You’re yearning to create, to put out work that will help the world by being true to your inclinations. You are craving the sense of fulfillment that comes from working on something you believe in and you want to make a living doing that. You’ve glimpsed this in fleeting moments where you can feel your true power.
But you’re stuck.
You’ve suppressed your creative potential because of your responsibilities, the demands of your job, or the need to please other people. And it’s painful as hell.
You’re burned out. And yet you hold on, because you can still feel the spark of something. It’s what got you on this tough path. It’s what made you question what you’re currently doing.
The question that dominates your existence is, how do you create content or develop products that reflect and at the same time serve people’s needs? How can you achieve creative success?
I’ve pondered that very question myself, and I’ve analyzed the work of dozens of content creation masters to find the answer. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
They Help Their Readers Solve the Riddles of Their Lives
Many of the most successful bloggers help you solve the puzzles of life. They’ve had a painful experience, a difficult challenge, or a limitation — then found a way to overcome them. So it’s like “Here, I have gone through the same struggle, I am solving it, here’s where I’ve succeeded, let me package it for you, and let me make your life better.”
Zack Arnold of Optimize Yourself overcame the crushing depression resulting from his grueling work as a video editor in Hollywood and found an interesting solution that he shares with his readers.
John Somnez of How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer, after being trapped in a job that he despised, learned how to find work that energized him. He helps Software Developers market themselves in order to do that.
Emilie Wapnick of Puttylike, after being battered by society’s message that being a person with wide interests is a bad thing, has figured out how to combine seemingly disparate interests into a single, successful business, and assembled a tribe along the way.
Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete has figured out how to implement the unique and difficult lifestyle of being a vegetarian athlete and shares tools, resources, and knowledge to his dedicated followers.
Do you see the pattern now? The best content producers and teachers have attained a skill through sheer persistence and now find the skill easy to do. They understand the hardship of the process, but they’ve also discovered the way out. They’ve solved the riddle.
Good stories contain conflict and a resolution to this conflict. We have an innate desire to consume these types of narratives, and these creators have a powerful story to tell in the form of their own lives.
They Focus on Their Reader
My favorite authors and creators don’t try to impress me, as a reader, with their writing skills or the size of their vocabulary.
When you imagine a person listening to you and understanding their pains and regrets, their joys, and their riddles, you stop thinking “is my writing going to be good” and start thinking “is my message going to get through”? There’s a world of difference between the two.
What matters more now than any other single thing is that what you’re saying is different–that it’s interesting, that it provokes some response from people. You’ll only accomplish this if you’ve got something you have to say. Better yet, you need to have something that you can’t NOT say. If what you’re writing is a compulsion rather than a vehicle for your display how smart and well practiced you are.
They also don’t focus on enlarging their own image.
James Altucher, best-selling author and serial entrepreneur, is a master of this. He instantly connects because he follows his own advise to “Bleed in the first line.” Look at this article about doing 200 podcasts with his heroes. In the intro paragraph, he admits to being lazy, shy, and nervous. But then he goes on to talk about how he achieved something remarkable despite these flaws three years later.
Emilie Wapnick, founder of the multipotentialite movement, also talks about this in her article The Reason Nobody’s Hiring You (and What To Do About It):
Self-promotion is necessary, but it shouldn’t be your first priority. Visitors go to your website, not because of you (though they may connect with your personality), but because of something within themselves.
Kalid Azad‘s Better Explained is perhaps the best place to read accessible explanations of math in the whole of the internet. You’ll notice that he’s amassed 400k monthly readers not because he’s adept at selling himself, but because he puts helpfulness as the primary motivation. Despite writing 220,000 words over a period of 10 years, he says:
I don’t have a wordcount goal, just a “helpfulness” goal: include an analogy, diagram, example, plain-english description, and technical description (ADEPT method).
They Experiment and Lead
The successful bloggers and authors come up with their own conclusions. Original ones, not regugitated wisdom. The conclusions could be the same as what other people say, but the way they came up with the conclusion ought to be original.
It doesn’t mean they don’t listen to others. It just means they try things out for themselves. They go first. In other words, they lead.
Ramit Sethi, best-selling author of I Will Teach You to be Rich, is notorious for rigorously testing the methods, templates, and scripts that he advocates.
Richard Feynman, while not a blogger, exemplified this principle. He is considered one of the world’s best physicists and original thinker. In the autobiographical book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, he recounts how he tested the concept of a internal sense of time by counting seconds up to a minute and then checking against a clock after he felt that he had counted a minute. He tried it while running up stairs to see if physical activity affected his counting, counted while a thick jacket to see if his body temperature affected it, lied on the bed, and finally went away with his own thoughts on the matter. He didn’t just blindly listen to what others said and repeated conventional wisdom. This kind of attitude helped him come up with groundbreaking ideas that won him the Noble Prize for Physics.
I have personally prided myself in trying to get “my hands dirty” as much as I can in subjects like travel and language learning, by simply throwing myself in the deep end and trying to learn how to swim and sharing my story of those attempts. People ask me for advice all the time in this area — I am no more qualified than anyone else, but I took that initial first leap, and many times you have to inspire enough confidence in those listening to you to encourage them to do the same.
The most successful authors, creators, bloggers do three things:
- They help solve a difficult problem for their readers
- They focus on helping their reader instead of propping themselves up
- They lead and try things out for themselves
There are other techniques that I’ve seen, such as choosing a good name, building an email list, pricing, but without the three fundamentals above, they wouldn’t have gotten very far. As a result of these principles, they’ve created not just successful blogs, websites, or books, but entire movements of people who have a shared philosophy of life.
What important principles have you discovered in the world’s most successful content? Share them in the comments below!