7 Ways to Write Epic Shit

Article by ThinkTraffic contributor Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.

Alright, hands up: how many of you fantasize about writing some epic shit that really leaves an impact online?

Let’s see, that’s… one… two… oh yeah, every damn one of you. :)

Truth is you wouldn’t be reading this site if you didn’t want to create something epic that goes on to change lives.

While the motivation to do something HUGE is certainly the first step to getting it done, there becomes a problem when this “hoo-rah” attitude begins losing it’s luster and you’re faced with the actual work.

That’s why, right now, I want you to take a stand with me by declaring the following:

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Tweet this to the world, don’t be shy. πŸ˜‰

How to Write Epic Shit

Yep, I said it.

I’m not telling you that you’ll never be able to do amazing things, what I’m saying that is you need to avoid this fluffy advice about “Doin’ awesome schtuff!” and start looking at how to form an actual gameplan to get it done.

Truth is…

“Be awesome!”, isn’t real advice, it’s slimey new marketing snake-oil.

The same concept applies to writing epic shit.

Luckily, there are folks like Corbett & Caleb who strive to teach actionable advice for getting your “shit” to epic status.

There’s also people like me who wouldn’t make a single timid claim without citing some source of research (like I do on Sparring Mind) that gives legs to the advice.

As a content strategist for a few wonderful startups (see my work on HelpScout), I’m very familiar with the content creation process.

I’m also quite familiar with getting my work picked apart.

You see, when you’re writing for other people, they are going to give you feedback, and it’s not always good.

This is actually a blessing though, because you will never find more honest feedback than from those people paying you.

Through this kind of experience, I’ve learned a lot about smart content creation, enough to start a blog and a free newsletter on the process, sharing what I’ve learned about content that does well and content that does… not so well.

Today, I’d like to share with you 7 different methods that you can use to write epic shit.

Add these to your playbook, and never head out to the blogosphere without a gameplan again!

1.) Find Discontent & Solve It To Perfection

The term “actionable” is thrown around a lot, but I’ve recognized the one recurring aspect of how-to content that gets people to actually appreciate what you wrote…

All of the best “actionable” content is created as a result of discontent.

When Sean Davis wrote about an easier way to style AWeber forms, I was supremely happy: it was a long-time headache solved for a non-designer like myself.

(I’m also linking to Sean’s post right now, because good content gets rewarded).

As simple as that little post was, here I am recalling it easily, whereas I’ve read a boatload of “how-to” posts on much more prestigious topics… yet, since they didn’t connect with real, specific problem I’d been having, my brain pushed them aside.

Over on my camp, no post has gotten me more emails than my article on Blog Design on a Budget, with practically every email stating how they loved my way of addressing a design related topic in a boot-strap and “tech-impaired” fashion.

You know your niche, you know the problems that beginners (and even experienced folks) will run into.

Solve those problems, people will thank you for it.

2.) Don’t Be Afraid to Generate Outrage

There are a lot of “this vs. that” debates in practically every topic I can think up (just don’t get into a Batman vs. Superman debate with anyone, there are no winners there ;)).

It’s a process that some smart people call “flag-planting”, and it’s an incredibly effective way to create content.

The real power in creating the sort of content that stands it’s ground on a certain “side” and seeks to generate this emotional reaction from readers is that is causes people to trip over themselves to chime-in and give their 2 cents.

Yes, you’re purposefully manipulating people by arousing emotions, but what you’re also doing is excluding the people you don’t want on your site.

Trying to be “fair-and-balanced” all of the time will force you into creating generic content that never takes a stand or creates a real impact, and that will leave in the midst of hundreds of thousands of other blogs that never get past even 1,000 subscribers.

Want to hear of an amazing example of manipulation from history?

Machiavelli, known by most for his work in The Prince, stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy in a piece that seems to promote doing whatever it takes to reach a desired goal (“The ends justify the means,” despite that phrase never appearing in the actual book).

Here’s the thing though… most political scholars are in agreement that The Prince was written as a satire!

I don’t mean to bring down the works of an influential political scholar like NiccolΓ² Machiavelli to your typical blog content standards, my point is only this… what other books or works does the average person associate with Machavelli?

I’m honestly betting you couldn’t name even one (and all of them are highly regarded in the political science community).

Surprise: his most controversial work is his most lasting legacy, I think there’s a lesson in that somewhere. :)

3.) Give People a Place to Start

Do you remember when you just got started with blogging?

You had to look up those instructions on installing WordPress, on setting up themes, on writing your first post… and that was just the baby steps!

You then had to find information on promoting your blog, figuring out what makes you different, finding a way to create worthwhile content and drive visitors to your site… it’s exhausting!

