I don’t like quitting. Keeping my word to myself has been the single most important factor in changing my life and living my dreams. Now, why would I give up on a 30 days writing challenge that I had planned for months and that was one of my main quarterly goals?
As soon as on day 6 of the 30 day challenge to ship one article per day, I decided that the framework was not for me.
The challenge was designed to overcome writer’s block (which I had), work on your fear of publishing (which I had not) and start building a daily writing habit (which I wanted).
I did not quit because I had problems with publishing a daily article – in fact, it was way too easy. That is why I quit.
The thing is: I realised that I was rewriting ideas that already existed – and even worse ideas that were pretty well known in the startup and marketing space.
Writing these short mini essays was easy for me – a quick and dirty summary of a concept that I knew well and loved – hit publish and move on to the next thing. Better done than perfect, right? It is all about getting in the habit of shipping – or is that true?
I realised that what I was writing was okay, maybe even above average – but dull, unoriginal and uninspiring. There was no intellectual property in my writing, no tension, no story arch or character development.
In short, I was writing level 1 content. What I was aiming for was really level 3 of story telling. But I didn’t realise that until day 6. Let me explain.
The 3 phases of story-telling are a concept I learnt from Jay Acunzo from the Unthinkable podcast. The phases all use tension to create a powerful story. Let’s dive in:
Phase 1: Your are curating content. You write tips articles, how-to guides and listicles. The articles are good but plain. They don’t stick. You never become your reader’s favourite author: They forget you after getting the information they needed.
But just as the differences between an exquisite menu and a boring meal are the quality of ingredients, spices and textures, so are the differences between a good how-to article and meaningful thought leadership content. Your articles need a twist, great umami and tension.
Phase 2: You make tension the center of your story. Your articles are structured like this: Status quo – tension – resolution. According to Jay, these stories are way more exciting then phase 1 stories, however, they become predictable and always seem to conclude with a happy-end.
Think RomCom plots where two people fall in love, break up half way into the film but magically end up happily ever after in the final scene. Smiles, sunshine and sparkles. The complexity of human relationships, intimacy and making it work are never really captured.
Phase 3: Messing with tension – here is were things get interesting! Jay describes it a as fluid and dynamic. The story captures ups and downs, twists and turns, questions, answers and realising that this wasn’t the answer.
Metaphors, examples, anecdotes, open loops and hooks are the tools for creating a phase 3 story. We introduce secondary storylines and characters. The certainty of phase 2 fades. Instead of simple “yes” or “no” answers, we get a lot more “maybe”s and the invitation to the reader to make up their own mind on complex topics.
Jay uses Anthony Bourdain”s travel show as an example for level 3 story telling. I (years late to the party) just became a fan of it recently. Why? Because it leaves us with more questions than answers. The show does not give us any certainty about how a country is.
Now, keeping the 3 phases in mind, I really could not bring myself to keep publishing level 1 and 2 content. The internet is already too full with that. Plus these pieces would not serve my goal to start a conversation, meet interesting people on the internet and explore the questions that I was deeply passionate about.
So, I had to quit. It was a reminder to self: Don’t just ship anything – ship what matters.
Instead of implementing a daily writing practice, the challenge sent me back to the drawing board: What are my topics? What is my unique angle? How can I wrap my learnings into new concepts? How can I merge ideas from different genres into something new?
I basically came back to the teachings of David Perrell. Instead of a quick essay every day, he teaches how to collect information, connect far away dots, test our ideas in conversation and refine them until they are a master piece.
Stay tuned on this blog!