There is this general notion that if you’re on quarantine, or working from home, you don’t need breaks.
That’s bullshit. You do need breaks, you need weekends, and you need holidays. Proper holidays. When you get to do what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did 93.5% of the time: nothing.
There is a reason why young people are more creative. They have so much time to waste, so many thoughts to think. Ideas don’t come when you’re constantly rushing from a task to a task. There is something about stopping and being lazy that allows you to be more productive later on.
But I must confess that even though I tried, I still didn’t get to have a proper holiday.
Not because I couldn’t stop working (like most workaholics) but because I didn’t want to. I took a break from my actual work (you know, the one that pays the bills), but not from writing. I just can’t imagine spending a day without writing my thoughts down. It makes me nervous even to think about it. Because if I did take a break from that, you wouldn’t be reading this. And we don’t want that, do we?
In fact, as it usually is, the “break” turned out to be crazy for me in terms of creativity.
I wrote some of the best performing posts on Medium, ever. One of them – The Job Of The Future Is Content Creation received over 7,000 claps in, what, 3-4 days? I’ve never had this happen to any of my writing before. Something must have struck a chord. (And I am glad it did, as this newsletter welcomed many new subs!)
Most people when they see something performing well, rush to copy that. If it worked, let’s just do more of it, right? It sounds right. It even works in some boring areas, like business (if this stock is making solid ROI, let’s invest more!).
But when it comes to content creation, it’s never a solid strategy. You can’t ever-ever-ever-ever predict what is going to succeed and what’s not. I wrote about that too, in a slightly more reflective piece this week.
So what can you do?
Two things, really:
Create a lot. My dad calls this the “Sperm Strategy”. You create a bunch of stuff and some of it works.
For instance, if you’re writing on Medium, tell yourself straight away, that every 100th post is going to go viral. In other words, 1% of your content will succeed. What about those other 99? They are going to suck. They will receive 100 claps (or less) and you’re not going to enjoy them. But you should still write them.
In fact, make this idea relax you. If 99% of your pieces are going to suck, you might as well do whatever you want. Be creative. Play! Don’t overthink.
But still, approach each new piece as if it’s…the one. Because that 1 viral post isn’t going to happen on its own. It needs your daily input. And one day, it will come and reward you for all the hard work you’ve put in.
Listen. Forget quantitative feedback (i.e., claps/followers/views/reach/money). Let the marketers obsess about metrics. We are content creators, our job is to create meaningful content. How do you know whether something is meaningful or not? You listen.
First of all, define what “success” is for you. Why do you create? Not the bullshit-cliche reason you tell yourself (e.g., “to inspire”, “to make a difference”), but the real reason. The truth. What keeps you going?
If you ask me, I write for those “a-ha” moments when a new neural pathway was created in your brain thanks to my content. (Ideally, if your mouth literally makes a sound, like “Oh…”). I just love it when my readers discover something new.
Also, I love learning. That’s my main priority, and I discovered that I learn better by writing and sharing.
Once you know what your main KPI is, look for it. Look for the evidence in the feedback. Listen to your audience. Pay attention to what they say. And to do that, you have to risk doing something crazy: read the comments.
I know, reading the comments can feel like being tied to a pole, naked, on a busy street, and have other people make fun of you and take pics. (At least that’s how I feel.) But comments – qualitative feedback – is the only data you’ve got as a creator. Use it.
That’s all you can really do.
After a few of those articles boomed, I started to get questions by email. People ask me what they’re doing wrong if they wrote for a month, but nobody is reading. And I usually reply that what you are doing as a creative, is a sport.
Just be a good sportsman.
It’s a weird kind of sport. It’s not like swimming or running, where you’re being timed to a split-second. It’s not even like boxing, or wrestling, where “beating” the competition is the main goal. (There’s more of that in business.)
Creative work is a sport because it’s competitive, and there are winners and losers. But it’s also a sport where the slowest wins the race. Just like in the Achilles Paradox (where the Achilles ran much faster than the tortoise, but still couldn’t beat it) – where you are the tortoise.
The longer you stay in the “race”, the more likely that you will succeed. If you create content consistently and show up for the next five years, I guarantee you, you’ll succeed at some level.
But a lot of people overthink it. They obsess over every word, every tiny detail, and I get it. There’s a lot of perfectionism in me too. But believe it or not, it matters less how good you are, then the fact that you show up consistently. If you are good and talented and don’t show up (or care), nobody will consume your content. But if you suck, and you show up day-in, day-out, you’ll build an audience and inevitably become better with time.
So the key to winning in this sport, as I see it, is to just stay in the game the longest. If there’s one actual sport you can compare content creation to, it’s long-distance running. (No wonder Casey Neistat runs so much!)
There are tens of thousands of people who come to YouTube or Medium each year and want to make a career out of it. And there is exactly the same number of people who quit. Make sure you’re not one of them, and everything will be alright.
And when it comes to boosting creativity in times like these, I suggest: take breaks. They help. Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t automatically mean you should be working all the time.
There’s numerous research on the subject of “deep work” and creativity, and most of it shows that you can’t be in this state for more than 1.5-3.5 hours per day. And if you’re a beginner, it might be even less than that.
So be a good sportsman. Take breaks to restore your creativity. Have patience and be the last one to quit. Listen to what the audience tells you. Show up today for a little while, do the best you can, then go rest and come back again tomorrow.
And then the day after that. And the day after that.
Go make something meaningful.
The Job of the Future Is Content Creation – And soon enough, it might be the only one left.
How to Turn Content Creation Into a Career – ‘You are not a businessman, you are a business, man!’ (Jay Z)
My Last Article Received 4.5K Claps In One Day – It all comes down to this truth: you never know what will succeed.
If You Want To Be a Writer, Start Today – Nothing is standing between you and creating good content.
I Am Totally Overthinking Medium – And, probably, so do you. Here’s how not to.
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In case you didn’t know, I also have a book out – Blog Is a Platform: What Blogging Can Do For You and Your Career. A lot of my readers found it valuable.
If you have any questions, comments or just want to chat, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have a brand new Medium publication – The Honest Creative – where you can share your personal stories and insights about content, blogging, art, and living a creative life. Shoot me an email in case you want to become a contributor!