Why creating content sucks (+ how to make it hurt less)

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Up until about 10 minutes ago, I was in the throes of an existential crisis — a mere two snapped pencils away from pressing my face up against the bathroom mirror as I mutter quietly to myself, “Who am I?” before slowly sinking to the floor.

As IMPACT’s editorial director, I’m known as the resident “content therapist” — someone who can help others cure their cases of crippling writer’s block in 15 minutes or less (99.9999% of the time), and empower budding thought leaders to find their voice, tell their stories, and make their big ideas unforgettable.

So, when I sat down earlier this morning to write and found myself completely unable to get into the content-creating groove, I responded the way any rational adult would:

  1. Dejectedly staring at my blank screen, while my cursor blinked what I’m sure was a looped, Morse-coded personal attack of “You’re a fraud.”
  2. Distracting myself by adjusting the font size and weight for this blog, under the guise of “enhancing readability.”
  3. Resting my forehead on my desk with my eyes closed as I listened to “SOS” by ABBA on repeat five times. Was it a distraction or a cry for help? I’m not sure.

This nonsense went on for about an hour.

How many of you have ever found yourself in the same position of possessing the knowledge you need to create a piece of content on a specific topic — a blog article, a video, a presentation, a talk — only to flounder once you actually have to sit down and get all the smart thoughts, words and ideas out of your brain and onto virtual paper?

“Why do ideas that make sense in my head never come out right? Why does it take so long to figure out what to say?”

“I’m not a writer, how am I supposed to do this?”

“Even if I get to the end of the process and I’m happy with what I wrote, it takes so much time to get there that I have to ask myself, is all of this effort worth it?”

“Will this pain ever go away, or is this now the recurring task I will dread from here to eternity?”

You’re not the problem, even though it feels like it

Our entire way of marketing our ourselves, our companies and our clients (if you’re an agency) hinges upon a mission-critical process (creating content in some form or another) that the vast majority of us either struggle with or outright despise.

It’s rather tragic when you think about it.

The whole content marketing industrial complex has spent years beating the “you absolutely must create content” drum without ever bothering to teach the writing formulas, techniques and surprisingly easy (and repeatable) processes it takes to actually create content.

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Instead of acknowledging this massive gap exists, however, it’s assumed that we all learned what we needed to know in school about crafting persuasive, engaging, powerful content our audiences will adore. Of course, that’s not true, but many of you don’t realize it.

So, how do we overcome this gap in knowledge and understanding? How do we make this unrelenting pain and angst around content creation go away, no matter our background, native skill sets or experience?

Or, more to the point, how do we make creating content of any kind feel like less of a drag?

1. First, relax… no one gets it right on the first try

Do you ever penalize yourself for not being able to bang out a great piece of content that’s ready to publish on the first try? That you lack that special something that professional (or at least practiced) writers seem to possess to effortlessly articulate ideas and arguments?

If any of you mentally raised your hand, guess what? You’re not defective or lacking. Whenever you sit down to compose a blog article, craft a presentation, write a talk or draft a video script, you are creating something from nothing. So, cut yourself a little slack — it’s not easy.

Heck, it’s quite literally my job to translate expertise into engaging blogs, videos and in-person talks — and to help others do the same — and even I’m not immune to the very same issues you all experience. (Let’s not forget my ABBA adventures from earlier today.)

That’s why one of my favorite quotes from Ernest Hemingway is:

One of the biggest barriers you’ll ever face in creating content is all of the patently false, negative self-talk you allow yourself to engage in. You can’t to produce anything of value if you’re expending an equal amount of energy telling yourself you can’t do it at the same time.

Moreover, if you enter into any content project with the mindset that you can’t do it, you never will. But that’s true of anything, right? For example, if you keep telling yourself you’ll never lose the weight, quit smoking, stop binge-watching entire seasons of America’s Next Top Model in a single sitting, you’ll undermine your ability to ever achieve your goals.

Instead, take a page out of my pal, Stacy Willis‘ book. When I told her about the annoyingly ironic case of writer’s block I developed this morning while trying to kick-off an article that tackled a writer’s block-related topic, she laughed and said:

Oh my gosh, I feel so much better! Even you get writer’s block!”

We all go through this. We’re all slogging through the same process, so your experiences thus far aren’t signs of your failure. Quite the contrary! They make you one of us, so welcome to the writer’s club!

Which brings me to my next point…

2. Next, accept that you will need to put in the effort

So, if we acknowledge that none of us get it right in our first draft — not you, not me, not Hemingway, not the guy who writes essay-length responses (complete with citations) to Facebook neighborhood group posts about parking that no one ever asked for — that means we also must accept that real, honest-to-goodness effort is required.

That’s right. There is no mystical content unicorn ? who can tap you on the forehead with their glittered hoof, thus bestowing you with a divine ability to craft swoon-worthy business prose and money-making thought leadership with little to no effort.

