Nicolas Cole and I have a friendly competitiveness in our relationship.
I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he would label himself a “social writer.” He writes content mostly on social platforms and leverages the virality and shareability of these platforms to grow his audience.
I on the other hand, have always considered myself an SEO, which means I create content in a specific way so that my writing has a higher likelihood of being found through search engines.
In short, he creates content that spreads. I create content that gets found.
There are pros and cons to both strategies, and Cole and I have enjoyed the back and forth banter over which strategy is most effective.
Here’s the kicker… for the next 30 days, I am going to take a page out of Cole’s book, and completely disregard everything I believe in when writing.
I’ll tell you.
But first, some backstory.
How It All Started
When I was younger, I had a terrible habit of snorting drugs and getting thrown in jail. Eventually, my bad behavior brought me to a breaking point and I decided to get sober.
When getting sober, I started writing online. I leaned on the blank page for help and she guided me through the painful process of self discovery.
When I first started writing online, I was writing as a way to express myself. There weren’t any motivations beyond that.
I was writing to keep from going insane. My entire life had been uprooted and I had to dive head first into this new way of living. So I wrote about it.
Although this was a very painful time in my life, I always look back on those times with joy. It was the most free I’ve ever felt. I had complete freedom to finally be myself. I was a few months sober, I was feeling healthier, and I was seeing the possibilities of what my life could become.
I would stay up late and listen to DeadMau5 and write with zero limitations or expectations. I loved it.
How I Wrote My Way to Success
I have always been entrepreneurial. Before moving to Florida, I had my own contracting business and was constantly hustling for new ways to make a buck.
It never occurred to me that I could make real money online. I was a blue collar kid from Philly. The internet had not appealed to me then in the way it does now. I generally thought I would be swinging a hammer my entire life.
My blog totally transformed the way I thought about making money.
When you write online, you attract a likeminded audience of other people who have interest in the same things you are writing about.
To my surprise, I wasn’t the only person who was struggling with addiction and sobriety. I wasn’t the only young person sick with opioid withdrawal and I certainly wasn’t the only person trying to get my life on track.
People were finding me through search. They were finding me because I was sharing my experience and solutions to the problems I was facing. People would search for things like “how to be happy in sobriety” and they would find my writing.
This is the exact moment I got hooked on SEO. Suddenly, in an instant, I saw the world of possibilities in front of me. I knew right then and there what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.
It Comes at a Cost
I love the game of SEO. I absolutely love it.
If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way. There’s nothing about my journey that I regret, but that doesn’t mean the success was free.
Without knowing it, I was sacrificing my muse in exchange for my brand’s success.
Suddenly, my writing became transactional. My writing was designed for someone else and the purpose of my writing became intertwined with an end result.
I started approaching my art more like a science and I became a student.
I read everything I could get my hands on. I learned as much as I could about online writing, proper blog page formatting, email marketing, newsletters, lead generation, call tracking systems and entrepreneurship. I obsessively tracked keyword rankings (I still do) and would continuously run experiments to see what strategies were more effective in generating search traffic.
All of our success was built on the idea that “every piece of content we write has an intention behind it.” We don’t write for the sake of writing, we write to generate a result.
My team is highly trained to find openings in the search markets, and create content specifically focused on stealing traffic away from competitors through those search queries.
This one idea brought me everything I have, but it also cost me my artistic freedom.
Now look, it’s not as though my life has become completely automated and mechanical. I have plenty of ways to express myself creatively. I write my newsletter, I have my podcast, and the entire purpose of timstodz.com is to give me an outlet to write without expectation.
But old habits die hard.
Every time I open up the blank page to write, I constantly battle the urge to mechanize my writing. I’ve been practicing my craft every day for 12 years, and the positive reinforcement has created a positive feedback loop for me.
So if everything is going so well, why would I decide to make a change?
The reason is because I have more to give, I have more to say, and I am getting to a point in my life where I absolutely must create the things that are in my heart to create.
My Plan to Win Back My Artistic Freedom
I recently read Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. I’ve been thinking about this book non stop for the last 10 days.
I even created a video explaining how much this book influenced me to change my thinking.
While I was reading the book, the person that kept popping in my head was Nicolas Cole. I’ve always admired Cole’s writing and I admit, there have been a few times where he almost convinced me to change my strategy. (Almost, but then I remembered that I’m right.)
Cole doesn’t complicate things. Cole shares his work on a daily basis and through his willingness to share, fail and iterate, he has built multiple successful brands and businesses.
I see it now. I understand what’s happening. I realize that Cole never had some master plan or some technical strategy. His approach is much more organic than that. Cole writes every day, and in doing so, the likelihood of his work being found by other like minded people is much higher than if he wrote “whenever he felt inspired.”
I see the freedom he has, and it reminds me of the days in the beginning. It reminds me of the 2 am writing sessions in the dark.
So that’s it, I am going back to my roots.
I’m going to write a blog post every morning for the next 30 days. This includes Friday, even though I write and publish my newsletter every Friday.
It’s not difficult for me to develop a writing habit. What’s difficult for me is to step out of the comfort zone of formatting my content in a way that appeals to search engines. With this 30 day challenge I am doing the work my heart wants to do.