“You have to publish more content, more often.”
“If you don’t make content, people won’t pay attention.”
“If you don’t post frequently, people will forget about you.”
“If you don’t follow through with a commitment, people will think you’re flaky and won’t listen to you anymore.”
I’ve fallen victim to this pressure. I’ve internalized this pressure and, with the best of intentions, spread it towards other people.
Creating in one-time pressured situation can sometimes be super beneficial for us hopeless procrastinator types. (Like a deadline to apply for a seminar, not having enough works to fill a portfolio, then frantically creating new artworks, and in the end being selected for the seminar. True story.)
Living under constant pressure week after week, though... I have a lot of thoughts on that, which is why this post is not an easy “how to” 1-2-3 steps listicle, but an essay inspired mostly by my personal experience with regularly creating valuable content for free, while running a demanding service-based business. I don’t claim to know everything about this, and this is more a case of “experimenting in public” than a teaching moment, but I trust there’s value in that as well.
I’m touching on several components in this essay: pressure, passion, core values and ethics.
Let’s talk about pressure first
I’ve been on a journey to relieve pressure and find new, inspiring projects for a while now. At first, I wasn’t aware I had a problem. To a person raised in a household full of perfectionists, an atmosphere of pressure is just what life feels like. Like in the Zen story, a fish doesn’t know what water is because it’s surrounded by it, and never leaves it.
My first clue that I had an issue with pressure is that even after getting better after my last depressive episode, I didn’t feel fully “me” for a very long time. I still don’t. The occasions where I would feel excited about getting out of bed were rare. I didn’t feel like I was enjoying life very much. I was going through the motions, dealing with one obligation after another. (Sidenote: I’m not looking for mental health advice. My experience is my own—yours may be different.)
My first clue that I’ve got too much pressure is a desire I’ve had for some time, which inspired me more than anything else. A vision of a whole month completely free to do whatever I’m inspired to do. If this sounds unrealistic, let me remind you that many civilized countries have well over 30 paid leave days per year including public holidays. It’s totally possible, I just need to figure out how to make it work for me.
Along with my introspective realizations about success and fulfillment, I’ve gotten a few hints from dear friends and a psychotherapist who saw that I was expecting too much of myself.
After last summer, I started dismantling my obligations.
I resigned from all my responsibilities in a non-profit and started dodging any new commitments that anyone tried to throw in my lap. (And believe me, that happens way too often.)
I chose my guiding quality for the year 2017 to be spaciousness. I started scheduling spaciousness in my calendar—pockets of time purposely reserved for doing nothing. It doesn’t always work. I burn the midnight oil more often than not. But I’m committed to learning how to welcome more spaciousness in my life.
Here’s where we finally get to the content part.
Weekly blogging was one of my obligations.
I bragged in one of my articles how I hadn’t missed a single weekly blog post in over a year, and explained how I managed to do it. I still believe in the value of this method, if creating and publishing loads of content on a regular basis is your goal.
At the time, writing and publishing thousands of words every single week felt both important and enjoyable. Although it was taking a shitload of time, it didn’t feel like work to me. Words just flowed, and sharing my writing was an act of inspiration. I couldn’t stop the momentum if I tried.
Until the feeling changed. My season of writing and publishing regular blog posts has ended, and it was time for another season. Which season is that? For now, I intend to take all that time I used to spend writing weekly posts, and invest it into writing a long-form format: a book. Now that is something that excites me.
If I gave in to the pressure of “commitment”, I’d be forcing myself to go against my inspiration.
And for what? To be completely honest, blogging brings few clients my way. Referrals I get through personal connections, plus repeat clients, are what keeps my business going. (There is a strong website SEO component to my leads, but mostly people find my very old articles and then contact me immediately.)
A year ago, this didn’t matter. I wanted to write. I didn’t need a reason. I didn’t care if my KPI’s were bad. “If it’s enjoyable but it doesn’t work, keep doing it until it either works, or it stops being enjoyable” I wrote in my post How to know when to quit a marketing practice. I decided to take my own advice.
Blogging under pressure week after week made no sense. Publishing when I’m inspired to publish something will have to do. (This is how this particular post came to be.)
