You’re going to think I’m splitting hairs on this one.
And maybe I am.
But if you’re tired of writing articles and blogposts, I’d like to propose a mind shift that’s helped me out immensely.
Instead of writing articles, write a column.
If you’ve read newspapers and magazines, then you’ve seen columns all your life.
Ann Landers and Dear Abby and Dave Barry are all columnists. So are (or were) Erma Bombeck, Maureen Dowd, Amy Goodman, Marilyn vos Savant, Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson, Garrison Keillor, William Safire, Salman Rushdie, Bob Woodward and too many others to list.
When you’re writing an article, you’ve got to start from scratch to prove you know what you’re talking about. You have to be an authority or at least quote authorities. You’ve got little or no foundation to stand on because an article, by its very definition, is a stand-alone piece.
This puts pressure on you to prove yourself. Every. Single. Time. And as you’ve probably experienced, that gets really old really fast. You feel like you are standing on the street corner going, “Hey, over here, look at me!”
Who needs that?
But when you’re a columnist, you’re no longer on the street corner vying for attention with thousands of other article writers.
Instead, you’re in your office writing a personal one-to-one piece to your favorite reader.
It’s just you and the person you are talking to. They know you. They like you. And they trust you.
Plus, they look forward to reading what you have to say today.
This is a mind shift. Yes, your columns might look a lot like articles, if articles are written with the confidence of someone who KNOWS people want to read his or her words.
You can think of article writing as having to make a formal presentation to a large group of people who have barely heard of you, versus writing a column as having an intimate conversation with a trusted friend over a cup of coffee.
I can’t tell you what a difference this small shift of perspective has made in my life.
The blank screen no longer scares me. In fact, I can’t wait to sit down and write my latest idea. I have more confidence as I put words to paper. My writing is faster and more stream of consciousness because I no longer feel the hot breath of my creative writing professor breathing down my neck.
Imagine you’ve had a much-loved column in your favorite newspaper or magazine for the last decade. Imagine today you’re writing your latest column. Imagine people eagerly reading it the moment it hits the newsstands or their mailbox.
And then write.
Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But give it a try and see what being a columnist does for you.
And to get you started, I’ve made a list of some of my favorite column topics. Pair these ideas together with your niche and start writing your next column now.
News – Your personal take on the biggest news in your niche today.
Their Mistakes – What well known person or company is making a BIG mistake? Why is it a mistake and what should be done instead? Or what are the top 3 mistakes that new people or seasoned pros are making?
Your Mistakes – What bone-headed thing have you done – past or present – and what were the consequences and lesson learned?
Rants – What is driving you absolutely batty in your niche? Why is it driving you crazy, and what should – in your opinion – be done instead?
3 Things to Avoid – What should be avoided and why?
3 Things to Do – Who should do them and why? What’s the benefit of doing them and the consequences of not doing them?
True Stories – Any great story in your niche. Play up the drama if possible but keep the facts accurate (no embellishing.) Bonus for surprise endings or heartstrings tugged.
Steps to X – What are the steps to achieve something awesome?
Monday Morning Quarterback – If you knew then what you know now. Look back on your experience in your niche and find something that you would change if you could.
Pain – Your pain, someone else’s pain or some big problem. Has there been a resolution? Write about it. No resolution or solution yet? Find one or ask your readers for their ideas and then write a follow-up column.
Experiments – Try something such as a new method or technique, take notes and then report on what happened.
True or False – Choose something that everyone believes to be true. Investigate it and determine if it’s real or a myth.
Current Events – Take something that is happening in the world and then tie it to your niche.
Pose a Radical Question – This is a question most people have never thought of, but when you bring it up, it will spark thought and conversation. For example, why are or were things done a certain way? Or what if you combine X with Z? Or what if you take something in a whole new direction?
Secrets – Real secrets, not just things that many people already know. People LOVE secrets and they don’t have yours. For example, relate how a real-life espionage operation from 20 years ago accidentally impacted your niche in the present in a truly unforeseen way.
Goals – Your goals, their goals, famous people’s goals. How are they achieved? How do people screw up goal setting and goal-getting?
Controversy – Decide in advance how controversial you’re willing to be. Then take a stand and watch the sparks fly.
Tips – But not just any tips. Weird tips. Little known tips. Surprising tips.
Warning Signs – What are the warning signs in your niche that something bad is about to happen? What do you do when you see these signs?
Challenge – Create a challenge for your readers. Make it easy enough that they will do it but challenging enough that it is interesting. Have them report their results to you and write about it in a follow-up column.
You’re not an article writer or a blogpost writer – you’re a columnist. And I can’t wait to read what you write next.