feel right and I thought the views would make up for it. Instead I just ended up feeling worse about myself.

I don’t do that anymore, but I’m glad I went through that experience. Makes me appreciate people and what they create so much more.

Christina Crowe December 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Beautifully written post! I absolutely agree – you should always write about what you love and what will inspire you to improve your everyday lifestyle.

A year ago when I first started blogging, I had created a blog that I didn’t necessary love and had only a small spark of interest in. After publishing my 50th post, I ended up abandoning that blog and the months working on the blog had all gone to waste.

Now, I’m blogging about a topic that I have a deep passion in – writing and entrepreneurship – while also sharing my journey as a writer and entrepreneur, including both my successes and failures, in hopes that I’ll encourage others to also live fulfilling lives.

As a result, I couldn’t be happier – I’m almost at my 100th post mark and first birthday for the blog, with still so much more content to cover. And I love it! I find myself waking up each morning excited to get working – and it’s this excitement that drives me to build up my career and create a successful business. I even now have an ebook to show for it.

You hit it dead on the mark. If it wasn’t for my excitement in what I’m writing about and the support of my readers and family, I wouldn’t have gotten far at all.

Write about what inspires you and drives you to succeed. Write about your deep passions – the hobbies you enjoy or the activities you do on a regular basis. Write about topics that make your true self shine through. Over time, you’ll find that writing about your own passion is a lot more durable and longer lasting than writing about someone else’s interests.

Christina

John Anyasor December 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Awesome, Christina! It’s really inspiring to hear stories like yours.

I still remember when I hated my blog. Kind of sad how long it took me to realize it too. Oh well. I don’t regret the mistakes I’ve made. The fact that I choose to make them is what makes the ultimate lesson (be genuine) worthwhile.

Susan December 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm

My most succesful postcwas a guest post where I completely exposed my fears. And being vulnerable us hard for me.

People want to know it’s normal to be human. There’s too thick a veil over most blogs. I try to balance inspiration with actionable steps and resources. You have to inspire, create and teach. None are mutually exclusive.

John Anyasor December 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

See? Exposing yourself is extremely difficult and EVERYBODY has problems doing that. What you did took guts. And that’s what attracted so many people to your post.

We’re really not all that different. People who can see that are the ones who resonate the most.

I recommend that everyone on this thread read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I’m burning through this right now and “What Technology Wants” by Kevin Kelly.

Read them and you’ll understand why I mentioned them ;)

Tom McLaughlin December 27, 2010 at 1:10 am

I agree one must have passion for their subject and to drop the gates of defense around themselves. In my blog, I write a personal account of my life here in Borneo and this alternates with a translation of scientific articles pertaining to the rain forest translated into a readable form. Since, I have just started, I will let you know a year from now if this combo works.

John Anyasor December 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm

As long as you reach out to others and continue to be authentic, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Get back to all of us here in a year. Email too if you want. I’d love to see the results :)

Justin Hamlin December 28, 2010 at 11:38 am

John –

Another great post. I think there are 2 types of bloggers, those that do it as a way to make money online, and those that do it because they love it. Every so often you will find someone crossing over to make their labor of love a money making blog, but i think there is a place to learn about the basics of blogging for all of us involved. Your passion for your topic shows. If you don’t love it, your readers wont love it.

With that in mind, I would rather have 500 dedicated and involved readers that see my passion rather than 5,000 readers who read a topic I don’t like just because of the site name.

John Anyasor December 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I’ve been both types of bloggers. I prefer the second type better :)
There’s a time for everything and most people want to make money now, which isn’t how it works. It’s all a process of trial and error. If you know this at the outset, you’ll make money within six months (like Everett, Nina and a few others like them). Fail to be authentic about your life and your work, you’ll end up waiting for years for any monetary reimbursement.

You’ll also come to find that the numbers don’t matter. I honestly don’t check my blog stats anymore, because my readers aren’t numbers. They’re people like you and me. I’ll check once in a while if I’m curious, but I’m glad that I’m a long ways away from when I used to check 5-10 times a day.

Lots of people told me this, but being the egotistical boy I used to be, I didn’t care. Ended up wasting me a lot of time and money.

Of course, none of this matters unless you test it for yourself.

Cheers, and have a happy new year, Justin.

Maarten January 2, 2011 at 7:53 am

Awesome post! And great to read at the start of a brand new year haha.
A friend of mine and I just started a blog and everything you described here are the things we talk about most. I actually started hating the impersonal blogs! They have no credibility at all and they simply bore me.

Besides, why would you try writing about and being something you are not?! That takes so much energy and effort while you are probably even a more interesting person yourself.

I hope this post reaches a lot of semi-automatic, robotic, nonsense bloggers and inspires them to start up a blog the way blogs are meant to be.

Would you be okay with me linking your post? Perhaps I’d like to write something on our blog which relates to this.

Have a great 2011 :-)

James St. James January 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I love ZenHabits too! I just subscribed to your blog, I’ve read about 4 solid posts now. Thanks.

Tom Meitner December 20, 2010 at 11:16 am

John, it didn’t even occur to me to write a post about that. Now the gears are turning all over the place – I’m going to add it to my list. :-) Thanks!

John Anyasor December 20, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I feel as if Steve Pavlina doesn’t speak up that much about getting people to take action, at least in his more recent blog posts. Tim Ferriss has constantly reiterated that everyone must test assumptions. But I agree that it’s up to the people themselves to achieve more. I suppose it’s okay to pass along advice, but taking ownership of it when you haven’t really lived up to your words yourself is really misleading. There must be a balance between action and discussion.

Yeah, means matter quite a bit. But that’s a whole other discussion altogether.

Comments on this entry are closed.