Allison Boyer (that’s me) is a liar.
Lest I be accused of sensationalizing a title for a post that doesn’t live up to the hype, I want clarify something right now. This post is not going to be able how to trick or mislead your readers. So before you start thinking I’m a major scumbag, please understand that I’m only a huge, stinkin’ liar, but to one person: myself.
And this post is going to teach you how I lie to myself and why it has helped me vastly improve my posts.
It all started with a challenge to myself.
After NMX 2013, I heard someone mention that they didn’t think the conference had enough advanced content. This is something I believe to be untrue, but as I perused our blog, I realized that I had recently been writing a lot of beginner-level content. It made me think to myself, “I don’t want our advanced attendees or potential attendees to have to hunt for relevant content. I want them to read this blog and know that we’re dedicated to providing education at all levels.”
And so, I started to think about what I could do to “up” my game. I wanted to challenge myself to grow as a blogger and attract more advanced learners. After all, I have been blogging for over a decade and professionally since 2006, so there’s no reason I can’t teach to a “beyond-the-101-level” crowd.
First, I thought that it would help to imagine an A-list blogger reading my post. After all, this is the type of reader I was hoping to attract. But that wasn’t really enough, because it’s about more than the education. It’s also about the delivery. So then, I thought:
“What if I completely lie to myself and write a blog post as though it’s part of a portfolio I’m sending to my favorite advanced-level blogger to get a job.”
This idea came to be on a whim. I had just been speaking to a friend the day before about the fact that I hadn’t updated my writing portfolio in a long time because I wasn’t looking for a job. I remembered thinking how much work it was to choose and prepare pieces for this portfolio because you want to put your very best foot forward. Nothing seems good enough.
I might as well have been a cartoon character with a light bulb popping on above my head. Ding! How would it improve my writing to lie to myself about the posts I was writing was for my portfolio, which I’d be presenting to an A-lister in my field.
I started looking into the idea of lying to myself to improve my writing, and I actually found that research shows this kind of lying, officially called “self-deception” by scientists, can be beneficial. In an article by Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal, experts note that this kind of lying has enormous advantages – in small doses. Says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of “The Folly of Fools,”
“Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us influence and win over others. An executive who talks himself into believing he is a great public speaker may not only feel better as he performs, but increase how much he fools people, by having a confident style that persuades them that he’s good.”
Most of us lie to ourselves on some level, and research by Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School suggests that we don’t even realize it.
Certainly self-deception can lead to more destructive behavior. We want something to be true, so we tell ourselves it is true, even when the facts say otherwise. Doing this can leave to giving ourselves permission to do terrible things. For example, someone might justify picking a male candidate over a female candidate, but when self-deceptive excuses are wiped away, the truth is that there was a gender bias.
Or maybe the male candidate actually was the better choice. Self-deception is tricky because it is so often unconscious.
The major theme I saw in most articles and studies about self-deception is that while their are benefits, lying to yourself can spiral out of control. So definitely proceed with caution. Don’t lie to yourself and say you’re not lying to yourself! Lie-ception!
The problem with self-deception in my experiement is the inherent consciousness that I was lying to myself. Writing a blog post like someone is going to read it as part of a portfolio is very different than writing a blog post you know someone is going to read as part of a portfolio.
To make it a little more “real,” I looks on some job boards and found a few high-level blogging and social media jobs. I tried to reach beyond my own skill level when searching, looking for jobs where I knew I wouldn’t be the most qualified candidate, or at least jobs where I wouldn’t be the only qualified candidate if I applied. If I wanted to be hired in any of these positions, I would have to really have to convince them to take a chance on me. I’d need to have the strongest portfolio possible.
The result? I wrote a number of posts I’m very proud of including these right here on the NMX blog:
- 12 Ways Blogging Would Be Different Without Twitter
- What is a Blog: Is the Definition of Blogging Changing?
- What Arrested Development’s Return Means for the Web TV Community
- Small Town Business Values in an Online World: Yes, It is Possible!
- 3 Ways to Create Better Images for Your Blog Posts
I take pride in every post I write both here and on my own blogs. However, when I told myself that someone would be looking at these posts in order to consider me for a high-level job, I kicked things up a notch.
But this method isn’t sustainable.
I think that going through this process has helped me stretch myself as a writer, but it also isn’t sustainable over time. It’s easy to start thinking that no post is good enough, to start doubting everything you write. Analysis paralysis is no fun.
Also, in writing this kind of content, it’s easy to ignore what the beginner audience needs, at least in my specific case. Not every blog post you write has to be super detailed, analytical, or creative. Sometimes, you just need to get basic information across in a clear way. Here’s an example of that: How to Track Conversions from YouTube Viewers [Video]. I wouldn’t typically use this post as part of my portfolio, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good lesson for people looking for this specific information.
Still, this was a great experiment. Most of the posts I wrote received a higher number of social shares than normal, including some attention from the advanced-level bloggers I did hope to attract. It may not be the approach I take when writing every blog post, but lying to myself was definitely a great exercise that I will use again to continue to grow my blogging skills.