Fire in the Firehose

When I see a tweet with a title like 21 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue I want to run screaming. As if we need any more clueless content clogging the Internet firehose. There’s a reason “curation” appears to be the fastest-growing meme on the net right now.

But since it came from a reasonably credible source, I was curious why anyone would promote such a concept. The article starts off with this:

Sometimes you’re just flat out of ideas.

It’s not a matter of talent — you’ve written great stuff in the past. But lately, when you go back to the well for a fresh idea, it’s coming up dry.

This happens to the best of us — even veterans who consistently produce quality content have their off days.

Yet they continue to write.

They may grumble about how hard it is to get going and create something solid, but they still do. Again, and again, and again.

They aren’t super-human, and they don’t have magical content-producing powers. So what is the secret?

They do it by pulling out the well-worn toolbox of strategies for creating awesome content.

And then it goes on to list 21 (actually 22 with the bonus) strategies for overcoming the creative dry heaves by following tried-and-true formulas for creating new content.

I wanted to cry.

Not because it isn’t a real problem. Or because some writers wouldn’t sell their soul for a solution.

But because reaching for some tried-and-true formula is akin to inviting a fleet of Dementors to suck out your creative soul (if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, you should be — it’s hard to imagine J.K. Rowling having writers block).

One of my other all-time favorite authors, Robert Pirsig, had some very choice words about this creative dilemma in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. From Chapter 16:

As a result of [Pirsig’s] experiments he concluded that imitation was a real evil that had to be broken before real rhetoric teaching could begin. This imitation seemed to be an external compulsion. Little children didn’t have it. It seemed to come later on, possibly as a result of school itself.

In sum: if you can’t think of something original and valuable to say, put down the pen. Take a nap. Take a hike. Take a different job. But for God’s sake don’t try to manufacture “content” that isn’t burning a hole inside of you to get out.

Insist on fire in the firehose. The world will be a brighter place.


About Drummond Reed

Internet entrepreneur in identity, personal data, and governance frameworks
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2 Responses to Fire in the Firehose

  1. Hi Drummond, thank you for the thoughtful post. I agree with you that ideally, when you’re out of ideas, you should go and do something else until you have that fire back. That’s was the point of the bonus strategy – write when you *do* have ideas.

    We don’t always have that luxury, though. If you write as part of your profession, and there are timelines and deadlines involved, then sometimes we are faced with a situation that compels us to write even when we’re stuck.

    Does that make sense?

    • Danny, yes, it does make sense. Forgive me, I shouldn’t have been so hard on your article, which was well reasoned and well written. It was my way of venting against the nature of work that puts people in situations where they MUST write, when it fact that’s typically a formula for…well, formulaic writing.

      It’s the reason that so few periodical columnists can routinely consistently great material. It’s rare for first-rate ideas to surface at such regular intervals.

      But what I’m really rallying against is when the problem by many millions of bloggers and tweeters who feel obliged to post regularly even if they don’t have something worth saying. An ethic of “self-curation” on the net could go a long ways to helping raise the quality of content everywhere.

      (As an aside, it wasn’t until I saw your sig on your comment that I realized why the “fire in the firehose” metaphor had surfaced in my subconscious. I honestly didn’t realize you were called Firepole Marketing. Great name.)

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