I’m easily confused. I’ve always been a bit ‘slow’. When I was a kid, I was often labeled in my progress reports as ‘absent minded’ (and I quote).
Sometimes, when I’m caught up in my thoughts, this can translate to thinking I’m dumb.
But when I diffuse from that thought, I can see how being an easily confused person has made me a decent writer (if I do say so myself). Because here’s the thing…
I don’t — can’t — put anything down on the page until it’s either super clear to me, strikes a strong emotional chord, or makes me laugh. Because if I don’t get it (and there’s a lot I don’t get), it isn’t making it out there for your eyes. And I think that’s been of benefit to me in this crazy writing life.
The key point for today:
If you could step outside of your personal thinking around your insecurities, you might just find your superpower in the middle of your self-doubt.
One of my greatest creative assets has come from one of my most deepest insecurities. My self-dialogue (without me even knowing it) was, “Damn, why am I so slow?” Or, “Why can’t I stay awake during this class?” Now it’s, “This sh*t doesn’t make any sense — how can it be more clear?” Or, “This sh*t is boring, let’s make it more bold.”
It’s worth at least a look under the hood to see what you’re making up about yourself (or have accepted as reality from others).
Lately, my life has been the embodiment of what happens when four deadlines converge in the woods (on the same week). Yes, a total cluster f&*k of stress, overwhelm, insecurity, and dread.
The deadline is the scourge of writers around the world, second only to that of the blank page/blinking cursor.
So, yeah… Deadlines have had me down as of late. What makes it worse is that I love my clients. Writing copy for them is a treat. Their businesses, their visions, and the work they do in the world is palpable (and they’re fantastic people to just hang out with — which I get to do). Which means disappointing them is unacceptable.
Playing a role in helping craft their visions is an honor — one I take seriously.
Too seriously, in fact, sometimes.
I caught myself several times this last week in a place of desperation. When writing, I noticed my shoulders tensing up, the scowl on my face intensifying as my fingers hammered the keys, and my breathing becoming shallow and abrupt.
Survival mode... Ain’t it hell?
Now, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been here a time or four. I’ve grown to be able to catch myself doing it. And to tell myself…
It’s not worth it.
No matter the looming deadlines — stress and angst only kill the creative process.
Now, this is our normal, unconscious reaction. If you’re someone with a strong work ethic, you want (and need, if you’re a paid writer) to get it done. In time.
But beyond the function of propelling you into your seat to work, this kind of stress must be left at the door.
See, when you’re writing (or, creating in general, whatever you do) from a place of unconscious tension and fear, you work from a low, stuck, uncreative vibration.
And nothing good comes out of that. You get mentally, spiritually, (and yes, even physically, sometimes) constipated. The words eeeeek out onto the page. Your survival mind is also a fierce critic, so everything is dulled.
Now you’re getting more and more behind deadline and your work is crap because you’ve been writing in a low creative vibration.
Alright — what to do…
First, catch yourself. Notice what’s happening.
Then, stop. Put the pen down (or close your laptop).
Breeeeathe. In through the nose to a count of four and then out through the mouth to the count of four, relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Throw on a pleasant playlist on Spotify. No, not the death metal workout one. This isn’t the time. Grab the Norah Jones one (you know you have one). Hang out here for 10 minutes.
Know that nothing good comes out of this barrel of stress you’re rolling down the mountain in. Step out of the barrel (your ego is dreaming your stress up, so you can defy the laws of reality and step out of the barrel that’s careening off that cliff).
When 10 minutes is up, relax back into your work (don’t jump back into it). Know that this is a privilege. You get to do creative work for a living. You don’t have to test the city’s sewer lines for functionality. Things could be worse.
Your job is to create. You can only do this from a place of openness and enthusiasm. Seeing how detrimental stress is to the creative process can get you to jump to this higher place in a moment (that’s the great thing about the mind — all it takes is a shift in thinking to get there).
Enjoy. Create. Submit. Sleep. And get on with the great work you do in the world.
P.S. My good friend, Tom Kuegler, is throwing an online summit to help you become a full-time writer and blogger. It’s free and I had the fortune of being one of the presenters interviewed in it (along with other incredible bloggers such as Chris Brogan, Tiffany Sun, Tim Denning, and more. Being that it’s online, there’s no need to fly anywhere to attend. You can watch it for free on your couch when it airs (on March 20th). Click here to sign up.
☠️Warning☠️ Full disclosure☠️: That link above is an evil affiliate link. This means that, although the summit is free, should you then go on to buy something from Tom and he gets filthy rich, I might get kicked down a few bucks (at no extra cost to you).
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 JonasEllison.com
The Writing Cooperative is sponsored by
Grammarly makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free. Take your writing to a new level. Try it for free!
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.
