The Berkowitz guide to creating content that matters

I made it! I got through the summer without writing too many “filler” columns triggered by the realization it was already Wednesday and my editor was expecting something in her in box by end of day. There were no summer vacation columns, no “10 things I learned about (fill in blank)”, and with the exception of one column about the joy of digging holes, no lame reminiscing about the zillion years I’ve spent doing this. Sometimes I even managed to write about search.

Of course, now that we’re safely past Labor Day, all that comes to a crashing halt. Because, yet again, it’s Wednesday (as of the time I’m writing) and, yet again, the well is dry.  So, it was sad yet somehow consoling that I read the final column of David Berkowitz, the one MediaPost writer I know that has actually logged more columns (400) than I (383 as of this one). David recapped what’s he’s learned from writing a little over 300,000 words, squeezed out every week over the past 8 years. As David so astutely says, “I know not every post is amazing, but I still put in the time. It takes just as long to write an average column as it does to write a great one.”

I would urge you to take the time to read David’s column. One of the things I’m talking a lot about lately is the importance of content creation. In the new information economy, content is currency. We all have to start thinking like publishers. And that means that many of us will have to create content. David’s lessons are valuable ones. One of the thing’s I’ve most admired about David is his ability to write both from his heart and his head. He has a keen intellect, but he’s also a good and decent human, and both shine through in his writing. Being genuine is an often over-looked gift.

Whatever forms your content takes, make sure you’re creating it for the right reasons. Speak because you have something to say, not just to fill a room (or blog post) with noise. I especially liked David’s Lesson #2, “Big ideas matter, even if they don’t spread.” The columns I’m most proud of are often the ones that got the fewest retweets or comments. Long ago, when I started writing and speaking, I had to come to terms with the fact that I will seldom go “viral”. I don’t seem to have a flair for creating memes. But after watching other speakers who are more “meme” worthy get swarmed after a presentation while I stood quietly to the side, I began to notice a pattern. Often, someone would come up and say, “Thank you so much for what you talked about. It was a different angle and it gave me something to think about.” I decided then and there that it was these individuals I was writing and presenting for. There may be only a handful of them in the room, or reading my column on any given week, but if I can pass along something that causes them to adjust their perspective and see something that was previously undiscovered, it’s been worth it. Retweets are not always the best measure of importance.

Writing should never be a “to do” task. Yes, the weekly rhythm of this column can frankly be a pain in the butt some days when my to do list overflowed but that feeling always goes away when I start writing. As David said, “Each column is a learning experience, starting with a thesis, or a hypothesis, or a half-decent idea for the middle of a non-existent story.”

Yes, writing is a learning experience, forcing you to put some semblance on structure to half formed thoughts, but it’s also a chance each week to learn a little bit more about yourself. I like to think of writing as sharing little shards of your soul. You put yourself out there in a way that few others do.

At least, you do if you write as well as Mr. Berkowitz does.

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Mediapost’s Search Insider Sept 6, 2012