Have you ever gotten an email from a reader who said your writing changed their life?
How about other bloggers? Are they still talking about a particular post years after you published it?
Or is it the opposite?
Visitors just seem to come and go, never commenting, never linking, never sharing, just quickly scanning your posts and then moving on, forgetting about you forever.
If that’s the boat you’re in, I certainly sympathize, but brace yourself, because what I’m about to say will be painful:
You’re not trying hard enough.
Yes, I know those are impossibly high standards. Yes, I know it takes everyone time to learn their craft. Yes, I know there are only a few dozen bloggers in the world who can answer yes to both of those questions.
But if you started a blog and have been blogging for a year or two, and you still can’t answer yes to either of them, then Houston, we have a problem.
Fortunately, it’s a problem we can fix. Let’s start by going back to where it all started.
Visions of Awesomeness
Remember when you were little and your teacher asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Your hand shot up and you answered excitedly, I want to be an astronaut and fly a rocket to the moon! Or I want to be a ballerina and dance The Nutcracker! Or a want to be a fireman and save lives!
You imagined a really grand vision for yourself didn’t you?
You were the great explorer. The famous artist. The hero.
You wanted to be awesome, right?
So that one day you could strike that superhero pose up there on that mountaintop, red cape billowing in the breeze. Basking in the glow of heavenly golden light as the gods shower their praise down upon you for saving the world from mediocrity.
But then something happened…(cue ominous music)
The Curse Of Competence
When you first dreamed of becoming a writer, I’m betting you weren’t longing to become a highly competent copywriter for some big corporation where your work could remain totally anonymous for all time, now did you?
But somewhere along the way you “grew up,” traded in your childish dreams of awesomeness and settled for something…well, a little more realistic: a job that still utilized your “skillset” and allowed you to live close to the dream.
It was just someone else’s dream you were now supporting.
But you did establish yourself a solid reputation.
Competent. Reliable… Forgettable.
The Power Of Unrealistic Expectations
Fortunately for the rest of humanity, there have always been those throughout history who were a little less “realistic” about their own potential. Through every example of their remarkable work they held up a mirror and showed us what we are truly capable of.
See if you can answer the following:
Mark Twain’s classic book, The Adventures of Huckleberry ___________
Created the most famous amusement park in the world around a cast of animated characters we have known and loved for years: ______________
Sculpted The Statue Of David_________________
Is it possible you could have taken more than a half second to answer any of the above? Highly unlikely, right?
They created art that has touched the hearts and souls of countless millions and continues to resonate across the generations.
Art that represents the zenith of our human potential.
Art that is timeless.
Now Let’s Talk About Your Blog
I know, it seems almost scandalous to utter that word in the same breath as Michaelangelo, right?
‘But wait a minute,’ you say.
‘You’re comparing a blog to serious art? Like a fine piece of music or a classic painting or fine literature? Seriously? That’s not even fair.’
‘I just wanted to rant about my overealous devotion to ham radio operators. Isn’t that where this whole blogging thing began? As a way to express myself online? Who said anything about art?’
Want to know why no one cares about your blog?
Ummm, it’s about those ham radio operators. (cue crickets)
Want to be remembered?
Of course, there’s one little problem:
That Four Letter “F” Word That’s F^*#ing Up Your Art
Here it comes. The four letter word…(cue the scary music again)
More specifically, the fear of rejection.
You either conquer this beast or it will paralyze you.
You think you’ve felt the sting of rejection?
Try this on for size.
Stephen King has sold over 350 million copies of his bone chilling horror stories. But he wasn’t exactly an overnight success.
He began submitting articles to magazines at a very young age to try to make money for his family. And he would post every rejection letter on the wall with a nail. He didn’t actually get published until he was 20.
“By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”
Then he wrote Carrie and the rest is history.
Walt Disney was rejected for funding the building of Disneyland more than 500 times! Imagine striking out that many times and still believing in the dream so fiercely that you step up to the plate one more time and knock it out of the park?
Jimi Hendrix toured the country playing gig after gig where no one got his act. They thought he was a freak.
Even after he was introduced to major industry executives who could have made his career right then and there, they still rejected him saying they didn’t like his music and his act was too far out.
Jimi Hendrix had to move all the way across the ocean to London before he finally found his audience.