Everybody at one point in time has faced that fact that getting started is tough work, and if you can alleviate that problem by providing people with a roadmap to set out on their first step, they will remember you far later on in the journey.

This is the exact reason why sites like the Khan Academy have generated massive interest from folks all over the world (in fact, Bill Gates is a huge supporter of the site).

If you’re unaware, the site was created by a single guy (Sal Khan) out of a walk-in closet and with his computer.

Khan has done a tremendous service to inspire learners all over the world: he breaks down the “beginner’s versions” of tough topics that range from economics to advanced mathematics.

Ask anyone who regularly uses the Khan Academy archives (yours truly!) and you’ll find nothing but fanatic support for the site.


Because Sal has so selflessly given people a place to start their journey.

While he tackles a wide breadth of knowledge, you can address a singular topic in a similarly comprehensive fashion.

Steve Kamb’s Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet is a perfect example of this, you can see it’s popularity through it’s placing in Google (getting beat out by only the Wikipedia page and ThePaleoDiet.com)

4.) Take Readers for a Journey

Did you know that storytelling, of all things, is some of the most influential content that you can write?

It’s true.

A well-written story relies on transportation, and research has found that people are much more likely to get caught up in stories, absorb their message, and then subsequently become more primed to take action.

Even crazier, this was found to be true when stories were stacked up against black-and-white facts.

Let me emphasize that: A well written story can be more influential than proven facts.

The best part?

The most influential stories have a combination of both.

Stories serve as a more effective medium for wrapping people up in their message, and since stories captivate attention so well, people will absorb the lesson at hand and feel inspired to share it.

But hey, what do I know, it’s just science. :)

Great example? I got you covered.

Jon Morrow knows how to write a good tale, so good that he wrote the most popular Problogger post of all time (that Twitter share count has been reset, it’s closer to 10,000 shares).

We’re all just suckers for a good story, are you using them to get your point across?

5.) Leave People with a Game Plan

Motivational content is powerful stuff…

You might think that I’d be against it, considering I just called out the fluffy “Be awesome!” variety above, but there is a fine line between good motivational content and filler that gets people excited over nothing.

Allow me to introduce you to some of the latter.

Some of my favorite producers of this content are the fine folks over at the BufferApp.

Joel Gascoigne manages to write some of the best “Be your best” content out there in my eyes, and here’s why: he doesn’t leave you hanging with motivation, he leaves you with a gameplan.


Of all things, Joel recently wrote about the importance of a “sleep ritual” in keeping your mind focused for the boatloads of work that come with running a startup.

I didn’t come away from the post with a “Hoo-rah, sleep is important and so am I!”, kind of attitude, because Joel doesn’t write fluff.

I honestly use Joel’s exact gameplan for getting a good night’s rest, every single night, how’s that for creating so-called “life-changing” content?

The best part about this content type is that it can be incorporated into so many topics, it’s insane!

Another great example comes in the form of 33 Ways to Make More Time in Your Life for Music-Making by Nick Tozier.

As a guy who loves music, I was glad to find this motivational post wasn’t full of “Be awesome” bologna, Nick brought out some great methods to get yourself back into playing.

Better yet: the post was insanely popular, and here I am linking to it again.

6.) Make Content that Keeps You Up at Night

It’s 1am, you should be going to bed, but you just hit this amazing thing on StumbleUpon that you just HAVE to go through.

“Wow, I am so glad I found this!”

Eyelids heavy with fatigue, you just can’t bring yourself to look away, this is the stuff you’ve always hoped that you’d find someday.

I’m careful not to name this things like “pillar content” or “an ultimate resource” (although those are great examples) because I’d rather look at why this kind of content turns into the sort of stuff that keeps people coming back.

The answer: this kind of content satiates a desire to be entertained OR to be well informed.

It comes in many (often strange) forms, that’s why I don’t want to limit my explanations to terms like “pillar content”.

Most gamers would recognize the Grand List of RPG Cliches (this may not be your thing, but it’s been viewed hundreds of thousands of times).

History nerds all know about the Hardcore History podcast (which regularly has 2+ hour episodes).

You know what else is a good example? The Oatmeal.

Remember the first time you hit that site? I know I went through the archives for way longer than I’d like to admit! :)

Yes, it’s a collection of silly comics, but again, this kind of content is the stuff that keeps you coming back, whether that’s through being insanely informative, or just incredibly entertaining.

There’s also tons of examples over on the informative side, a few of my favorites being The Beginner’s Guide to SEO (by SEOmoz) and the How to Blog Guide from Ramsay Taplin.

Are you creating the kind of content that keeps people up at night?

