From Kanye to Hemingway

9 Experiences For Sparking Creativity

This is a list of experiences for sparking creativity in my life. I selected experiences that were particularly interesting or especially meaningful for me when it comes to opening creative pathways. Maybe one or two of them will do the same for you!

I invite you to contribute your own spark to the list. I have a section near the end of this post where you can check out what others have said sparks creativity for them, and also contribute your own spark to the list.

1. Listen to All of The Lights by Kanye

Listening to this song starts sparks for me every time (link to video). It’s the Rocky theme song of Hip Hop for me.

I picture the training scenes from Rocky IV when the synth-horns kick in, Ivan Drago on machines and Rocky all-natural.

Kanye may not be the most humble person, but he pushes the envelope, and then pushes further still. He’s got that fever for being the the best at what he does.

That’s what pumps through this song and into my blood when I listen. Because way down inside, I too, want to be the best.

We all have a big ego. And we’ll always run into the Ugly, but it doesn’t mean stop moving forward. The in-built motion in this song, inspires me to keep training.

2. Read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway

I first read “The Sun Also Rises” when I was 22 at Broadway Cafe in Kansas City, MO.

Hemingway’s writing deflated all the fluff, and taught me to ask for brute honesty.

He placed cold simple words onto his experience, so that truth and complexity were forced to flex.

Hemingway also had his ego, and like Kanye, wanted to be the best. But he also was on a relentless search for the true good life.

And this was the spark for me. I didn’t have to search for a pulse reading Hemingway, his reckless search was the pulse, and I recognized it in my veins too.

3. Start At Zero

As an artist, it is tempting to polish and perfect all your existing work before going on to something else. Editing is not a good place to start creating.

When you start with nothing, a blank page, an empty garageband file, an unbrushed canvas, you are at zero. When you have nothing it forces you to go and get something. It’s scary at first, which is exactly why we want to edit instead of creating something; because at least we’ll have something.

Starting with nothing makes us feel empty, and we’ll do lots of things before feeling that. But it’s a tremendous opportunity if we can keep from running.

4. Read Seth Godin’s Blog

I wake up each morning with a new thought in my inbox from Seth Godin’s blog. His ideas usually require flipping the world upside down to understand. But that’s good news in a world that’s flipped wrong-side up.

Seth Godin takes me further in, always challenging me to make time for nuance and context, before completely ingesting my information. I read his blog for re-direction and for re-routing all my tendencies to chase the Big Easy.

Godin reminds me that deep inspiration comes in big slow waves, and that it’s worth investing in. Reading his blog inspires me to live well and be remarkable. He may give you a spark or two as well.

5. Submit Entries Each Week to the New Yorker Caption Contest

One of my personal entries to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. It didn’t win.

One of my personal entries for the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest…it didn’t win.

The late Roger Ebert would always share the entries he submitted to the New Yorker Caption Contest every week on his blog. It always sparked lively and humorous discussions in his comment section, and was a blast to follow. Sometimes his submissions were brilliant and sometimes they weren’t. But he submitted them regardless, and we all still had lively discussions.

When I started submitting to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest myself, it was surprisingly difficult to submit entries that I thought sub-par. But Roger gave me the courage to submit even the ones that were less poignant. Why? To get used to the idea that I won’t be brilliant every time, and to still show up anyways. This is the best exercise I know for dismantling the perfectionist in me. When Roger passed, I continued still. It’s my thank you to him, and my own way of honoring his impact on my life. It’s my favorite habit. Maybe it’ll be a tradition when I am old and look back.

6. Attend The Sundance Film Festival

Something special happens when tens of thousands of people from all around the world gather together in a remote town tucked away in the mountains to highlight and celebrate the human experience.

When I attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 for the first time, I had one word to describe it: Magical. It is capable of much more than a spark. For me it was an enlightenment.

During the festival, Park City is buzzing with inspiration. How can it not be, when filmmakers from all around the world gather to highlight the human story through film?

