Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Your New Year's Resolution for 2012: Write!

Is it a little late to make a New Year's resolution? By the first week of February, most of us are already well on our way to breaking our promises to lose weight, quit smoking or get out of debt, but here's a resolution you can and should keep: Write. Religiously. Every week. Starting right now.

I would recommend that you blog, but if (for now) you lack the confidence to share your ideas and observations with the world, start by writing for yourself. Select a topic--I'd recommend a professional one, but you can choose any topic in which you have passion and curiosity--and commit to capture your thoughts every single week.

A young peer recently asked me if I would recommend returning to school for her MBA. I was surprised by the question but more surprised by my answer. I told her I thought she would get more personal and professional benefits if she committed that same time every week to read and comment on others' blogs, watch TED Talks, keep up with news, develop her ideas in a blog and build a network. Since then I have questioned if dismissing education was really the right call, but this soul searching has left me even more convinced that I have gained more through writing this blog than I ever could sitting in a classroom.

Writing was not an easy habit at first, but now it has become so essential that in those periods when I have trouble finding time to write, I become uneasy. The ideas start piling up. I begin to capture them in snippets of text that I email myself. I can actually begin to lose sleep because I lay in bed composing in my mind the blog posts I am not producing. It is not rare for me to wake from a fitful sleep with a developed line of thought, head directly to my PC and furiously type before I lose the idea and perspective. (As with most dreams, sometimes those ideas stand up but other times they melt under the morning light.)

Do I sound like an addict? Perhaps, but there are worst things than being addicted to a habit that leaves you empowered, educated and improved. I have experienced strong and demonstrable benefits because of my work on Experience: The Blog. Here are the ways you might benefit by making a commitment to write regularly:
  • Reaffirm and strengthen the ideas you bring into the world: The process of blogging forces me to take an idea that I think is fully developed and discover the holes--and trust me, some of your strongest beliefs begin to look awfully shaky as you convert a string of ideas into a cohesive viewpoint. As I compose a blog post to convince others of my perspective, I must first convince myself. I do this by filling in the blanks, taking time to conduct research and citing links that substantiate my arguments. Once the blog post is fully baked, it not only becomes a piece of content for my blog but also a fervently held principle in my brain--one I can call upon in meetings, when I am presenting or when developing strategies on the job.
  • Discredit ideas before someone discredits them for you: You know those scenes in old movies when the frustrated writer rips a sheet of paper from his or her typewriter and tosses it into a pile of crumbled ideas around the wastebasket? Well, that happens in real life, too. For every four blog posts I publish, I begin and discard one more. I frequently find that something I believed to be a solid and thorough concept is really just a bundle of random notions. Sometimes, I even discredit my own hypothesis--the opinion I was certain would change others' minds is so flimsy it fails to convince even me. There is true value in destroying your own ideas; better you do it while writing alone then have someone else do it for you.
  • Develop a point of view: We recognize that brands are strengthened not when they are all things to all people but when they focus on one important and meaningful perspective for one important and meaningful audience. Writing helps you focus your thinking in a way that develops your personal brand. When you write--particularly when you blog for others--you begin to think about who you want to read your content and what you want them to think and do. As I have focused my blog's topics, I have also been focusing my thinking and developing a point of view. My blog and my audience force a discipline in the things I read, research and think that I otherwise may lack.
  • Improve your writing: This benefit is obvious: the more you write, the better you write. I hesitate to say this because you may be thinking, "But Augie, you suffer from run-on sentences, passive voice and just misused the colon in the last sentence." All may be true, but I have come to realize that people inflate the fear of grammar but too often discount the fear of weak thinking. In the midst of a strong and persuasive argument, most will overlook (and not even notice) a missing comma or dropped preposition, but the best grammar in the world cannot save a weak idea. I can look back at my early blog posts and easily recognize the ways my writing and proofreading have improved. Any embarrassment I may feel about my past writing skills is more than compensated by the realization I'd still be stuck at that level had I not started and committed to my blog.
  • Build a network around ideas: The world is full of curators; millions of Twitterers share links to interesting articles and blog posts. Curating is valuable service, to be sure, but without creators, there would be nothing for curators to curate. At this stage in social media development, it is no longer easy to develop a following by curating--too many people share too many of the same links--but the world can always use more creators. Creators are the people who stop (or decrease) social media from merely being an echo chamber, and creators also earn the most attention. There is no more powerful way to bring attention to you and build an engaged network than by giving others content and ideas to think about, to react to or that they can share with others.
  • Create your own database of news and statistics: Ever have the experience of vaguely recalling an interesting statistic or survey but being unable to locate the content when you need it? Blogging is a great way to create your own personal database of the content you want to find again in the future. If I find interesting data or the results of a pertinent study, I write about it and link to it, and that means I can always find it by returning to my own blog. Take my last blog post, "Eight Ways Social Business and Mobile Tech are Changing Your Business": That one blog post contains 39 links; as a result, I will never have to waste time searching for the study that found teens sometimes opt to meet friends online rather than drive to meet them in real life. Whenever I need a data point for a deck I'm compiling, I will often use the search engine on my blog rather than go to Google--my blog has better and more helpful results (at least as far as I'm concerned). 

So now you know my secret--I write as much for myself as I do for you. Of course, if you and others didn't get value from my content, then this would be an unvisited and unread online diary and not a blog. 

I wish the same benefits for you. The process of reading others' content, developing your own ideas, legitimizing your point of view and connecting with others is its own reward. 

I hope many of my blog posts change minds, at least a little, but nothing would make me happier than to have someone thank me a year for now for encouraging them to write, share and connect in 2012. You may not get thousands of readers right off the bat, but there are people who are waiting to hear your voice. Do not disappoint them--or you. 

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