7.) People Love Secrets, Inside Looks, and Exclusives

I find it shocking how few blogs recognize the above fact, despite that a huge majority of us read newspapers and other online publications (who take this to an extreme).

Remember back when the Gawker crew broke the iPhone 4 leak wide open?

That’s a minuscule example that lead to monstrous pageviews, I say minuscule because this kind of stuff goes on all the time with the big publications: everybody is out to give you something new and “fresh”.

How can you apply this to the typical blog level though?

Simple: figure out the kind of “insider” content you’d like to see in your niche, and make it happen.

This is typically a lot easier than you might guess.

I’ve talked before about how I grew my music blog Sophistefunk with the use of artists interviews because they were so popular (and the artists usually shared them).

You’d be surprised about who you can get a hold of for interviews in your niche, in fact, Corbett recommends this strategy wholeheartedly, especially when launching a new blog.

It doesn’t end there though: leveraging other big stories is an amazing tactic you can use to utilize “breaking news”… without breaking the news yourself!

What you’ve got to do is put a spin on some news that creates some buzz.

I loved Derek Halpern’s example of how Ryan Holiday spun a story about his client (Max Tucker) and his flopped attempt to donate 500,000 to Planned Parenthood.

Purposefully manipulative? Riding on a wave of controversy? Made for promotion?


But it combined people’s love of the “exclusive” with their susceptibility to storytelling (discussed above) and ended with an amazingly viral post.

You need to be doing the same in your niche.

Now it’s your turn…

First, I wanted to just say thanks… that was a long post to get through so I’m sincerely thankful that you spent time to read it. :)

Second, I wanted to let you know what’s next…

  1. Let me know what you think about these content types. Have you tried any of them yourself? Do you plan on trying some?
  2. What’s a post like this without a little debate? :) Let me know about any you don’t agree with, and I’ll take off the gloves and dual with you in the comments section.
  3. As a thanks for reading my post (and if you want more), definitely check out my free e-Book on ‘Conversion Psychology’, which you can download instantly.

Thanks for your time, and I’ll see you in the comments!

Gregory Ciotti is a content strategist for a few great startups and founder of Sparring Mind. Feel free to download his free e-Book on ‘Conversion Psychology’ or connect with him on Google+.

43 thoughts on “7 Ways to Write Epic Shit”

  1. It’s good to hear you specify beginners’ content as a particular type. Often it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s ok not to be an expert in what you’re talking about as long as you know more than the person you’re telling and they can benefit from your content.

    I’m using a combination of these approaches with my blog for young people. I’m thinking back to the problems I had a few years ago, and the problems my sisters have, and solving them with what are basic ideas to me, but which I know my readers won’t be familiar with. I also want my blog to take both the readers and myself on a journey, as I learn more and am able to provide them with more advanced information as we progress. The one that I will find challenging, as I’m not very outspoken, is generating outrage.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. Hey Jo, you bring up two very good points…

      As for generating outrage, it’s but one way to stir up interest; if it doesn’t fit your style, skip it and don’t feel obligated to create content in that vein.

      You are also completely correct about the “beginner” content. I look at it this way: you can create content for those a level below you and still prove a ton of value, in many instances you don’t need to be an expert of professional to create something that really helps someone on their way.

      It often works better that way for learning as well: your typical pee-wee football player isn’t going to be able to appreciate much of what an NFL coach might be able to teach them, but they can learn a lot from their team’s coach on picking up the fundamentals.

    2. Yes, confrontation and debate aren’t things that I’m good at so it wouldn’t make sense to force them. We’ll see if they appear naturally at any point!

      You’re right – I think it’s often the case that advice from someone who is just a step ahead of you can be more valuable than from an expert; they can still remember the exact problems you had and so can do a better job of addressing them.

  2. Hey Gregory, great insight with great examples!

    I have always said that epic shit can be created if you have the will to do it. It’s not something that comes out of the blue. You HAVE to put in your best so that you receive the best.

    With my blog, I aim to leave my readers with a solid game plan – a game plan that keeps them up at night πŸ˜€

    And trust me, it’s not easy. It takes a hell lot of effort than writing a simple 500 word article that you whip up in 20 so minutes. There are no shortcuts to creating epic shit. You either push your limits or opt out. It’s your choice.

    It’s like the “Navy Seal” experience where you have to go through the toughest physical activity to reach an optimum level of awesomeness.

    All I’d like to say is, no matter what way you choose to create epic shit, don’t delay it. Start on it right now. Because you have NO idea what you’re missing.

    1. “There are no shortcuts to creating epic shit.”