7. Try the Daily Crossword Puzzle

When I was a kid, I watched my Grandpa do the crossword puzzle everyday. I would find them scattered around his house with a few words missing here and there. Almost always I would find his ideas, or little drawings, scribbled in the margins. They represent the reason why this activity makes the list. The crossword puzzle gets the mind going.

Doing crossword puzzles as an adult, I see the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I’ve had to save my fair share of crossword puzzle cut-outs, not for the words in the boxes, but the bursting ideas in the margins.

8. Start Listening And Feeling In Color

A co-writer once asked me before we had even fooled around with chords or lyrics, “What does it feel like? Our song?” At the time, it felt odd asking that kind of question before a song existed. But when we gave it a real shot, we started coming up with stuff we probably wouldn’t have from a traditional approach. I started seeing the logic in it.

Since then I’ve grown to love this type of thinking because it opens up a world of possibility. Asking the color of sounds or feelings or ideas is a good way to get the creative ball rolling. For me:

I Am The Walrus sounds dead-yellow.
England feels like grey-magic.
And Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange really does sound orange to me.

Try it. What colors do you hear and feel?

9. Avoid Black and White Answers

When everything fits nicely in neat little packaged ways, the world gets boring real quick.

Not accepting a black and white world makes everything come alive. Sometimes, I’ll catch myself tidying concepts using black-and-white/cut-and-dry thinking, it almost always leads to narrowness and misunderstanding.

Answers that stay black-and-white erode possibilities instead of expanding them. When you can pin down the world with a few basic concepts, it gets too small, and so does the meaning we can draw from it.

What Sparks Your Creativity?

I seriously love hearing what sparks creativity for others. It’s how a person like me has fun. So, offer a suggestion of your own in the side comments, and I’ll make them public for others to read and try as well!

This was a blast to write. If you had fun reading it, hit the ‘Recommend’ button below so others can get a spark or contribute their own suggestions for all of us!

Hit me up on Twitter or Google+. I like meeting people and checking out what they’re stirring up : )

Next Story — The Advanced Guide to Medium Marketing
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The Advanced Guide to Medium Marketing

Most business blogs take months, if not years to become successful.

You have to keep publishing new content constantly, optimize for SEO, and sticking it out over the long term.

Until now, that’s been the standard way businesses have built their blog.

But recently, there’s a new option that has come about — a platform with a massive, built-in, targeted audience who you can reach with your content on a daily basis. A platform that can help give your content the “push” it needs to go viral and generate tens of thousands of leads for your business in a matter of months.

That platform is Medium, launched by the co-founders of Twitter.

One of the biggest advantages of leveraging Medium over normal blogging strategies is that you don’t need to rely on social media promotion or backlinks to get your content in front of more people.

Some of Medium’s publications have over a hundred thousand followers — and you have the opportunity to get your content pushed out to all of them. You just have to write a blog post on the platform, and submit it to the owner of the collection.

Depending on what your business does, there are tons of different publications with large targeted audiences that you can choose from.

If your customers are mostly entrepreneurs, you can target them through the Startup. If your content is professionals who are into personal development, you can target them through The Mission. If you’re targeting marketers, you can push your content to them through Marketers and Growth Hackers.

This is completely different from publishing a normal blog post on your site and promoting through your social media channels. When you publish a post on your site and promote it, the only people who see it are those who follow you on social media or search for your specific post topic on Google.

But through Medium’s internal discoverability features, you can get your content in the feed of your target audience — even if they don’t follow you.

To get a sense of the kind of traction marketing related posts get on Medium, here’s a list of some of Buffer’s Medium posts, along with their number of views, reads, read ratio, and recommends:

Source: Buffer

According to Mike Essex, within 6 hours of publishing on Medium he found that he had surpassed the average number of views a post on his own site would get in its entire lifetime. And within 24 hours, those numbers quadrupled.

In terms of promotion, he did all the same things he would normally do for his blog posts — promote through tweets and through his Google plus page.

Here are just some of the results that I saw with my own Medium posts:

Medium’s audience mostly consists of highly educated, tech savvy people.

