How much how-to?

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

I know that the go-to strategy for content these days — especially for creative freelancers — is to teach. To create endless how-to’s on your thing. To see your content as a huge Q&A library.

I want to challenge that right now. (Should be fun, anyways.)

Although I’ve put exactly zero research into this (I’m no marketing scientist by any means), I think that the online closet of how-to is about full. There’s not a lot of room left in that area of the internet. I can go to Skillshare, Udemy, CreativeLive, or a number of others to get a highly produced, cheap (sometimes free) comprehensive lesson plan on how to do virtually anything I want.

A fresh idea for content: Stop teaching how you do the thing and show us what you do with the thing.

Sure, give us some pointers every now and then. But I’d rather see you demonstrate your skill rather than teach it.

Take Casey Neistat for example. He totally could have started his career by posting how-to’s on filmmaking. And he probably would have done well. But, what did he do?

He made awesome videos. Scrappy, DIY (but super well done) stories that chronicled his mundane life (which has gotten less mundane in recent years) told in a way that no one else was telling them.

Now, he’s one of the world’s most sought-after filmmakers in his genre — yes, YouTube vlogging is now a genre, if you haven’t noticed. (And if he were to host a YouTubing class, it would be sold out in seconds.)


Because he lives his craft. He demonstrates it. Yes, he throws out useful camera reviews and tricks of the trade on occasion. But it’s a small subset of his work.

Tre L. Loadholt is a poet. She’s THE poet of Medium. No one else even comes close. I don’t see her spending time writing endless poetry hacks and how-to’s (thankfully). She’s doing the thing, not just writing about the thing. She’s both artist and expert (well done, Tre).

Demonstrate your skill. Show us your work. And then tell us how to do it. If you want.

Just know that teaching isn’t the only option. What we really want is to see your magic.

That’s what’s going to inspire us.

You can find more of Jonas’ work over at at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at

Multipotentialite Showcase: Jacob Witzling

I wrote the other day about my new realization that I am, in fact, a multipotentialite (someone with a lot of different interests and the inability to specialize no matter how hard I try). And I got a lot of emails from folks who resonated.

So I’m kinda geeked out over this discovery right now. This means that, whenever I see someone in my boat, I get a little giddy (because solidarity, right?).

Well, I want to take a sec to honor another multipotentialite because he did something particularly bold as far as online-persona-type-stuff goes.

Let me say now that most of my Insta feed consists of #cabinporn. I love cabin porn so much. I’m a fiend.

That’s when I ran across one of Jacob’s photos. I clicked through to see the rest of his work and noticed that he had quite a following (107k followers, currently). Although his page is chock full of some of the best cabin porn I’ve ever seen, that’s not what really stood out.

What stood out was how he worded his profile…


‘Cabin builder and 2nd-grade teacher.’

The first part of it — the cabin builder part — is obvious. But he totally flaunts the fact that he has a day job doing something totally unrelated to cabin building.

This flies in the face of traditional internet marketing/brand-building wisdom and I love it. I don’t know about you, but I was taught that, in order to grow a following, you had to dig into a certain niche in order to be an ‘authority’ in that particular area. This also means, no going outside that boundary.

But he’s like — yeah, I love building awesome cabins plus my day job is pretty great too. He could have left the teacher part out and gone all-in on the cabin builder side. No one would have blamed him (most wouldn’t have known the wiser). They would have seen his Instagram page and asked themselves, wow, how do I do what he does and make a full-time living as a cabin pornographer?

And they would have been fooled. Because Jacob has a job that (maybe?) supports his passion. He fully owned and flaunted his multipotentiality.

And that, I think, is commendable.

Rock on, Jacob. Rock on, multipotentialites. Own your random lives, flaunt that day job, and thrive as only you can.

P.S. If any great photographers/sponsors are reading this, I’d love for you to partner with/hire me to help with your cabin pornography efforts. Not to take the photos (although I do take pretty mean iPhone shots), but I could write really sexy stories and descriptions of cabins that other cabin porn addicts might get all aroused by. Just putting that out there.