      Damn, I should have thought of that! πŸ˜‰

      Very correct my man, in a place as crowded as the blogosphere today, it’s go big or go home!

  3. Wow, I now have 7 tabs opened from this article. Thanks a lot Mr. Ciotti for making my “quick” Think Traffic Fix into an all morning adventure. Great stuff πŸ˜‰

    1. Crazy that you mention that John, I actually installed a Google Chrome extension that limits my tabs to about 5, if you are one of those “multi-tab” multi-taskers, I highly advise it! :)

  4. Awesome guest post! I definitely think that many bloggers (both new and experienced) are being “held back” by not listening to number 2. They’re too afraid of losing any reader with a controversial post that they fail to see the benefits of doing so like having better reader participation and sharing, as well as getting massive exposure because people love to share their opinions about things.


    1. “… people love to share their opinions about things.”

      Dead on, in fact, understatement of the year.

      It’s hard to talk about “plain Jane” though, that’s why you gotta have content that’s worth arguing about. Thanks for your input Thomas.

    1. Okay, you asked for this Marvin! πŸ˜‰

      Batman is a far superior superhero because he sacrifices far more than Superman has to. Superman gets a ton of powers via birthright, Batman gives up the life of a billionaire playboy to save a city that many deem to be unworthy.

      Plus, the Dark Knight series is boss. :)

  5. Hey Gregory – interesting post. Lots of good suggestions and I really liked some of the links to other posts you provided here to reinforce your point.

    Not sure though about what’s required to create content that ‘keeps you up at night’. Makes sense but the concept of how to do that that seems elusive.

    My best guess would be to build a body of great posts over time that help people solve problems, laugh/feel good and take action.

    1. I would definitely agree that section is by far my most vague, but I wanted to address this belief that some have that “bite-sized” content is the way to go.

      Maybe for some sites, it’s okay, but epic shit isn’t made of bite-sized posts, it’s made of stuff that keeps you scrolling long after you should have stopped browsing the web.

      My point was more about length and satiating a real topical passion, my examples being HUGE pieces of content that show that people aren’t afraid of massive works as long as it addresses their desire for niche specific content.

    2. That makes sense to me now Gregory.

      I notice that some blogs tend to do one or the other – that is, they consistently do short to medium length posts and blogs that do longer posts seem (from my browsing around anyway :)) to be more the exception.

      I actually enjoy both…. but I’m also wondering whether putting some really good medium length posts on a specific topic together on a resources page might also be a good idea too. That would allow people to work through the different posts to get a better/broader picture of the topic.

      Not sure what you think


  6. This is a good post and the only thing I can immediately think is “Batman would win”.
    Regarding #1, I find it hard to find something that is not already solved (and thus I am doing my job the wrong way). One question though, do translating solutions count as solution? (I mean, I find far more info in English than my native language).

    Thanks for the post (I can see how the storytelling works now xD).

    1. The thing to remember, Carlos, is that the “problem” is not always obvious.

      You have to consider all possible problems… not just the obvious ones. You said it yourself, “I find far more info in English than my native language.”

      While the English article solved the immediate problem, it also created a new problem… non-English speakers can’t read it.

      So to translate the solutions into another language IS solving a (new) problem!

      When I write my articles, I’m not talking about anything that hasn’t been talked about already. But I speak a “different language” when I write. I have the gift of being able to break things down to a level that makes sense to the person who is unfamiliar with what they have to work with. So even though thousands of Aweber articles already exist, I do a good job of explaining them to the person who just finished spending 7 hours simply trying to install WordPress.

      If you zone in on what people are really having problems with, you’ll know exactly what to write about. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than saying things a different way. πŸ˜‰

    2. Only thing I can add to this great reply is don’t over-think it: a big problem that you’ve been having is likely going to be a problem others run into, as long as there isn’t already a decent solution out there (make sure to check first).

  7. This post is full of epic sh*t. Telling a story his hard for me but leaving folks with a game plan is one of the things I try to do in my posts. “How to Gain 10 Pounds in Four Weeks” is one of my most popular. Strangely enough so is my “Big List of Things I Learnt By The Age of Forty.”
    People seem to like reading about other people’s epiphanies.

  8. We’ve recently started writing more and more content that addresses discontent and questions that our customers have. I’m not sure how epic it is, because it’s pretty dry (easy to digest, but dry), but customers have said that they appreciated it. I’ll call that a win.

    I think the next step is try out some researched story telling.

    Thanks for the great post as always, Greg!

  9. Hi,

    Great post – I couldn’t agree more on the beginners niche. People love to be “shown” how to do the basics. In fact I would say I tend to write at least one or two “beginners blogs” every month or so……

    I am the same on the receiving end though, I find myself using these types of blogs very frequently. I am just doing a bit of a revamp on a site at the moment and have been using many how-to blogs to help me through.