95% of Medium’s readers are college graduates, and 43% of them earn six figures or more. They’re also mostly young, with over half of them between 18–34 years old and 70% of them being under 50.

Medium has seen big name celebrities as well as global brands publish blog posts on the platform.

People like Leonardo DiCaprio and Barack Obama have published on Medium, and brands like BMW and Marriott have hopped on board too.

Source: Sharethrough

You can also expect a higher engagement rate on your Medium blog posts compared to content on other platforms. According to Riddhi Shah, head of creative strategy at Medium, readers spend an average of two and a half minutes on every Medium story. Chartbeat estimates that people spend only one to one and a half minutes on average reading a news article on other sites.

Keep reading and we’ll give you some advanced strategies to use Medium to generate more leads and grow your business.

Incorporating Medium into your marketing strategy

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the new marketing tactics popping up every day.

You’ve got Medium, high growth platforms like Snapchat, video marketing, etc. And there are guides that tell you why you should be doing all of them.

It’s important to stay on top of the latest marketing tactics, but only if you have a systematic way of incorporating them into your overall marketing strategy. In this section, we’ll talk about how to make sure that using Medium will actually help you grow your business instead of just gathering meaningless “likes” or “shares.”

Let’s have a look at this marketing funnel diagram from KISSmetrics.

Source: KISSmetrics

Marketing funnels are broken down into various steps to guide potential customers all the way from the “awareness” stage where they first hear about your business to the stage where they’re ready to purchase your products or services.

The first step in the funnel generally consists of blog content, paid ads, video marketing etc to make potential customers aware of your business.

Next, there needs to be some way for prospects to take action and express interest in your business — usually by signing up for your email list in exchange for an opt-in incentive. According to Neil Patel, this is the best way to begin building a relationship with your audience after the “awareness” stage.

Here’s an example of how HubSpot transitions people from the “awareness” stage to the “interest” stage:

Then, potential customers are on your email list, you can build a relationship with them over time through an autoresponder sequence until they’re ready to make a purchase.

Medium is a great tool to build more awareness for your business. Through Medium’s internal discoverability features, you can get your content in front of a large targeted audience without any extra effort on your end.

Once people read your blog posts, you can include a link at the bottom of the post encouraging them to subscribe to your email list in exchange for an opt-in incentive.

Here’s an example of how Benjamin Hardy, one of Medium’s top writers, used this strategy to get over 20,000 people on his email list within six months:

Source: Jeff Goins’s Blog

Once they’re on your email list, you can push your leads through your autoresponder sequence until they’re ready to make a purchase from you.

At a high level, that’s how Medium can fit within your marketing funnel to help you generate more leads and more sales for your business. Now, let’s dig into how to execute on this strategy — step by step.

Step 1: Make a list of your target publications

The main benefit of Medium is that you can get your content in the feeds of hundreds of thousands of the right people, even if they don’t follow you.

The way to do this is by submitting your posts to the right publications.

Those who don’t do this miss out on what Medium has to offer. If all you do is write posts on Medium and publish them to your own profile, you won’t get any additional benefits compared to just posting on your own personal blog.

For example, check out the number of “recommends” on this post that was published directly onto the writer’s profile.

Now, compare that to the number of “recommends” on James Altucher’s post after he published it to one of the largest publications on Medium — the Mission.

When you publish a post on your own profile on Medium, it only appears in the feeds of those who follow you. This is similar to publishing a tweet or a post on Facebook.

However, when you submit a post to a publication, it gets sent to the feeds of all of its followers. Followers also get a digest email with stories from that publication.

For example, the Mission has over 150,000 followers. That means that any posts that get published on the Mission get sent to over 150,000 people.

And every time someone “recommends” a post, the post becomes visible to that person’s followers as well — so you can see how publishing to publications on Medium can make your content go viral relatively quickly.

Before you begin publishing content to Medium, you’d want to make a list of the best publications on the platform with your target audience.

For example, let’s say your target market consists of startup marketers. In that case, you could search “marketing” into Medium’s search box and click on “publications” on the side bar.

