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Feeling Uncomfortable: The Way to Create Amazing Content

Jun 12, 2014 6 min readContent Marketing
Photo of Kevan Lee
Kevan Lee

Former VP of Marketing @ Buffer

Copy of Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post (7)

We have dozens of ways to measure a successful blog post or social media update, and I’d imagine you’re familiar with all of them. You can track blog traffic by digging into analytics. You can view engagement data on every update you send. The measurable aspects of an ideal blog post and social update are substantial.

What about the immeasurable elements?

These are the elements that you can’t really quantify, which might be why they don’t receive the same emphasis. It’s hard to pitch a story to an editor based on a feeling you have. It’s easier to point to numbers than to intuition.

This line of thinking extends to our social updates, too. We schedule the posts that we schedule because we’ve got the numbers to justify our strategy. Every now and then we might test, but we’re testing with numbers in mind.

Is this the right way to create amazing content?

Let’s examine another dimension.

The immeasurable elements of an ideal blog post

There are lots of specifics and numbers that go into creating the perfect post, from idea to creation to publishing to tracking. The tangible aspects of blog posts and social media are vast. And then there are those elements that you can’t place a number on.

  • Is the content so good that you’d bring a coworker over to see it?
  • Is the content so good you’d email it to a friend?
  • The Forehead Slap Test: Does the content have a benefit so great that someone might wake up from a deep sleep, slap themselves on the forehead, and exclaim, “Boy, I need that!”
  • Is it actionable?
  • Will the reader learn something new?
  • Do you feel a bit uncomfortable when you publish?
Immeasurable elements of amazing content

HubSpot shared a similar list of immeasurable qualities of a good piece of content. Here are seven traits they mention.

  • Actionable
  • Metaphorical
  • Urgent
  • Visual
  • Solution-based
  • Entertaining
  • Definitive

Each of these are new ways of looking at how you brainstorm, create, publish, and follow up on your content that go beyond tracking numbers and following best practices.

I’d love to dig a little deeper into one particular intangible area we’re working on at the Buffer blog. Here’s a closer look at how we’re learning to practice uncomfortable creativity.

Uncomfortable creativity: The good scary feeling

Purposely trying to feel uncomfortable when you hit publish might sound like a dangerous bit of advice.

Feeling uncomfortable might mean you’ve got something wrong.

It might mean the post isn’t ready.

It might mean the post isn’t right.

But when uncomfortable creativity works best, it means that you have stretched yourself to the edge and you have no idea how what you are about to publish will perform, or how the audience will react.

This is the feeling we’re beginning to chase with some of the posts we publish on the Buffer blog. We’re not aiming to be uncomfortable in the sense that we don’t have our facts straight or aren’t sending out quality work. We want to publish uncomfortably because it faces us in new directions.

So even if it’s nerve-wracking to publish something new, it might just be worth it.

What the experts say about discomfort

Seth Godin knows a thing or two about uncomfortable content. His blog is filled with great advice on pushing boundaries and trying new things. His books are the same way. Poke the Box, for one, is all about creating something new and overcoming the fear and obstacles in the way of getting your product or idea or content out there. I’m bending the purpose of the book slightly because I think so much of what he says applies to this concept of creating uncomfortably.

Here’s one:

If you can’t fail, it doesn’t count.
Seth Godin quote failure

Here’s another:

Like a rock in a flowing river, you might be standing still, but given the movement around you, collisions are inevitable. The irony for the person who prefers no movement is that there’s far less turbulence around the log floating down that same river. It’s moving, it’s changing, but compared to the river around it, it’s relatively calm. The economy demands flux.

Fear is a huge obstacle to creating content. Once the content’s out there, you can’t pull it back. It takes courage and guts to publish online, be it on a blog or even a Twitter post.

In that sense, you might feel uncomfortable every time you publish or post. And that’s perfectly normal. It means you’re doing something meaningful.

Hunter Boyle’s five steps to overcoming fear during the content creation process touch on this concept of discomfort directly. One of his big tips is to break out of your content comfort zone (and wouldn’t you know it, he quotes Seth Godin in the process).

We need to take more risks with our content creation and distribution. … Filling templates with clever headlines that lead to unsatisfying fluff isn’t a model for success. “Failures are most responsible for my success,” Seth Godin said. “We need to do things that are off the grid.” And he’s right (again).

Are you sensing a theme?

Uncomfortable is okay.

The trap of never feeling uncomfortable

Can you build a successful blog by staying in your comfort zone?

I’d imagine that you could. There are formulas for piecing together blog posts that cover the basics, and these blog posts will likely be decent traffic sources. It could even be the case that building a blog from scratch requires that you start with some cookie-cutter pieces. Long-term progress, though, ultimately takes you somewhere else.

I think about this a lot with the content we produce at Buffer. When you write about social media marketing, it’s quite easy to focus on advice and statistics. Those posts can be incredible resources, and I don’t necessarily feel uncomfortable when I’m hitting publish. It’s great to gain inspiration from others and share that knowledge.

But we also seek to add to that knowledge. To improve. To press the envelope in such a way that a comfortable idea is sprinkled with a bit of something new along the way. I’m sure we fail with this often—and that’s OK. It might even be a crucial element of getting uncomfortable.

There are many different ways to feel uncomfortable

I don’t mean to promote the idea that publishing a blog post should set off a red scare each and every time. There are many ways to feel uncomfortable. Ground-breaking, never-tried-before ideas aren’t the only way to feel uncomfortable. The feeling can come from any number of elements, big or small.

I feel uncomfortable each and every time I publish a post with an original image I created.

I feel uncomfortable making SlideShare decks.

I feel uncomfortable sharing stories about my failures.

I feel uncomfortable when I write certain headlines. (Like a headline about Skrillex, for instance.)

And the list goes on. When we’re striving to create something new, there are scores of ways to feel a bit unsure about how things will go. It can be big ideas or tiny details. If it’s new and unproven and challenging and hard, it might just feel uncomfortable.

We often find ourselves saying, “We have no idea if this is going to work. Let’s try it!”

That’s uncomfortable creativity in a nutshell.

How to tell if you’re headed toward uncomfortable creativity

Whenever you’re dealing with intangible ideas like this, it’s sometimes tough to tell if you’re headed in the right direction.

There are, however, a few signs that you’re on the path to uncomfortable creativity. Try thinking about your content with these factors in mind:

  • If it scares you a little to hit publish
  • If what you’ve created makes you feel vulnerable
  • If there’s a chance you might fail
  • If your content could be misunderstood
  • If your content is something new and never-seen-before
  • If you can’t shake a bold idea—if it stays with you for days or weeks

Of course, it may take some practice to get to a place of discomfort and vulnerability. Can you create a habit of getting out of your comfort zone? I think so.

Try new things. Take an improv class. Sign up for trapeze lessons. Write something you’ve never tried before. Draw a picture, even if you’re no artist. Stretching yourself in new and exciting directions on a regular basis could have the carryover effect of stretching your content in new ways, too.

And when you do, everyone benefits—you and your audience.

Now I’ll turn it over to you. What does uncomfortable creativity look like for your content process? In what ways have you pushed to be better, stronger, and more courageous with what you produce?

I’d love to hear your ideas! Feel free to share them here in the comments.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like The Skrillex Way of Content: Build and Drop for Better Blog Balance and The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post: The Data on Headlines, Length, Images, and More.

Image credit: Jason Michael

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