I would hope this wouldn’t be a surprise, since you also can’t expect to drop a few pant sizes while clinging desperately to a steady diet of cupcakes, Mountain Dew, cheese cubes and steak. So, we all need to put on our big adult pants and recognize that if we’re going to embrace content creation in our strategies (for ourselves or for clients), we’re going to have to put in the work. “I just don’t wanna!” is not a valid excuse, OK?

If you don’t believe me, listen to Seth Godin, who said the following about making the commitment to content in a 2015 interview for HubSpot’s The Growth Show that has stuck with me ever since I read it:

Preach it, Seth!

You can’t be haggling with yourself every single time you sit down to create a piece of content, no matter what it is, about whether or not you want to do it, you can do it, you will do it, and so on. Instead, all of your mental energy should be focused on just doing the thing.

So, you need to:

  1. Make the time to create the content; put it on your calendar, or whatever it is you need to do, and stick to your schedule. You can’t point to the one time you blogged six months ago like it’s a trophy on your mantle and shout, “Look, I did it!”
  2. Don’t beat yourself up just because you actually you need to, you know, use your brain. You will need to think. You will need to solve problems. 

These are good things, though! Because when you accept these two truths, you’ll also realize that you’re not a failure because your content will require commitment, mental baking and problem-solving. It’s all a part of the process.

(On top of that, in future articles, I’ll be sharing all of my favorite fool-proof writing tricks, tips, and processes that will make your life so much easier. ?)

3. Finally, be honest (and specific) about what’s hard

No matter who you are, what your experience is (or isn’t), or what you perceive your weaknesses with creating content to, I swear on my beloved Pumpkin that “creating content” as a blanket concept is not your problem. The key to cracking the code on where creating content falls apart for you is being really specific about what parts of the process create pain for you.

Once you define the symptoms of your unique case of what I call “content creation-itis,” your life will get much easier. You’ll be able to more accurately prescribe the precise course of treatment you need to get you over saying, “Content creation sucks rocks!” much, much faster.

Here’s my content creation-itis case, as an example

So, fun fact. I was not born this way. When I was younger, I was a horrible writer by choice, and I was very, very happy that way. I liked art and math and history and watching Speed with my forever-boyfriend Keanu Reeves at least four times a week, not writing or any form of what someone might consider content creation.

As I got older, however, I started to realize that it wasn’t writing overall that I hated. Instead, I had very specific grievances, knowledge gaps, individual quirks and tedious preferences that, together, made me hate (and mentally set fire to) the entire process:

  1. I love listening to music while I’m working. When I’m writing, however, I learned quickly that I can’t listen to music. The lyrics distract me, or I’ll become obsessed with making the perfect playlist. But I can’t listen to silence either. So, it was a lose-lose situation until I discovered how insanely productive I am listening to ambient noise (of all things) and the Noisli app.
  2. Standard word processing solutions like Microsoft Word — and even Google Docs — make me completely insane, with all of the distracting spell check squiggles and buttons and rulers and ugh. For many, many moons, I thought I had no other options. Then, I was introduced to something called “distraction-free” writing apps, and my whole world changed. The dream team combination of ambient noise, visually and experientially pleasing writing apps, and an aggressive number of scented candles made the whole affair of creating content… relaxing.
  3. I didn’t understand that I wasn’t a failure for not being able to produce something publishing-ready in a single sitting. Once I got that it was supposed to be a process and I learned I needed to learn what the right steps were to creating content, I had a serious break-through moment. A break-through moment that exploded to Stay Puft proportions once I realized that breaking my process out into steps over multiple days was actually more efficient than trying to painfully crush things out in a single night… usually at 2 a.m.
  4. Then, finally, the biggest “ah-ha!” moment was when I realized I didn’t have to write like no-personality, third-person academic zombie like I was trained was “the way” in school. In fact, I saw better results from my content (blog, videos, talks, podcasts) when I just started being my weird, freak show self. And (once more with feeling), because I got to be myself, creating content was way more enjoyable, in addition to feeling more valuable.

Some of these symptoms may resonate with you. Some may not. My point here by sharing this with you is to show you how you need to start breaking down how you think about your problems with content creation overall. Only then can you start implementing real fixes that alleviate the pain and stress you’re feeling.

This is just the beginning

Here’s the deal, party people — there’s a good chance a large number of you reading this and feeling two things:

  1. Validated, because you’re not a failure, and there is a clear path you can take toward content creation greatness, should you choose to do so.
  2. Also a little annoyed and/or discouraged, because you likely now have a new set of questions you have to answer before things can get better.

There’s a reason why I started my publishing with this specific article, however. This is the work we’re going to do together — you’re no longer alone in this battle. Whether you’re running your own business, part of a large team, a content nerd embedded at a company, or an agency trying to make content magic for your clients, I’ve got your back.

Every week, through new content, resources, and (of course) my Content Therapy newsletter, we’re going to unsuck content creation once and for all. So, stay tuned.

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