Think you can hang out like that in total obscurity and keep on keeping on. Carry that weight?
Ah, I see some hands going up out there in the audience. You say you choose to be awesome? You can hang? Excellent. Jon salutes your choice.
Now you have to do the work.
The Rennaissance Will Not Be Televised
You’re smart. You’re savvy (Hey, you’re reading Smart Blogger right?). You’ve spent countless hours researching your niche. Learning from the masters in your field by reading their blogs and books. Maybe taking their online courses. Figuring out how you will carve out your own unique niche.
Gold star for doing your homework.
But guess what?
If you want to become someone who creates timeless art you’re going to have to actually get off your ass and start doing something.
Less Squawking, More Painting
At some point you have to conclude your research. Stop reading other people’s work and start considering your own voice. Your art.
That means you have to stop squawking like a parrot, regurgitating and retweeting someone else’s powerful words over and over again under the guise that these are your original thoughts.
Because that other person? The originator of that content? She’s getting all the real recognition.
Authenticity: The Secret Sauce Of Timeless Art
There is no recipe for creating timeless art. Many elements have to come together. But you can say that most timeless art has certain things in common. One of the key elements is authenticity.
Think about those artists from that list above. Their work is instantly recognizable when you see it or hear it or read it. It’s totally authentic.
If you’re ever going to even have a shot at timelessness, you’re going to have to produce an authentic thought of your own.
But what exactly does that mean, authentic?
And where can I find it?
In my studio, there’s a framed poster on my desk that fuels my imagination and speaks directly to this question. It’s from acclaimed filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Listen closely to Jimi Hendrix. You can hear the influences. Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Little Richard, and many more. But no one sounds like Jimi Hendrix. There is only one.
Now, you’re going to have to actually do this thing.
That means stare down that blank sheet of paper (OK, your computer screen), take a deep breath and start writing your own very crazy idea that doesn’t sound like any of those other guys.
It will probably suck at first. How will you make it better?
Read this post by Brian Clark.
Is there a message here? Yes, here it is:
YOU HAVE TO WRITE A SHITLOAD IF YOU EVER WANT TO GET GOOD AT IT! YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! AND THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO GREATNESS!
Wave Your Freak Flag High
The weirder it starts to look (the more it resembles nothing else out there), the more your lizard brain screams that you have to shut this insane idea down now or you’re going to die from exposure to deadly predators.
That’s when you have to dig in deep and keep going, riddled with fear and panic that this idea could absolutely fail.
That’s right. This might not work out for you.
And guess what? It’s OK if it doesn’t. You’ll do it again. Only better the next time.
But only if you…
Ship Or Get Off The Pot.
If you ever want a shot at worldwide recognition you have to begin by putting your work out there where people can find it and interact with it.
And you’re not going to have anyone else to blame for this. You own it. Unbelievable as it may sound, your work could actually succeed too. It might just resonate with an audience.
There’s only one way to find out.
(Yes, that means you actually have to hit the Publish button.)
Do You Want To Change The World?
Think about those artists mentioned above for a minute.
They seem somehow different from you and me, don’t they? Their vision was a bit more grand. You don’t get the impression they spent much time waxing poetic about ham radio operators, do you?
Each of them changed the world in their own unique way.
So maybe the real question to ask here is how about you?
There are maybe a tiny handful of creators out there today who are even bold enough to attempt to elevate blogging to the standard of high art. Here is a short list. You’ll probably have your own favorites (feel free to list them in the comments).
Seth Godin: aka His Sethness
If blogging had a Mount Olympus then Seth Godin would likely play Zeus. Anyone whose name elicits a “Duh?” response for seemingly stating the obvious here, deserves their place on the throne. So let’s move on and talk about some of the demi-gods who are changing the new world.
Hugh MacLeod: The Gary Larson Of The Blogosphere
Hugh MacLeod started out creating brilliant cartoons with witty captions on the back of business cards. He now creates inspirational art for businesses and sells his works online as prints and T-shirts.
Back in 2004, he offered a free download called How To Be Creative, a conglomeration of posts from his blog, Gaping Void. That post ultimately became a bestselling book, Ignore Everybody. It got downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, which showed us a couple of key insights.
