Why I Hate People Who Make Writing Look Easy

You know the type.

They somehow find time between running the world’s coolest businesses and delivering the keynote address at the coolest events to write the most epic content the internet has ever seen.

And then they have this to say about it:

“It takes me less than 20 minutes to write a useful article.”
Chris Brogan

Thanks Mr. Brogan. That’s really helpful advice for those of us who slave over posts for days, weeks, even months (okay maybe that’s just me).

Of course, I don’t actually hate Chris Brogan.

Somewhere behind the sarcasm is a deep admiration for where he’s arrived with his craft.

Surely, there was a time when even Chris Brogan looked at savvy writers with disdain. Although it probably wasn’t on the internet. I’m pretty sure Chris was the first person to blog — ever.

But my guess it probably took him a day or two to write a decent post in the beginning. Then with practice it dwindled down to half a day. Eventually 1-2 hours. And finally — the result of years of hard work and practice — 20 minutes.

It’s easy to look at that 20 minute figure and either scoff, curse, or just give up in despair.

And if you Googled ‘how to write a blog post in 20 minutes’, you’re missing the point.

20 minutes is the end of the journey. Not the beginning. Not even the middle. It’s the point beyond which there’s very little efficiency to be gained. And it might very well take the rest of us years to get there.

And if that scares you — then you probably won’t get there.

This post was written in under 20 minutes. Thanks for the challenge, Chris!

3 Surprising Benefits of Free Writing in the Morning

Free writing is an exercise in creating a stream of consciousness on paper. The technique entails sitting down to write about whatever comes to mind as soon as it comes to mind, and not stopping until your time or word count is up.

If a song comes to mind, you write that down. If that jerk who cut you off on the highway comes to mind, you let him have it.

Writers use this as a strategy to get passed writer’s block. By training yourself to remove any barriers between your mind and the keyboard, you’ll find yourself staring at a blank page far less often.

But in my experience free writing, I’ve found 3 other surprising benefits that make it really worth trying:

1. Regulate Your Emotions & Gain Perspective

Don’t underestimate the emotional toll that your daily workflow has on you. All day long we’re responding to external stimuli in the form emails, requests, phone calls, meetings, social media, etc. And every stimulus gets an emotional response.

Journaling is a good way to reflect on the day’s events. But the day doesn’t really end after you write in your journal. As soon as you go to sleep, your subconscious goes back to work making sense of all the things that happened. And when you wake up, your perspective on things may have changed entirely.

That’s why free writing the next morning is really the best time to clear the decks, resolve any issues, and create space for another day.

2. Discover Ideas You Didn’t Know You had

The best way to solve a particularly challenging problem is to work really hard on it for a while, then go do something else. The act of focussing deeply on a problem and then letting go of it completely puts our subconscious to work.

Eventually, an idea will dawn upon you that you never would’ve come up with had you been actively thinking about the problem.

Free writing is a great way to pull out those ideas. It’s like scanning your brain for the seeds of ideas that are yet to sprout and forcing them to come together on paper in front of you.

Your subconscious is always incubating ideas. It’s always making connections. It’s always observing. But only a few of those connections and observations make it to consciousness.

Which begs the question, how much are we potentially missing out on? How can we bring more of those connections to light?

99% of what you write will likely be non-sense. But 1% of it will actually be useful. That 1% is what was kicking around your subconscious that you otherwise wouldn’t have found.

3. Bring Clarity & Focus to Your Work

It’s happened more times than I can count. I sit down to do my free writing with no idea what to write about. I think to myself, well this is going to be a short one. How am I going to make it to 1,000 words (which is my daily target)?

Before you know it, I’ve broken 1,000 and headed towards 1,500.

You’d be very surprised how much is going on inside that brain of yours. Your subconscious is working full tilt all the time, and that’s in addition to your conscious brain. Give it a chance to get going and you might wish you hadn’t.

But there’s a huge benefit to dumping everything in your mind on paper.

By removing all the clutter your mind tends to gather day after day, you experience a sense of clarity. Which is why the best time to freewrite is first thing in the morning right before your most creative task.

The More, The Better

In my experience, the more you put down on paper, the more you’ll experience the benefits.