I am a multipotentialite

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Conventional internet wisdom (yes, we’re making this a thing) tells us to find a niche. I’ve even touted this sentiment myself. However, I think I’ve fallen into the same misunderstanding that many others have, which is that this notion means that we must all be specialists.

Come to find out, that’s not it at all (more on this in a sec).

However, in my previous ignorance, I jumped into the shoes of one specialty after another trying to find the right fit. I went all-in on being one thing. And then the other thing. And then…

As soon as one started to feel comfy in one pair of shoes, I’d get… Uneasy. Or bored. Or claustrophobic.

If you can relate, you’re likely a polymath. A renaissance person. A multipotentialite, as Emilie Wapnick calls us.

We like different stuff. And that’s awesome. We can even make a living doing this today.

We polymaths can smoosh our interests together and make a living by serving a certain subset of humanity who cares.

I mentioned Emilie Wapnick because it was her TEDx talk (I’m a couple years late — sorry, Emilie) that made me realize I’m one of them. I’m a multipotentialite. I can’t get myself into a neat and tidy package no matter how hard I try. And I guess that’s perfectly fine (even though I still can’t answer that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”).

Ahhhhh. My shoulders loosened so much on that discovery. When I looked at my most important work — this very publication — it was as clear as day: I like to write about… Life. And life involves seemingly random stuff. But it all kind of works out. And people seem to like it (matter of fact, I just learned that it’s the #1 single-author publication on Medium, which I’m still processing).

I can be me. All of me. And I can serve you in a way that no one else does, as random as that may be.

I can write about spirituality and creativity and business and writing and my kid and my beard and love and poetry and… Yeah.

Somewhere in the middle of all that is a thing. A life. A life that, I’m sure, I’m not alone in. A life that you can relate to and glean wisdom and insight and LOLZ from — if even a little bit.

We only need a few to serve. The ones as weird as us.

Jesus only had twelve. Look how that turned out. (Maybe good — maybe bad — depending on how you see it.)

So, if you’re a multipotentialite, welcome. We’re kindred souls.

Know that niching down and finding your tribe does NOT necessarily mean specialization (although, it can).

So go forth, share wildly, and serve deeply.

And when they roll their eyes and say, Well, THAT was random, you can smile and say… Yeah… Thanks…


Being where you are

“A man standing in a tunnel in a field in Redding, wearing a pair of black Nikes” by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

When you’re in the content-creation world, there’s a temptation to be someone you’re not. This is the nature of the internet. We can drum up whatever profile we want on social media and create content around it.

(Kind of like the self-appointed #thoughtleader. I digress.)

I recently fell into this trap a bit, but not in a deceptive way…

When I first signed up for divinity school, I was so enthusiastic that I decided to own the part. I started taking on the role as a minister and spiritual teacher when in actuality, a quiet-but-wise part of me (you know what I’m talking about, right?) didn’t feel that I was quite there yet.

I got way over my edges and it got to be too much. I had to come back to center and own where I was knowing that I will evolve, in time, to the next phase — whatever that turns out to be.

When I did that — when I owned the fact that I’m still a working writer who has a fairly high proficiency of (but is still in learning-mode about) spirituality, I could be much more easeful about my content. I could consider offering more services that were in my wheelhouse rather than stretching for a competency that I haven’t yet gained.

In this online world, we can easily make up a fake life. This always has consequences.

Readers can energetically tell if you’re bullshitting. Even if you’re not trying to be devious, you’re still bullshitting nonetheless (mostly, you’re bullshitting yourself).

One day, I might be firmly and comfortably in that world that I was stretching to. And that’ll be great. But right now, I’m here. I’m kinda straddling two worlds — the old and the new (the professional writer and the burgeoning minister). And that’s beautiful.

Come back to the ground beneath you. Own where you are. Love where you are. And as you grow, your story can organically change along with you.


Subscribing to a worldview

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Several of my favorite writers have written for the New Yorker. It’s a publication that has long been on my radar, but for years, I’ve consistently put off subscribing to it. This holiday season, however, my wife and I got an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we finally singed on for a short-term subscription.

The first episode came around the first of the year. I chipped away at it every night after putting the kiddo to bed only to see a new issue show up a week later.