From there, you can see a list of all the publications on Medium that are related to marketing.

If you click on the Marketing and Growth Hacking publication and scroll down, you can see how many followers that publication has:

Medium doesn’t currently have an option to filter search by the most followed publications, but posts like this that curate lists of popular collections can help you narrow down your search relatively quickly.

Step 2: Craft a high quality post for them

Once you find a few collections that fit the audience that you’re going after, it’s time to write a post for them.

Because writing is a creative process, this step is much less formulaic compared to others. But there are still some general guidelines you should follow when writing for Medium.

According to Buffer, SEO headlines are less common on Medium than other blogs on the internet because content is built to be found within the network rather than in organic search.

Because of that, the top posts on Medium have a wide variety of headlines. They include “how to” posts, headlines with full sentences (i.e. I Almost Let My Failed Startup Destroy Me), short headlines, and extremely long headlines.

The average headline length is, according to Buffer, 42 characters for Medium’s top stories. They also looked at the average length of a “top 100” Medium post, which was about 7.25 minutes with the median being under 6 mins.

According to Medium’s data science team, longer posts that take longer time to draft tend to get a higher click through rate.

Overall, the formula for writing a high quality Medium post is similar to writing a high quality blog post.

As HubSpot says:

  • You should start off with a high level topic that’s relevant to what your audience is looking for (in this case, relevant to the publication you want to post on)
  • Write a captivating intro
  • Organizing your post into multiple different sections for better readability
  • Fix formatting

If you’re struggling to come up with blog post ideas, you can easily gauge what type of content performs well on the publications you’re targeting by seeing what the top stories are for that publication, and modeling your content similar to that.

Benjamin Hardy once asked both Seth Godin and Jeff Goins this question: How do you ensure your work meets your own personal standard of excellence?

Here were their responses, according to this article:

Seth Godin: “Plant a lot, harvest a few”

Jeff Goins: “I keep shipping. I find that when I stop producing, the quality goes down. A deadline makes me do my best work.”

In essence what they were saying is that quantity is the fastest path to quality. The best way to ensure that you’ll hit content “home runs” on Medium (or any other platform) is to constantly keep publishing.

Step 3: Link back to your own site

This is the most important part of the entire process of writing on Medium. Without a proper call to action, you won’t be able to generate leads for your business, and you’ll lose out on one of the biggest benefits that Medium has to offer.

At the bottom of your post, include a small snippet of text asking people to sign up for your email list in exchange for an opt-in incentive.

For example, Benjamin Hardy includes this text at the bottom of his blog posts:

It encourages readers to subscribe to his personal blog in exchange for a free copy of his eBook.

Once readers click on the link, they’ll be taken to regular landing page where they can enter their email addresses.

While there are no official numbers on how many email subscribers businesses can get through Medium, there are a variety of them that have had great success.

For example, Jon Westenberg, one of the top writers on Medium, is building his content marketing agency based on his Medium content.

Darius Foroux has leveraged Medium to build his own business teaching entrepreneurs how to become more productive.

Buffer started their own publication on Medium where their team shares their own personal blog posts.

Benjamin Hardy built an email list of 20,000 people within six months.

For businesses that publish high quality posts with good CTAs to the right collections, there’s a huge opportunity to accelerate growth through Medium.

Conclusion

If you wanted to build a successful business blog, it used to be the case that the best approach was publishing content on your own site constantly and optimizing for SEO.

However, with tools like Medium that allow you to get your content in front of thousands of people even when you’re just starting out, you could accelerate the growth of your business beyond what was previously possible.

How will your business use Medium?

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Next Story — How long is the perfect Medium post? It doesn’t matter!
Currently Reading - How long is the perfect Medium post? It doesn’t matter!

How long is the perfect Medium post? It doesn’t matter!

Write to think. Do it for yourself, nobody else. If you do this, then you will create great work. Do the opposite by trying to write what you think other people want to read and you will create lookalike garbage.