Some people like to time their free writing sessions. Some set word counts. Some do neither. Either way, the point of this is to aim for volume.

Write as much as possible, don’t miss a single thought that comes to mind, and create an honest stream of consciousness on paper. You never know what you might come up with.

Why Brands Should Think and Act More Like Humans

Harvard Business Review just put out an interesting case study called When the Twitterverse Turns on You.

It’s about a Canadian airliner that conducts a Twitter contest, on the advice of their PR agency, that goes terribly wrong. The twitterverse starts using the contest’s hashtag to bash the company, hurl customer service complaints, and rehash recent PR nightmares the company is still trying to recover from.

The case study details the discussion between the CEO, PR Head, Social Media Director, and PR firm on how to react to the negative tweets the contest is generating.

In the end, they put the onus on the PR Head to make a decision: Should we cancel the contest?

I’m no PR guru, but this one seems straightforward to me. The short answer is no. They shouldn’t cancel the contest.

But I know why the answer is straightforward to me, yet very complicated for the business leaders featured in the case.

I think like a human. They think like brands.

Humans have a social code. We have expectations on how we should be treated and how we should treat others. To be a functioning member of society, we know we’re supposed to act a certain way.

Thanking another human for holding the door open for you. Giving the human in the car behind you a wave when they let you merge into their lane. Not cutting in line in front of another human at the grocery store. These are the building blocks of basic human courtesy.

But brands think those rules don’t apply to them. In fact, they developed a separate set of rules to live by — different from the rules that govern the human population. They call it Public Relations.

Their rules worked perfectly in an era of mass-production, advertising, and economies of scale. And it’s only recently, through the transparency of social media, that their rules are being called into question.

The irony is that brands are managed by humans. You’d think their natural human inclinations, or at least the very soft skills that got them their jobs, would inform how they manage their brands.

But more often than not, they make decisions based on inhuman criteria devoid of consideration for how other humans (i.e. their customers) will react. And then they panic when the humans get upset about it.

To cancel the twitter contest is the human equivalent of giving everyone the middle finger. It’s flipping the bird to both the human who criticized you, even if justifiably, and the human who tried to engage in a positive conversation with you.

It’s to say we’re only interested in a conversation if it’s flattering. But if you’re going to have the audacity to tell us what you really think, this conversation is over — for everyone.

No one wants to engage with a human, or a brand, who carries that kind of attitude.

Brands may think the rules are different. But the rest of us will judge according to the same human criteria.

A 12-Step Plan to Stop Planning

I’m a prolific planner. I take great pride in my ability to peer into the future and build a bullet-proof plan that will survive any scenario.

Until the future happens. And I realize my plan never could’ve predicted any of that. And that I’m not a genius after all.

But for the addict, planning isn’t really about the outcome. People who think they can increase their chances of success by planning are no different than alcoholics who tell everyone they’re just social drinkers.

It’s not the company. It’s the booze.

Planners love planning. They don’t do it to improve their chances. They don’t do it to mitigate risks. They don’t do it because they’re supposed to.

They do it because they love planning. It’s a bona-fide addiction.

The problem is, unlike other addictions, planning is socially acceptable. It doesn’t come with any of the typical consequences: divorce, jail, intervention, etc.

In fact, planners are celebrated. We hail them as ‘responsible’ and ‘detail-oriented’. We even have expensive graduate degrees designed to teach our brightest minds how to become better planners (MBA’s).

The good news there is a way out.

Here’s a 12-step plan for planning addicts everywhere to kick that planning habit once and for all:

  1. Admit that you’re addicted to planning.
  2. Acknowledge that there are people out there, who are not addicted to planning, that seem perfectly normal.
  3. Make a decision to put planning behind you and not let it control your life.
  4. Take inventory of how and when you get the desire to plan.
  5. Admit to someone else the nature of your planning addiction.
  6. Prepare to remove planning from your life entirely.
  7. Meditate.
  8. Make a list of everyone your planning has harmed.
  9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continue to take personal inventory and when you fall into planning, admit it.
  11. Let go of outcomes.
  12. Carry this message to planning addicts everywhere.

This plan was adapted from another well known 12-step plan. I said I was a planner. I didn’t say anything about being original.