But wait…
I wasn’t done with the first week’s issue yet.

This continued week after week as I fell further and further behind before resigning out of frustration. I had no idea that the New Yorker is a WEEKLY publication.

How does the average mortal keep up? How does one have THAT much leisurely reading time? (Or, how do people read so fast?!)

All of this lead me to ponder (like I do)… How does the New Yorker move so many magazines?

Which made me realize…

People don’t just subscribe to a thing if they use it. They subscribe because it helps them tell the story of their worldview and express their identity.

I believe that most people who subscribe to the New Yorker only read about 15% of the words contained inside the New Yorker.

The reason people buy the New Yorker is to have it laying on their coffee tables and bathroom reading baskets so as to showcase to their friends and family how highbrow and sophisticated they are.

It tells their friends and family the thing that they could never say out loud…

“I’m more highbrow than you.”

Take this lesson and prosper from it.

If you express your tribe’s worldview in a bold way, they’ll subscribe to you just so they can tell/show their friends that they’re subscribed to you.

They’ll share your work because it’s a way for them to express their identity and worldview in a more subtle way than just blatantly talking about themselves.

Go boldly in the direction of your shared worldview with your readers.

Dig in and say the things they wish they could say themselves.

Jonas Ellison is a professional copywriter and interfaith minister-in-training who provides practical and spiritual support to his fellow creative craftspeople. You can find more of his work at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily missives and musings at

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The power of a simple email

Photo by Yan Ots on Unsplash

If I get an email from a big brand like Coca Cola, I know what to expect. It’s going to be heavily branded, watered down, and not very meaningful or informative. I’m going to have to dig down under layers of imagery and solganry and corporatespeak to decode the message — if there even is one.

I’m pretty sure that the only reason you’d ever read an email from Coca Cola is if you were to unintentionally open it while trying to delete it.

(I admit, these are totally fabricated allegations — I’m currently not subscribed to Coca Cola’s email list — so if they actually have good emails, I apologize.)

But here’s the thing…

Coca Cola doesn’t really care if you open or read their emails. They have such a grip on the culture, their emails take up one small proverbial digital blip on the screen of their marketing. (So why they even do it escapes me, but that’s neither here nor there.)

My question today is this:

Why do so many small to medium-sized businesses (who could really benefit from sending good emails) try to do the same banal, bloated, loud-but-empty email ‘marketing’ the giant brands do?

You know what I mean… You go to a local yoga studio, wind up on their list (usually, they opted you in — which is a whole different conversation), and proceed to get an email that’s so heavily branded and focused on THEM that it renders itself useless.

Never getting THAT time back again.

So they’ve taken the golden opportunity of connecting with a new customer and delighting them (or, at least, providing them with useful and valuable information) and have effectively murdered the relationship before it even began.

All because they were trying to be Coca Cola.

Well, this morning, I got an email from a gymnastics studio my daughter used to go to. I was expecting the same kind of nonsense I explained above. But what I got was this…

Wow… A simple, short, informative email.

No, this isn’t a display of extreme marketing prowess (or is it?). I’m pretty sure the person who wrote this didn’t learn this from some spiffy copywriting or conversion funnel course.

But it’s perfect for them (because it’s perfect for me, the reader).

It doesn’t waste my time. It tells me why I should care. It gives me the relevant information. And it gives me a simple call to action.

My inbox is not the place for me to be wowed or impressed. Email is not a place to put billboards or TV commercials.

Email is the sacred digital space where relevant, informative, useful, valuable messages live.

(Even though Gmail is kinda trying to ruin this, but hopefully they have a change of heart.)

Too many indie businesses make email complicated. It should be simple.

Tumbleweeds doesn’t need to impress me. I’ve already given them money and taken way too many photos and slo-mo videos of my daughter on the trampoline (they’re hilarious).

Trying to ‘wow’ me in my inbox would just be weird.

Just a little simple lesson in email marketing for you indy biz’s out there.

(I have to confess, I did unsubscribe. But it’s only because we’ve moved. Nothing personal, Tumbleweeds. Rock on.)

