Writing Content the “Mad Men” Way

I love the TV series “Mad Men.” Maybe because in part, it’s about coming up with the right words for the right ideas. Here are some excerpts (and rewrites) from an article that appeared on Copyblogger.

Mad Men Made Writers Sexy Again

The main character of the series is a creative genius. He crafts the perfect slogan to capture the minds of America, and he makes it all look so cool. So do all of the characters. It’s their work. They sit around thinking up the perfect ad, and then they convince their clients to spend beaucoup bucks on it. And they do it all with nothing but words. How cool is that? You write something down, publish it, and it changes the world.

Some of the advertising principles also apply to blogging.

The Big Idea

Hang around any type of professional writer, and you’ll notice that they’re all prodigious collectors of ideas. They’re constantly reading, listening, and watching for that next big “Aha.” They know that once they find it, packaging it is easy. They can wrap it up in a slogan, headline, or a domain name in a matter of minutes.

Amateurs do it the opposite way. They worry so much about their domain names and headlines and slogans that they never get around to finding truly great ideas. The truth is, all of those things are just wrapping paper. It’s the gift inside that counts. Focus on finding the big idea, and the rest will take care of itself.

Digging for Inspiration

So where do you find great ideas for your writing? It’s tempting to look around your niche and think, “Everything important has already been said. What else is there?” Well, nothing, of course, but that’s the point. Great ideas aren’t just lying around, waiting for you to use them. You have to search for them. You have to read books. You have to listen to people. And yes, you can even get inspiration from watching television.

The key is doing the work. The ground may be full of buried treasure, but you have to be willing to grab a shovel and start digging. Sure, it’s hard, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll never have a shortage of great ideas. Really, there is an ocean of them down there, waiting for you to tap into.

Doing Nothing

When you’re a writer, sitting by the pool and reading a book is all part of your job. So is listening to NPR or staring into space for 1-2 hours just thinking. If anyone asks what you’re doing, just say “I’m working.” Because you are.

Healthy Fear

Sometimes it’s hard to convince your brain of it, but fear is a good thing. If you’re afraid, it means you’re working on something important. If you’re afraid, it means you’re stretching yourself and learning new things. If you’re afraid, it means you have a reason to act.

For every day you don’t write 1,000 words, agree to donate $100 to a political party you despise. If you can’t find the time for your online business, turn in your resignation at work. If you can’t wake up in the morning, deliberately schedule meetings for 8 AM, so you have to get up.

The Red Velvet Rope

Have you thought about who you want reading your writing? And perhaps more importantly, have you thought about who you don’t want reading it? You probably know that you can’t please everyone, so you shouldn’t even try.

To some extent, it’s about focusing your attention on the people you can help. By excluding the wrong people, you make the experience more precious for the right people. No, it’s not always pretty, but that’s the way we humans work.

The Product People Can’t Stop Buying

Pop quiz. Which is better:

  • A) Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you?
  • B) Starting a blog about a topic the world is interested in, and then convincing yourself to write about it?

If you chose B, congratulations. You chose correctly. Without even realizing it though, most people choose A. They start a blog about a subject they want to write about, and then they use every psychological trick in the book to get people to read it. And sometimes, it works. If you’re a good enough marketer, you can prop up any blog or product, no matter how bad it is. But why go through the trouble? The best type of product is the one people can’t stop buying.

Can you say the same of your blog? Is your content so important they can’t stop reading?

Relationships

You have to value the people you’re writing for. You have to treat them well. You might even have to bring yourself to like them. Because if you don’t, they’ll leave.

The next time you sit down to write, envision a stadium full of people. See yourself standing in the middle of them. Feel the anxiety in your stomach, as you get ready to perform. And then ask yourself: what can you possibly say that would be worthy of the attention of more than 100,000 people? Whatever it is, that’s what you should write.

Happiness

If you want a big audience, focus on one thing: making your readers happy. Sure, writing killer content is a part of that. So is building relationships. But it’s easy to lose sight of it. You can get lost in sharing your expertise, tinkering with the technology, or writing something you enjoy.

All of that’s important, sure, but none of it’s going to turn people into raving fans, faithfully reading and talking about your blog for the rest of their life. To get that kind of reaction, you need to write posts that touch people. Give them a reason to laugh. Give them a reason to cheer. Give them a reason to keep fighting, even when they feel like all hope is lost.

Do that, and you won’t have to search for readers. They’ll search for you. You’ll boot up your computer one morning to find thousands upon thousands of them waiting for you, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to launch into action.

And that’s when you’ll realize that you’re not just a writer anymore. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, you’re changing the world.

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