Most of us are content to learn a great deal about what's happening in our industry, but is that causing a blockage when it comes to writing?
When we go into the depths of writer's block, we find that you need cross pollination not only across industry, but across styles as well as media such as video, audio and text. Find out how a lack of cross pollination could be causing your writing to freeze up.
2) The Scarcity of Input
If you look at my watercolour palette, you'll notice an astonishingly messy array of shades.
And yet, I use only seven core colours to create most of my watercolours. Those colours are purple, yellow ochre, yellow, ultramarine blue, black, green and cadmium red. Why are there so many colours in the palette, if all I'm using is just seven of them?
The Answer is: Backup
If you look closely, you'll notice that the rest of the colours are similar or almost identical to the primary seven. There are two reds, two oranges, two yellows, more yellow ochre, blues, greens etc. In short, instead of carting the tubes along wherever I go, I have loads of backup colours.
When I mix the backup colours. e.g., red and yellow, I get orange. When I combine green and red, with a touch of blue, I get black. Without that backup in place, I'd be quite stuck while on the road.
A similar backup situation applies to article writing as well, and it's called input
A lot of people who aspire to be writers know they have to read or listen to an audio, but it's how you go about this input exercise that matters. And how much of it you do, as well as how much you file away for later use. But first, let's start with how you go about getting the input.
I'd suggest three different ways to get input:
A) Subject matter
B) Cross pollination
C) Discussion and feedback
A) Subject Matter is Exactly as it Sounds
If you're into dental marketing, you're going to need to read loads of stuff related to your industry. Whether you're into growing tomatoes, talking about retirement, helping clients with their moorings or a sound expert, you're going to have to steep yourself in the subject matter of your industry.
When I was the junior-most copywriter in the agency, I'd head over to the agency library, and I'd pick up these five kilos (10 lb) books called The One Show. I'd spend hours poring through all the ads and try and deconstruct the flow, the headlines and how and why they were successful.
When I got deeper into graphic design, I'd wade through graphic books. And the same applied to cartooning or web design, and marketing. If you don't want to feel like the fool on the hill, you're going to do what any sensible person does—which is to read material about your industry.
However, that's just one form of input, because the second is probably just as, if not more important.
B) Cross Pollination is Critical for Creativity
Yesterday, I was reading on about retail brands. Casper, for instance, is a mattress company. The Barbie doll is a toy which is also a retail product. Most of the clients we deal with aren't necessarily retail-oriented, so why read about something that's so far removed from the business?
Ideas from other industries help in cross pollination. From Casper and Barbie, I was able to piece together a method to create not just a brand, but a movement. For instance, Casper was completely unknown in 2014.
In 2018, they're a $750 million brand. Barbie ruled the roost for decades, and now mothers are actively avoiding buying the doll for their daughters. What's happening? Why is it happening? And how do those lessons apply to clients that might be more interested in article writing, or creating information products and running a website?
I found some pretty precise answers, but I didn't go looking for them
And that's the reaction you're going to have as well. You may not know how Barbie is going to help your dental marketing or why a mattress company like Casper is worth considering.
Even so, reading about a whole bunch of stuff, or listening to it (which I do a lot of) makes a huge difference in the way you see the world. Termites, volcanoes, frozen custard, Hokusai's The Great Wave—they all make a massive difference to your creativity and hence your writing.
When you think of creativity you think of someone or something that borders on genius
And yet it's nothing more than two seemingly non-connected ideas put together that create something magical. Pretty much like red and green creating black—that's creative, isn't it?
But that's how your input needs to be fostered. If you slip into reading about nothing but your industry, you'll become a boring writer. But nose around Barbie's history and mix it a bit with your coconut oil story and watch readers love your work, instead.
Cross-pollination applies not just to subject matter but also media and style
You want to listen to audio, video, as well as read books. People who aren't fans of audio wait for the opportunity to read, and if you take a typical busy day, there's not a lot of time to learn.
Whether you're a fan of audio or not, you can't ignore the enormous potential. You're waiting in a queue for something, and the audio educates you. Instead of listening to the endless, boring banter at the hairdresser, you're listening to a podcast that's funny and learning how to craft humour, just by listening.
I've run into people who say they can't remember what they hear on audio. And it doesn't matter. You listen to people speaking all day, and you get information from them without needing a transcript.
The same applies to audio
If you're serious about becoming a better writer, you'll put on your headphones, put on a podcast and get some much-wanted exercise. But more importantly, you'll cross-pollinate. The information that goes into your head through the medium of audio is different from video or text.
You may, or may not get time to watch a video or read, but there are at least a dozen opportunities for audio. No one is saying you should not listen to the birds tweeting on your walk, but let's get one thing straight.
The reason why people are average writers is because they're not willing to get out of their comfort zone. If you'd like to dawdle in the land of the average, it's okay to stay within your comfort zone.
However, if you're keen to become really good, you'll have to overcome the frustration you feel with audio and video and listen anyway—in addition to reading.
Finally, a writing style also requires cross pollination
When you first start out as a writer, you're likely to feel like a clone. And it's because your structure and your words are as a result of some teaching system or formula. Or it's likely that you've followed a writer's work for a while and you're now sounding and feeling like a bit of an impostor. This impostor syndrome feels like you're just copy, without a personal style.
However your own style is not that far away. And usually the process is sped up when you cross-pollinate the writers you read and the speakers you listen to. If you were to consider a podcast. Let's say you listen to the Three Month Vacation podcast a lot.
There's a certain style and structure to it. If you listened long enough, that style becomes a part of you. However if you were to add a second podcast along the way, a bit of that style creeps into your being as well. Add a third, a fourth and a fifth, and a sort of metamorphosis starts to take place in the way you express yourself. You haven't changed much consciously, but there's still a change in your work.
The same applies to reading
When you dig deep into one person's style, you get an insight that doesn't come with bouncing around from one author to another. Style needs a bit of monogamy for at least a while before you go out and find another writer to love.
Burrow deep into one writer, one speaker for a while and then add the second and the third and possibly the fourth and fifth. To get faster traction, you're better off not exceeding four-five at at a time. If you do, all you have is overload and your brain doesn't get the opportunity to tease out the style and structure of the writers and speakers.
The best part is you don't have to do much. Your job is to read or listen, not even to necessarily make notes. Over time the brain figures out the patterns, and when you write, you'll notice a difference. That difference won't be apparent right away, but write for a year and look back, and there's bound to be a clear evolution in your style.
And that's cross-pollination for you in a nutshell
Cross-pollination of industries and ideas, which means reading about Barbie and Casper mattresses or listening about the shadow puppet of Bima and Hokusai's The Great Wave. And cross-pollination involves reading, watching and listening.
You may not always have time to watch and read, but listening offers endless opportunity every single day. Finally, cross-pollination is also about style. A style develops when you read or listen to different authors or speakers, but drink deeply from one for a while, before taking on the second, the third, fourth and fifth.
We've covered two aspects of Input so far
Preparation and cross-pollination. Our epic journey extends to the third part: discussion and feedback. What has discussion or feedback have to do with preparing yourself for an article? And who are you discussing your material with on a day to day basis?
Let's find out in the next episode.