Jonas Ellison is a professional writer and interfaith minister-in-training who provides practical and spiritual support to his fellow creative craftspeople. You can find more of his work at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily missives and musings at

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Be not the hero

Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

We humans are all about the heroic journey. It’s ingrained in us via the ego.

Even if you claim you’re an enlightened being who doesn’t have any ego issues — I’d say you’re feeling pretty heroic right now for having transcended your ego.

(Which begs the question… Have you really? I digress…)

The bottom line is, we like heroes. But more importantly, we like feeling like heroes.

When you go into business for yourself, there’s a heroic element to it (I know there is for me).

You’ve done it! You’re the wo/man. You call the shots. You save the day.

Which is awesome — you deserve it.

But when it comes to your messaging, you have to keep your heroism in check…

I write this for a lot of businesses out there, but more particularly coaches and consultants who’ve gone with the personal brand approach. There are a lot of self-described, photoshopped heroes out there in that world.

But get this…

Good marketing content comes from making your reader the hero while you serve as the mentor.

When people read your copy, they have to feel like the hero — not just see you as one.

If I go to your site and see that you’re spouting off about how awesomely heroic you are, sure, I might be impressed. But I’ll also feel a bit intimidated. Which is great in a late night pub conversation. But not so much in business.

The mentor role is the place to come from in your messaging. If, when people read your words, they feel like the hero in their life’s journey — even in a small way — you’ll connect with them on a deeper level. They’ll see that they might be able to realize their heroic potential with you. They’ll feel safe with you, as they should.

As I grow older, I’m seeing that playing the mentor role is a far more interesting way to be.

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Utter poppycock

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

Whenever you hear a voice inside your head that’s harsh and chides you like your dad used to do (sorry, I’m projecting here), please know it’s utter poppycock.

(Because ‘poppycock’ is an awesome word.)

That’s the ego speaking. And when we’re faced with making creative decisions, the ego gets all riled up really easily. It hates different. But the definition of creativity contains different. Without different, creativity isn’t.

Mere sameness might be comfy, but that’s about it.

Although this bullying voice might lead to short-term gains, it only leads to long-term suffering. Even if the ‘suffering’ brings ‘results’, you don’t know what could have happened had you gone the other way.

I’m going to ask you to get in hippy-mode for a minute. Yes, you’re a finely-tuned business person, I know that (or not). But play for a minute…

When you hear that voice, put your hand on your chest. Rub your heart. Warm it up. And hear the other voice.

This voice only speaks to you from a place of love. Now, sometimes that love is swift and bold and requires decisive action. But it always calls you forward like that friend you had when you were a kid who was a little older and bigger and stronger who you looked up to and who really liked you, stood up for you, and saw your potential…

So shrug off that demeaning voice and follow the kind, encouraging voice towards your next steps. The one that speaks through a mischievous smile rather than a scowl.

It’s in there. You just have to open that inner ear and hear it.

Okay, enough hippy talk. On with your day.

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On value

Image: Cel Lisboa

You hear it all the time in ‘content marketing’ circles.

By the way, I swear, if I see another faceless, soulless, incestuous, self-congratulatory, ‘serial entrepreneur’ podcast, I’m gonna…

Breathe, Jonas… Okay… I’m good.

They say it all the time, “You have to provide value in your content.”

Now, just let me say, on one hand, they’re absolutely right. If my words don’t give you something, you flat out will NOT read my shizz. You have a million other bits and bops vying for your valuable attention — why would you want to read mine?

But the problem is, a bunch of shallow-minded jerkoffs (breeeeathe, Jonas, whooo-saaahhh) have narrowed down ‘value’ to mean ‘actionable information’ or ‘how to get rich in 17 easy steps/grow a massive audience overnight’. This is why you see so many listacles and clickbait headlines starting with (drumroll, please) “HOW-TO”.

Now… How-To’s have their place. They really do. But, largely they belong in Google searches. Like when I’m searching, “How-to-boil-corn” and your ‘value-added content’ pops up first, I’m stoked. And then I boil my corn. And I’m done with you. I never got to know you because I didn’t care. I just wanted to boil my corn.

