You Can’t Create Before You Consume
Conscious content consumption, what it means, and why you need more of it in your life
“The more you create, the more powerful you become.
The more you consume, the more powerful others become.” –James Clear in one of his immensely popular weekly newsletters
Let me explain: I completely agree with the sentiment he’s going for. But I don’t believe you can create anything worthwhile if you don’t know enough about a subject. And you can’t know enough if you haven’t consumed content that’s better than yours.
Heck I wouldn’t even have this awesome opening if it wasn’t for me consciously consuming Clear’s newsletter.
But what does conscious consumption of content actually mean?
Let’s start with how I define it and then explore what other, more qualified people have to say. I believe conscious content consumption is about consuming something you would normally enjoy with critical eyes.
Now, “enjoy[ing] with critical eyes” doesn’t mean pulling apart every second of your favourite movie so much so that you can’t enjoy it—it’s actually the opposite. When done right, conscious consumption elevates your enjoyment.
Instead of mindlessly watching your favourite TV show, you’d notice and appreciate the decision they made to place the camera in a certain location.
Instead of passively reading an interesting Medium story, you’d notice how the author keeps you engaged. You’d appreciate how you’re immersed in the story. As Diane Callahan puts it in the story How to Read Like a Writer:
Reading like a writer means reading to learn, not just reading to be entertained.
So yes, it does mean focusing on the details, but mostly the positive ones, the ones that subconsciously make you enjoy that piece of content. Try to make those subconscious thoughts conscious.
Charles Moran, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts, explains this as “participat[ing] in the writing.” And it applies to every other piece of content too.
How to Consciously Consume
We’ve tackled what conscious consumption is but how do you do it? I’ll illustrate this through a few examples of my own that’ll hopefully inform and inspire you.
It feels fitting to begin with the area I believe I’ve most improved in using this method—newsletters. I’ve recently begun writing the newsletter for an organization I’m a part of and have been wanting to take my newsletter skills to the next level.
The articles I was reading were only stating the obvious and none of the “advice” I was reading was helpful. That’s when I thought to myself: I need to think about what makes me enjoy the newsletters I consume every day.
One of these is Morning Brew, “the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable.” I certainly find it enjoyable to read, but why? I sat down, made a list and came up with this:
- Clear transitions between topics (using those blue headlines or what we call kickers on Medium)
- Current topics that serve as conversations starters
- High quality visuals (they don’t look very high quality in the screenshot but that’s my fault)
- Humour and personality injected into every piece
- Interactive elements (like weekly quizzes)
Here’s where I want to be clear: conscious consumption is not the same thing as plagiarism. I, for instance, realized that our newsletter required more visual appeal and started incorporating more images. Boom—conscious content consumption ✅
Another example from my personal experience has to do with writing directly and my excessive use of adverbs and exclamation marks!!! To be entirely honest, this was pointed out to me by several people and I didn’t come to this conclusion through consciously consuming. But I learned how to fix it using this method.
So I started to take particular notice of how my favourite authors evoked emotions within me without using adverbs, such as actually or truly, as crutches. How were they able to communicate their ideas in such a strong manner without something I considered to be essential to my style?
The answer was simple in theory but difficult in practice. I needed to diversity my vocabulary and begin to use more expressive verbs. “He said”? Try “he breathlessly whispered” instead. I can’t stress how revolutionary this was. It was like I had become an entirely new writer.
There are countless other ways this methodology has helped me but I’ll keep it to these two examples. Now in case you weren’t consciously consuming this article, here are a few key points to take away:
- Conscious content consumption is all about taking the time to realize what specifically makes you enjoy the content you enjoy, and implementing it into your own work.
- This method is particularly useful with becoming a better writer as most of what we learn comes from reading pieces we enjoy that shape us.
- You can start consciously consuming right now—just grab a pen and paper and jot down a few key points that make you enjoy your favourite book, or movie, or blog post.
Here’s what I want to leave you with: there’s this idea that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s the same thing with the content you consume. So you better be conscious about it.