1. There were a whole lot of people in the world very interested in how to assert their creativity.
2. Blogging as an artform had the power to influence a global audience.
Jon Morrow: or How To Blog Like Waldo
Jon Morrow is another one of those rare writers who approaches blogging like Emerson approached writing essays. In other words, everything he publishes is written as though it will be viewed through the lens of history.
His insanely popular post, On Dying, Mothers and Fighting For Your Ideas was a blogging tour de force. It’s an article you could have read in The New Yorker or Vanity Fair. It was that well written and pointed to the possibilities of blogging as an artform to be reckoned with.
Leo Babauta: The Yoda Of The Digital Universe
Leo Babauta at Zen Habits has over a million readers. Here’s why: He offers down to earth, straight ahead advice on how to live more simply in a complicated world.
Leo’s writing, like his website, is stark, clean and powerful art. It reminds you of Picasso’s line drawings.
Sonia Simone: The Grand Matriarch Of Online Marketing
Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone has an uncanny ability to see the entire online marketing playing field and spin it into clever stories that inspire and educate all the various tribes at the same time.
She taught us a valuable lesson in a post called Is Your Tribe Holding You Down? That two tribes (the Cool Kids and the IMers) can have totally opposing views on the same subject (online marketing). Yet each has valuable secrets the other could benefit from. It was a bit like West Side Story for online marketing.
From this post, she formed the Third Tribe, an awesome community that melds together the greatest ideas from each of those tribes.
Brian Clark: The Bill Gates Of Content Marketing
Copyblogger founder, Brian Clark disguises a highly successful software company as an insanely helpful blog to copywriters and content marketers. He also wrote a really important little post himself.
His very short and seriously awesome infographic, 10 Steps To Becoming A Better Writer should be required by law to be posted on the walls of every single person who ever chose to call themselves a writer.
In short, it’s the secret to becoming a great writer. If you haven’t read it, I don’t want to give away the secret. Click on the link. Then print it.
These are but a few people who are changing the new world today. Who have turned blogging into an artform. Maybe it’s too soon to call their work timeless. Blogging isn’t old enough yet. But we can always recognize awesome art.
And where there’s great art there is commerce.
You Can’t Touch This!
Did you ever wonder why the super rich buy priceless artwork? Why that hedge fund manager who always dreamed of playing music keeps that broken Jimi Hendrix guitar and other memorabilia in a sealed glass case?
It’s not the investment.
Oh sure, their net worth will increase. But the truth is that what they really want is to get a little closer to the dream they could never achieve. To touch the hand of the creator themselves.
Because the real power lies with the artist.
Always remember that.
The Difference Between Timeless And Anonymous
Want to know what really separates those iconic figures from you?
No, it isn’t some God given talent they were born with that you’ll never possess. It’s not the benefit of a privileged family connection that started them off with some advantage you’ll never have.
It’s having the tenacity and perseverance to wake up day after day, year after year sometimes (more often than most would care to admit), staring into the vacuum of uncertainty and rejection.
And then sitting down again to do the hard work of honing your craft to mastery because you believe in yourself and your art fiercely enough to keep pushing forward when there’s no one cheering you on.
The Myth Of Awesomeness
Even after you’ve finally committed yourself to get up there and swing for the fences with your art, the truth is you’re going to strike out a lot. You’ll certainly score some runs. The occasional double. And a lot of foul balls.
The truth is you may only achieve awesomeness once or twice in your whole life if you’re lucky. But if it’s the real genie, that’s all you’ll ever need to do.
That’s the grand slam.
J.K. Rowling could tell you a thing or two about being awesome only once. When she gave birth to Harry Potter.
That’s what we’re after here, right?
Choose Awesomeness. The World Needs You.
People don’t set out to become timeless artists. You have no say in that matter anyway. History alone will decide that.
But you can choose awesomeness.
You can choose to blow people’s minds. You can choose to show us the limitless possibility of our human potential, reflected in your awesome work.
And as strange as it may sound, your crazy idea may be the one story the world has been waiting a lifetime to hear.
And if it feels a bit lonely out there in obscurity right now, know that you’re in good company. Every great artist the world has ever known has stood there before you.
Go ahead. Hit that Publish button and stand proud.
The sun is shining and the wind feels right.
Seems like a great day to fly that red cape!