Yes, you may get clicks, recommends, likes, and hearts, but who cares? Well, I won’t lie, I do care. But I shouldn’t care, and neither should you. Those tiny demonstrations of social media love are a powerful and addicting drug. They feel so good, but they are never enough and we are left anxiously waiting for the next vibration.

I wrote something for me. I spent an entire week of early mornings and late nights working on this Medium post:

I wrote because I had a story to tell. I had tried something new, and it improved the way I learned from reading a book. I wanted to write about it, mostly so I didn’t forget what I had just experienced.

When I finished writing, I had ~5,000 words detailing my process, what I learned, and comprehensive examples. It was an 18 minute read on Medium! I had seen articles before claiming that the optimal Medium post should be 7 minutes, and I was worried.

I thought about taking the comprehensive examples out and putting them in another post since they accounted for 3,235 of the 5,000 words. That would allow me to cut the 18 minute read time down to 7 minutes. I started down this path, but it just didn’t feel right.

I paused. Took my fingers off the keyboard. And thought, why am I doing this? The answer was simple, I was afraid nobody would click on my post when they saw the “18 min read” warning. I then asked myself, does that matter? Do I need other people to click on this post? Again, the answer was simple, no.

I wasn’t writing this post for anyone else. I was writing it for me. I learned something meaningful and I wrote it down. If nobody else in the world cared, that wouldn’t change the fact that it was meaningful for me. So, I published my 18 min post. And ironically, people liked it because of the detail and comprehensive examples.

If I think about my own experience reading on Medium, this shouldn’t surprise me. I don’t only enjoy reading articles that are 7 minutes long. I’ve had favorites that were just illustrations and took ~1 minute to read like this post by Sarah Cooper:

And other favorites that took ~20+ minutes to read like this post from Ben Casnocha (which is where I first heard about the book Status Anxiety):

Thank you Medium for not feeding my fear and insecurity that my post was too long. I know you did this on purpose 😉

Have you noticed how Medium makes it difficult to know how long your post is until you’ve already published it? Here are screenshots of the draft of this post in Medium compared to a Word doc:

Medium removes distractions so I can think and write. The word count is one distraction that is ever present in Word and noticeably missing on Medium:

On Medium you can briefly see the word count in the upper left hand corner of your draft when you select text, but it is fleeting and promptly returns to “Draft”:

Every published post on Medium includes an estimated read time:

However, once you have finished writing a draft and are ready to publish, Medium does not tell you what this estimated read time will be until your post is published. Here is what you see before you publish:

Medium is open and transparent about how this expected read time is calculated. You can read all about it here:

If you’re curious, they divide the total word count of an article by 275 (the average words per minute people read) and that produces the expected read time. So, you can easily calculate what the expected read time of your post will be before you publish.

But it doesn’t matter.

At least, that is what Medium is telling us based on the product decisions they have made. The Medium team could have easily made the word count ever present in the top navigation bar so the writer was always aware of the length of their draft. If the Medium team believed an ever present word count was a distraction but still important information to know before publishing, then they could have included a final word count or expected read time calculation in the final publishing process. But they didn’t do either of these. This is no accident.

Ev Williams, the founder of Medium, wrote a post back in 2012 explaining why Medium exists. He said,

“We know that words matter (still), so we built a better system for sharing them.” — Ev Williams

Medium is about the words, your words, my words, anybody’s words. It’s not about who you are on Medium, only what you have to say.

Oh yeah, and it doesn’t matter how many words you write!

Thank you Medium for creating a place where I can easily write my words, share my stories, and expand my ideas.

Next Story — The Only Metric You Should Use to Judge Your Medium Content…
Currently Reading - The Only Metric You Should Use to Judge Your Medium Content…

Image Credit: cerasis.com

The Only Metric You Should Use to Judge Your Medium Content…

For me, there is only one metric that matters when it comes to tracking how successful my Medium posts are.

It isn’t the number of Views the post had.

It isn’t the number of Reads or Recommends the post had.

And it isn’t the View to Read ratio Medium provides writers with in the Stats page.

Instead, the single metric I judge the quality of a post on is the ratio of Reads to Recommends.