If pressure is the only thing making you publish content, forget it. It shows.
When content is just a checkbox on your to-do list, we can tell. There are gigantic amounts of crap content out there, created by uninspired writers who just want to “do content marketing” because it’s “good for business”.
When people ask me how I manage to publish so much and so often, I say:
“My ‘trick’ is that I love writing. If you don’t love writing, it won’t work for you.”
Pressure can be a great motivator.
It can also be an inspiration killer.
A strategically placed deadline on a project you’ve been postponing for a long time can help launch it into existence in record time. But that’s about where I believe the benefits of pressure end. To people who already live under constant pressure, I say this: Do not add another thing you “have to” do on your plate.
Before you can get yourself into a mental state of inspired content creation, the kind of content that can be considered art, you need to make more room on your plate. More spaciousness.
If content creation is weighing in on you and you don’t particularly enjoy it, drop what you’re doing, re-evaluate, and explore other options.
Great content comes from passion.
I don’t care what critics of passion say. I don’t have much respect for the world of “ass in chair” that they’re living in. My brain is not wired that way.
I didn’t become who I am today because I continued doing things I hated doing to prove my worth. I became the person I am today because I followed my curiosity and passion, and quit the things that didn’t bring me fulfillment. (It may have taken me too long to quit, but eventually I did.)
Every single idea of mine that became real (and I have created many, across no less than 9 websites over the past 16 years) was a product of passion—bright passion that burns through the fear of failure, resistance, and apathy.
If you don’t feel if, there’s no point in doing it. A product made with no passion reeks of mediocrity. There’s enough mediocre stuff out there, the world doesn’t need more of it.
What the world needs is passionate creators.
You can be passionate about your art form, about technology, or about helping people—but you need to be passionate about something if you want to contribute value.
And if your passion changes... go for it. Nobody’s going to die if you stop publishing blog posts and social media updates. If anything, when you come back with a newfound passion that will keep you inspired and prolific, some of them will be there for you. Some will move along, and that’s fine. Their passions can change, too.
Don’t confuse passion with being loud. You don’t need to come across like there’s fire coming out of your butt. Passion is internal, and it will flow out in a different manner for each person. Just because someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean they lack passion.
Speaking of “each person is a unique snowflake”...
Does your content serve your core values?
Core values are a unique set of qualities that you feel most strongly about, and that guide your decisions and actions. (Or at least, they should.)
Your core values are inherent to you as a person, and this also makes them inherent to your business. The very reason you’ve started your business was likely that you wanted to bring in more of these core values into your life, because your previous career wasn’t doing it. However, most people don’t consciously think about their own values, and aren't even aware of what they are. This is a critical mistake, because shared values are how you connect to your audience.
Your “right people” share your value system and appreciate your unique approach to your work, and your personality.
If your core values are not present in your content, or the content actively opposes your values, that’s no good. You’ll be inviting the wrong type of audience in, one that will have no interest in what you’re truly passionate about.
Amassing a large number of the “wrong” readers and subscribers, who do not share your value system, becomes a case of golden handcuffs—you start censoring yourself because you don’t want to drive them away. And in the end, you become stuck with an audience that doesn’t care about you at all. That’s not the kind of audience you want to grow.
When in doubt, do back to your core values.
Lastly, let’s examine the ethical considerations:
Is the large quantity of content you’re putting out really serving your audience?
While sharing content weekly may have a lot of benefits, I'm finding a few problems with it now.
I want my right people to do stuff, not read stuff.
And yes, if they do happen to want to read or watch something, I’d love it to be a thing that I created. But realistically, there’s too much valuable content to keep up with. As I’ve been unsubscribing left and right just to make my reading list less overwhelming, I became aware that I don’t want to be a part of someone’s overwhelm.
“People will consume content when they’re bored anyway, so why not let it be yours?”
That’s what I said to business owners when I taught content marketing. I’m not sure how I feel about that anymore.
Reading “Deep Work”* by Cal Newport has got me thinking about how much I take the Internet for granted. I’ve been living a part of my life on the Internet since I was 15 years old. I feel an obligation to contribute to the Internet, like it’s the only way that I can bring value to people, and that’s not true.