If this is the kind of content you want to write, keep on keepin’ on. But if you want to connect with me on a human level, and frikkin’ move me, well, let’s talk more about ‘value’, shall we?

The real problem is, this whole notion is paralyzing people from sharing really cool writing online. Writing with an original voice and a human story is being stifled because people are scared they aren’t “providing enough value” with it. And it’s poppycock. Yes, poppycock.

I read a great blog post from Laura Belgray today that got my wheels turning. This post of mine is actually just a riff on hers (which you should check out here). In it, she totally nails it with my frustrations above and goes on to describe a few other ways to ‘provide value’…

  • Make me laugh
  • Give me goosebumps
  • Get me riled up
  • Gross me out
  • Make me drool
  • Show me something pretty, or something f’d up
  • Inspire me, or at least make me think I’m inspired (enough to do that thing later)
  • Give me a 10-minute reason not to do my work
  • Make me feel like I’m not the only crazy one
  • Make me feel a little smarter than when I woke up
  • Tell me something you shouldn’t be telling me
  • Tell me about a movie, book or TV show that’ll be my new favorite

…and more (again, check out her post here).

I’ve really taken this on as my crusade lately. I’m so sick of lame, soulless ‘content’ (and by the way, can we stop using that word, please — ‘content’?) and I’m out to eradicate it. I’m tired of it clogging up my feed.

The web can be way better. Your blog can be way better. Writing has so much potential. Through simple, powerful words, we can do so much, it’s just... Ugh!

So, value, schmalue. Sure, give me value, but go a layer or four deeper than the usual “actionable advice you can implement to skyrocket your life and business.”

*(This post was originally titled ‘Value, schmalue’, which I’ve renamed to a more fitting title)

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An open inquiry about “linkbait”

I used to be a freelance copywriter. I get it. I’ve studied Hopkins, Ogilvy, Caples, Carlton, Kennedy, Halbert, and all the direct response greats. They were huge on the gimmicky headline. These guys hailed from the day of the sales letter. And those headlines (yep, you know which ones I’m talking about) straight up got people to read their long-ass 20+ page sales letters and put their credit card number down in ink on the dotted line at the very end.

This was one thing when you got a letter once or twice a month — maybe.

These were real shockers…

How to Make $17,756 in 3 Days While Sleeping

The Truth About Your Tap Water (And How It’s Killing You And Your Entire Family)

Why Your Love Life Is Sucking Donkey Balls (And How This 18-Year Old Computer Geek Got Laid 47 Times in 30 Days)

But now we have the internet.

And they’re f*cking everywhere.

I write this as a sincere question to the Medium/greater interweb community. Please note this post up and give me your honest thoughts. This will help all of us to shed some light on this topic that I know, no one likes to talk about.

We wouldn’t want to sound marketing un-savvy would we?

I digress…

So I’m not talking about lame people who write crap content under spiffy headlines to get a click. We already know they should be vaporized. That’s not the issue here.

I’m talking about the sincere content creator who gives a shit about what s/he is writing about and cares deeply about his/her audience.

Should we use — I hate to even say ‘linkbait’ in this situation, because what we write is (hopefully) really good — “gimmicky” headlines?

See, I LOVE it when I see people get mass amounts of traffic without using gimmicky headlines. But could they reach even more people if they did? Are they cheating themselves out of audience members while depriving strangers of their awesome content?

I also see a few of my favorite content creators using them. It makes me cringe a little, but I get the fact that they’re only trying to get their (awesome) content out to more people. How can we blame them?

But then the question enters:

What about when you already have a gajillion followers? Is it time to dial down the gimmickyness of your headlines then? Is it cool to give it a break?

I love the point of writing to your readers. Not to your non-readers. So when you have a sizable audience, do you risk pissing off your regular readers who may be tired of your gimmicks?

This is something I always go back and forth on. I, personally, try my best to not use over-the-top gimmicky headlines, but I know that more people would probably find my stuff if I did. Which would be pretty cool. For both of us.

It just doesn’t feel right. I dunno. Whattdyou think, people of Medium? Marketers and non-marketers alike. What are your thoughts?