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 JonasEllison.com
At The Writing Cooperative, our mission is to help each other write better. We’ve teamed up with ProWritingAid to do just that. Try it for free!
I have a lot of manuals on my bookshelf (both my physical bookshelf and my digital one on Kindle). Some are dressed up as schnazzy bestselling nonfiction books, but they’re still manuals nonetheless.
And you should SEE all the free how-to ebooks on my hard drive from email opt-ins.
Manuals are technical. They provide roadmaps, blueprints, and hacks. They’re awesome. I love manuals.
I have manuals that teach all the different things I’m into like writing, exercising, golf (don’t judge), business, martial arts — even internal stuff like relationships, happiness, positivity, etc.
These manuals have been written by experts on each topic. I’ve read almost all of them cover to cover and have exhausted many a highlighter throughout their pages.
Why, then, am I not an expert in all of these different interests of mine? Why do I still feel like such a beginner in so many of them?
You probably — at least intellectually — know the answer…
No manual is sufficient in and of itself. The content of the manual requires action. And action is terrifying.
Action requires the very real possibility of failing. Action requires dancing with self-doubt, insecurities, perfectionism, comparison, and the hundreds of internal checkboxes being checked before the first step is even taken.
This is the conversation I love entering…
Yes, I could write more manuals, but a shortage of manuals doesn’t seem to be the problem. (Although I really could do better in this area — I’m well aware…)
The problem is movement.
I want to move you. I want you to move me. If I’m reading your roadmap, I want you to get me to take that first step.
The only way you’re going to really move anyone to take action is if you align their heads with their hearts.
When the head gets something, it ‘makes sense’. It’s a ‘great idea’. But a great idea is nothing without the heart.
Speaking to the head might stimulate the mind, but speaking to the heart moves the feet.
When the heart invests in the ‘great idea’, motion happens.
Now, you can’t MAKE someone take action. All you can do is provide the bridge. The bridge is made up of appealing to both the head and the heart.
Most content creators only build half of the bridge.
Building the other half might be an emotional investment worth making.
The ego treats spirituality like a drug (I guess it treats everything like a drug, but in this post, I’m referring specifically to spirituality — plug in whatever your poison is).
I’m not sure if you’re a spiritual junkie like me, but when you discover it and get your first fix, it can lead to you abandoning everything in order to get more.
Since the ego compartmentalizes, it tries to take this ‘spirituality thing’ into its own boxed off area. And so you have this ‘spiritual life’ that your ego has situated on an island apart from everything else in your life.
Ahhh… Now the ego can make sense of it. It can make it special and safe and all the other insecure nonsense the ego does.
(Remember, I write these notes for myself first, so trust me, I’m not just preaching to you.)
I realize I did this with my profession about a year ago. Some of you know that I’m a copywriter by trade. When I signed up for divinity school, I started downplaying this part of my life, especially in this blog.
I was so enthralled by this new spiritual life I was building that it eclipsed a lot of the rest of my life. Even though I’d long been familiar with spirituality, I’d never before been a practitioner of it. I never saw it as an identity.
Well, now I did. So I created a persona out of it.
Looking at this, I now see how much of an ego ploy this was. It downgraded an honest profession. Essentially, my ego took spirituality and did a Judo-move of reversing it in order to create more separation in my life. In so doing, it neutralized the positive effects of spirituality on my professional life.
Silly little ego…
Spirituality must be integrated into life, not walled off from it.
When the ego runs amok and does this, as soon as we recognize it, we just have to stop. Take a breath. See the separation that’s occurring. And know that unity is the only truth.
Here’s what unity/God/love/’The Force’ told me when I listened (heavily paraphrased, of course):
Jonas, you’ve worked your face off to gain your copywriting skills. About six years ago, every evening for about a year, after your customer service job at Patagonia (great company, btw) you sat at your desk and hand-copied hundreds of sales pages from old-school acclaimed copywriters. You read books about headlines, how to write calls-to-action, how to keep the attention of readers, how to write clearly and compellingly, etc. You did free work for months before you landed your first client.
And you were fascinated. You taught yourself the ancient craft of impactful messaging. And you used those skills for good.
This publication is because of that work. Over the years, you’ve helped dozens of businesses thrive without losing their voice or their souls. Etc…
Jonas, don’t let the ego keep spirituality separate from your work (or from anything, in fact). Spirituality can only add life and light and power and good juju (yes, good juju) to your work — to your craft. Let me in. Let me unite them.
How about you? Have you let some things go after finding that shiny new ‘thing’ the ego has wrapped its paws around? Has spirituality been one of them?
Remember, life is designed to be united. To work together. It’s not ‘either/or’. It’s ‘both/and’.
This is the language of a whole life. The life we were all born with that we so easily forget.