Why?

A couple reasons. A View doesn’t necessarily tell you how compelling your content was. Most times, this metric only quantifies you how enticing your headline was.

A Read is a bit more indicative of a “successful” post, but only tells you so much. It indicates your content was engaging enough for readers to not immediately click out of the article.

A Recommend means your post resonated with readers so much that they felt the need to reciprocate by hitting that green heart.

Most of all, the ratio of Reads to Recommends is directly correlated to how many people read your post and found it valuable, regardless of the size of your audience.


Since this is marketing, I suppose we should shorten the name of this ratio to a buzzword we can all use to sound a little cooler. Let’s call this Read to Recommend ratio the R2R” ratio.

For me, I have found the more niche audience a post is written for, the higher the R2R . For instance, my posts written directly for small business owners and non-millennials had almost twice the R2R when compared to those written for a more generic audience (despite the latter having much more Recommends & Views).

This may be the same case for you too. If it is, I urge you to not stress over Views and Recommends as much as you probably do now.

If you stick to your craft and work your ass off, Reads and Recommends will come with time. In the meantime, judge the “success” of your content by the R2R.

You can always find creative ways to get more eyeballs to view your content (email marketing, repurposing it on blogs, paid amplification, etc.). What you can’t change is the content itself. It either resonates or it doesn’t. Plain and simple.


What have you found most indicative of success on your Medium posts? I would love to hear it in the comments!

If you would like to connect and get more helpful social media marketing tips, then click through and subscribe :)

Next Story — A Medium article title should be long and descriptive
Currently Reading - A Medium article title should be long and descriptive

Your article image should be one to two levels of abstraction from what your article is about. It should be like an image of what the reader might dream about after reading your article. It’s a fantasy. I mean, who uses a typewriter? (Pixabay)

A Medium article title should be long and descriptive

You can even give away the punchline, because otherwise it may not be read

In your first couple of sentences, summarize what you’re about to say. Ideally, what you tell the reader gives them more questions than answers.

We’re already on a new paragraph, because short paragraphs are better. They’re easier to read. About now, we’re expanding upon the above paragraph.

Now, we can go into a longer paragraph. Having a longer paragraph every once in awhile gives you a chance to explain things more to readers who don’t like long paragraphs. If you got them this far, they might read a longer paragraph.


You’ve just presented some kind of counterintuitive way of thinking, but you had to take a break (those three dots above). Some people will tell you you should have a bunch of headers throughout your article, but Hemingway didn’t need headers, so fuck that.

This is the part of the article where you’re tempted to go off on a bunch of tangents – to hedge your point-of-view to save face, or to acknowledge the edge cases. This will weaken your article, so don’t do it. Don’t let your mind’s images of commenters that didn’t read the article or don’t understand economy of words cause you to explain away a bunch of stuff. Your article will get long, and then nobody will read it.

It’s okay if every detail isn’t explained to the nth degree, and it’s okay if someone disagrees with something you say. Disagreement is not law. It’s easy to forget that these days.


About now, the reader is ready for some tactical take-aways, or lessons learned. Yes, Hemingway didn’t need bullets (except in the Army), but you have a lot to say, and you need to wrap it up in about 500 words.

  • Internet readers love bullets. I use them if my article has the tactical take-aways, but I actually like the challenge of writing a wall of text (with a couple three-dot breakers), and trying to use words to get my article read.
  • You don’t want too many. And you don’t want too few. Two bullets: why did you bother with bullets? Seven bullets: now my whole screen is riddled with bullets.
  • The same goes with the length of the explanations you have in your bullets. The above bullets are a just a few lines long. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you want to write multiple paragraphs worth of stuff under one bullet. Good writing is about learning to shut up.

This is the part where everything gets tied up in a bow. Your article — whether it is about the time someone said something filthy to you on the street, or the time you won your middle school’s spelling be — is not about you. It is about your reader, and society at large. As they read the words, they will attach them to their own internal monologue and their own life experiences — and that’s the only way there is a hope they will read the next word.

That, or short paragraphs.

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