I love that I can connect to wonderful, friendly, kind, creative, highly sensitive people from all over the world. I love that I feel less of a weirdo because there's so many other weirdos like me out there that I can contact at the press of a button.
I'm not anti-internet. I'm exhausted from trying to be at too many places at once. Even when I'm just an observer, the insane volume of (carefully filtered and curated) information is wrecking my brain. I can feel myself growing more frustrated and disenchanted.
It's even more challenging when I'm trying to focus on creating at the same time. By making quick and easy daily or weekly superficial content snacks for our audience, we're losing the opportunity for something more substantial. I wrote about this in great depth in my article: Creativity in digital isolation.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
A message on my newsletter unsubscribe page says “I'd rather have you creating your art than drowning in email.” It's easy to fall for one shiny opt-in gift after another, one free webinar after another, one 30-day challenge after another, and end up subscribed to 50 newsletters. I keep saying to myself I'll never subscribe to another newsletter again—and the next moment, I sign up to three.
Is less content the solution?
I'm not sure what the solution is. I'm but one blogger in a sea of bloggers, podcasters and vloggers. For a person who follows dozens of other content creators, I'm just a blip in their feed. Those who follow just a few media channels don't have a problem that I can solve by posting less.
Still, I feel like I'm modeling an unsustainable approach by sacrificing other projects in order to keep this place ticking like a watch. I'd like to inspire people to waste less time browsing, and create more, but
- I have to walk my talk first.
- I’m not sure exactly what walking my talk would look like.
There are many ways people are already doing similar things:
- Facebook groups
- Email prompts
- Membership programs
- Paid masterminds
I’m not a fan of any of these ideas, since they would require me to dedicate time to managing and care-taking of a community—time I just don’t have. Besides, I'm not a cheerleader, and I don't want to make cheerleading my job. Instead, I’d like to do what I do best: create.
I want to invite you to create alongside of me.
One of my new projects (in Croatian language) is dedicated to that mission: Kreativna.org is a website for women who want to make creativity a part of their everyday life. We are a group of women authors who post about our personal experiences, creative techniques, mindset tips and more. This project is separate from my business, and it will turn into a non-profit with a social justice mission.
I’m still figuring out how to achieve this in my own business, in a way that is easy and enjoyable for me. I still haven’t seen a model out there that I’m attracted to. What little wisdom I can offer you at the moment, is this:
You’re allowed not to read every published post out there.
You’re allowed to “mark as read” and delete any newsletter you’re not in the mood for. You’re allowed to leave your phone in another room when you create your art, your writing, your music, your crafts, your apps, your inventions, your marketing plan, your talks...
You’re allowed to take intentional mind detox retreats to detach yourself from technology, and learn what you’re like when you’re not overwhelmed with other people’s thoughts. You’re allowed to dive into books and immerse yourself into a deep learning of a subject, instead of scratching the surface on many topics through blog posts and videos.
You’re allowed to unsubscribe from anyone who doesn’t give you what you need at the moment (yes, me too!). You’re allowed to take a break from someone for a few months, and come back when their approach and their content serves you better.
I know how horrible the fear of missing out is. I battle it every single day.
I don’t want the fear of missing out to be the reason why you read and watch my stuff.
Your happiness and fulfillment is way more important to me than my website stats, my open rates and my income. If the way toward your fulfillment is to create more and consume less, I support you 100%.
This is what I want for myself, so it would be hypocritical if I wanted any less for you.
Moving forward: what’s next?
This is a work in progress, and I don’t know the exact form it will take. I have several ideas for how I plan to proceed, like:
- Posting more “work-in-progress” snapshots of my client projects, personal projects, and my book.
- Posting more short, unedited videos.
- Writing more long-form essays when I have the time and inspiration.
...but this is still marinating in my mind, so I’m not making any promises. Right now, I know what I don’t want, but I’m not sure what I want. That’s the thing with the creative process: there’s no point in pretending that we know what it’s going to be like.
Whatever it ends up looking, I trust that it’s going to be interesting and fun.