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.
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.
“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.
(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 ).
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 Niccolò 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!
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.
If you’re unaware, the site was created by a single guy (Sal Khan) out of a walk-in closet and with his computer.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
- Let me know what you think about these content types. Have you tried any of them yourself? Do you plan on trying some?
- 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.
- 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!