    I usually find its the really boring, mundane stuff that gets quite a lot of attention in these niches, “How to install your wordpress blog” – “How to setup your wireless network” – Using MySQL with your website”, this sort of thing. People want solutions, and it you can specifically solve peoples problems the chances are they are not the only one who had this problem.

    As for epic shit – that term should be trademarked by now shouldn’t it?

  10. I use your #1 and #3 often. I hadn’t really though about generating rage but that’s worth exploring.

    I’ve read other post on epic content but haven’t seen anything new until now. Great post.

  11. Enjoyed this wonderful article. Completely agree with the point that people love to hear about secrets. Best option is to use combination of all these points. Keep up the good work Gregory.

  12. Gregory, Gregory, Gregory… what are we going to do with you?

    Listen mate, if you keep producing such amazing content I’m going to have to start actually working hard. The only way I’ll let you keep this up is if you keep giving me links in the post! πŸ˜‰

    Fantastic bro!


  13. I try to keep my insider stuff on the inside (email list) but I really should get into the interview style posts that you mentioned in tip 7. It can be nerve racking to ask though.

    I can definitely tell when I write a higher quality post even though my blog is only 30 days old. One post literally got tweeted 10 times in its first couple days because people found it helpful to some degree.

    I know I can do better and this really gets my ideas flowing! I could spend hours going through each link in this post too, haha

    Thanks a bunch!

  14. Great Post!

    Certainly doing anything without a plan or goal ahead to achieve you can not do that for longer period of time and for me I tend to make parts of my big goal into smaller pieces and that’s really helps me out deciding me that I am on the right track.

    Thanks for providing great information :-)

  15. Thanks for this post Gregory!

    I suppose many of us are “afraid” to write epic shit simply because we are either: 1. limiting ourselves by following the newest flavor of the month blueprint for success conjured up by gurus/mentors that only provide fluff at premium prices or 2. we have a fear of rejection as to what other people may think or react by what we want to share.

    I have learned the hard way.

    You have no idea how many posts I have written that are epic worthy and have been saved as drafts simply because of fear and suggestions by the “gurus”. Posts that I know would have been a true catalyst for change – for me and my readers. But after following the “blueprints” I realized that I actually lost my voice and uniqueness.

    Now, after 3 years in business and getting nowhere fast, I decided to truly work my magic and help people the way I want to help them. Especially with #6 & 7. The gurus would always tell me, “Alba you are sharing too much. Only give them a taste and charge high rates for the real steps.” Though I understand the concept, you need to really share sometimes to demonstrate that you know your stuff. They scare you into thinking that if you share great content people won’t buy from you. I disagree. Show people you know what you are talking about and they will happily pay you what you are worth.

    So now I will only do what works for me and not what others say I should and by stepping up to the plate – kicking fear in the butt. It’s a totally uncomfortable position to be in, but I am here to push my limits and practice the art of non-conformity.

  16. Thanks for the slap in the face. You do something for a while and somehow you imagine that longevity is the same as competence or relevance. I have heard most of this before and maybe tried some of it ineffectively but you make a strong case about getting my head back in the game.

  17. A great post!

    I’m interested to know if there think the same rules apply where the blog supports a ‘bricks and mortar’ business as opposed to an online business or blog.

    The reason for my question is that I’m finding my biggest traffic spikes come from topics which are indirectly related to the business (eg lessons on failure and courage or why I’ve signed up for a charity ride) as opposed to ones which are directly related to what keeps my client ‘s awake at night? I’m a personal trainer who works with athletes.

    So what keeps my clients awake might be fear of not starting their ‘goal race’ but what they spend hours searching the internet for is tips on how to fix the injury.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


  18. I’m brand new to writing so this article is a great way to start! I’m in the process of putting my blog together and I do relate very much to #3 of starting a blog :) However, through my readings so far on different blogging subjects and aspects, I started to gather some information on content creation. Your post just put it in simple points to follow and they all make sense. Thank you!

  19. I agree. People Love Secrets, Inside Looks, and Exclusives. Ofering such makes your blog seem very alluring and appealing, and if you are clever about it, people will want to come back again, and again, and again!

  20. I’ve been really impressed with all the content here on TT, so not to bust anyone’s chops but this post got me to pull out my old college copy of The Prince where, on page 94 (of my version) at the very end of Chapter 18, “In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith” I quote:

    “…in the actions of men, and especially of princes, from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means. Let the prince therefor aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable and praised by every one…”

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