Blog Secret Santa: Give the gift of your art, today and every day

This is a guest post written by the person who drew my name in the Blog Secret Santa for Content Strategy.

Because, heres the thing - I got two Blog Secret Santas. Not because Im special, and not because Im greedy, but because I logged into the nzsecretsanta.co.nz two different ways thereby triggering two registrations. I didnt catch it until it was too late to fix so the system generated two Secret Santas for me. I, in turn, became a Santa and wrote two articles for the recipients each of my registrations triggered for me.

I feel really embarrassed for a bunch of reasons but mostly because a) I cant even log onto a simple website these days without causing drama and now you know about it, and b) to have had two people write for thejamjar.com while there are starving content strategists out there who would kill for content like this on their blogs. Or something.

Both this post "Give the gift of your art" and "Knitting Lessons Applied to Content Strategy" are just fantastic. I can’t even. They're so good; so thoughtful; so gosh-darn generous. Holy mackerel, darling readers, you lucked out big time because you get to read both fantastic posts right here at home on thejamjar.com

Many thanks to my gorgeous Santas - Happy Christmas to you both and much love from Michelle.

Give the gift of your art, today and every day

Maybe it’s because of the holidays. But I’ve been thinking a lot about giving gifts lately.

No, not the types of gifts that come in envelopes with cards and in boxes under trees – though those have been pervasive as well. I’m talking about the gifts that live inside of you: your talent, your artistry, your passion for creating beautiful, useful things for the web and beyond.

I never thought of my skills as “gifts” until I picked up a copy of Seth Godin’s Linchpin earlier this year. (If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and use that brand new Amazon/iTunes/Audible gift certificate you just got for Christmas to buy it now.) I’ve revisited the book lots of times over the course of 2014, re-reading its lessons on being an indispensable worker.

One of the biggest takeaways I got from Linchpin was what Godin calls the “gift economy,” which he says has taken the place of the traditional economy in which our parents and grandparents worked. Today, the most successful professionals are being rewarded less for following the rules (the old economy) and more for cultivating their personal gifts and sharing those with the world.

“The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a job.”

What we’ve done here today – creating posts for Blog Secret Santa? That’s a bunch of smart, friendly, caring content strategists who’ve written blog posts as gifts for others. But within these gifts, we’ve given gifts, true to the definition of Godin’s linchpin. Our posts are new, and they’re unique. They involved emotional labor: taking initiative, being creative, connecting to others through our words. They were given not just so we writers could receive an anonymous post in return, but so that we could share a part of ourselves with the greater community.

“Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.”

How do we change people through the art we create – whether that be words, videos, drawings, or something else? As content strategists, we help make the web a better place, one site at a time. That certainly helps millions of people find information more quickly, learn new things, and enjoy a more elegant web experience. But as a community, we’re empowering an entire generation of professionals to become linchpins and advocate for these these improvements at the organizations, corporations, and institutions around the world.

For me, that’s what something like Blog Secret Santa is all about. Not only are we carving better paths to lead the web down, we’re sharing our knowledge and helping others to follow.

Even if you didn’t write a blog post for today’s exchange, you can still share your gift. Because among all of us linchpins there are plenty of people who don’t yet realize their talents. Who may think they’re not smart enough, well-connected enough, or experienced enough to play and thrive in this wonderful, generous community.

So, in the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking you to share a gift today. For those looking for direction and inspiration. For those who want to contribute their art to the digital community. For those who might become the content strategy leaders of tomorrow.

All you have to do is tell me about a time when you gave a gift that allowed you to share your talents – an experience that helped you, even just a tiny bit, get to where you are today. For example, did you ever:

  • Start a blog to share tips, stories, and ideas from your own career with others?
  • Help out a friend or a local organization with pro bono work?
  • Go above and beyond what a client asked for because you really cared about the project?

Today, you can give a gift that lasts well beyond the holiday season. And every day, remember to keep writing, keep reading, keep sharing, and keep the spirit of generosity that makes our content strategy community so special.

Find out the story behind Blog Secret Santa and then check out all the 2014 #blogsecretsanta posts - follow @blogsecretsanta so you can play next year.

Blog Secret Santa: Knitting lessons applied to content strategy

This is a guest post written by the person who drew my name in the Blog Secret Santa for Content Strategy.

Because, heres the thing - I got two Blog Secret Santas. Not because Im special, and not because Im greedy, but because I logged into the nzsecretsanta.co.nz two different ways thereby triggering two registrations. I didnt catch it until it was too late to fix so the system generated two Secret Santas for me. I, in turn, became a Santa and wrote two articles for the recipients each of my registrations triggered for me.

I feel really embarrassed for a bunch of reasons but mostly because a) I cant even log onto a simple website these days without causing drama and now you know about it, and b) to have had two people write for thejamjar.com while there are starving content strategists out there who would kill for content like this on their blogs. Or something.

Both "Give the gift of your art" and this post "Knitting Lessons Applied to Content Strategy" are just fantastic. I can’t even. They're so good; so thoughtful; so gosh-darn generous. Holy mackerel, darling readers, you lucked out big time because you get to read both fantastic posts right here at home on thejamjar.com

Many thanks to my gorgeous Santas - Happy Christmas to you both and much love from Michelle.

Knitting lessons applied to
content strategy

Preface: Nice to meet you

Hello, Michelle. This is your Content Santa. Before we get to the heart of my gift post, I want to first let you know that I really enjoyed digging through your blog and other online awesomeness (especially your lovely sketchnotes).

I also observed that you’re a knitter. (That pink and orange sock yarn is beautiful, by the way!) Coincidentally, there are a few of us needle-wielders participating in the Content Strategy group for Blog Secret Santa. In fact, I know of quite a few content strategists beyond the Secret Santa collective that are knitters. With the hearty knitting representation in our ranks, I thought it fitting to gift to you lessons I've learned as a knitter that also apply to my work as a content strategist:

Practice and study improve our skills

Much like a new knitter needs to pore hours into practicing even tension and gauge before starting a lovely Fair Isle sweater, so too must a content strategist devote hours to honing their craft. Much like an experienced knitter discovers new techniques, so too do experienced content strategists uncover new solutions.

And lucky us — we live in a time where knitters and content strategists alike have amazing online and physical resources at their fingertips. I would not be the content strategist I am today without my local Meetup and these amazing conferences. But most importantly, it’s the passionate folks who share their knowledge via Twitter, blogs, and on sites like The Pastry Box and A List Apart that teach and inspire me daily. And let's not forget the wealth of books dedicated to content strategy and the UX industry. From this year alone, just few of my favorite new books include: * A Web for Everyone by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery * The Language of Content Strategy by Scott Abel & Rahel Anne Bailie * Content Audits and Inventories by Paula Ladenburg Land * The second edition of Ethan Marcotte's Responsive Web Design * How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert

Mistakes can (almost) always be repaired

I firmly believe any wayward project can be repaired. Of course, the time and resources required depends on the impact of the mistakes and the scope of the project. If I dropped a stitch on a simple ribbed hat, then a crochet hook can come to the rescue and I'll be back to p2, k2-ing in a jiffy. But if I dropped a stitch on a lace shawl, then I might need to rip back a heartbreaking 10 hours of work just to repair that one dropped stitch.

In the same vein as fixing my hat, some repairs on a content project require minimal effort and cost. Say I neglected to ensure all PDFs or other documents were migrated into the new CMS. Perhaps the solution is as simple as dedicating some time rounding them up, moving them into the new CMS, and then maybe compiling a list of URL redirects. Sure, this is annoying, but the cost is minimal to me and my organization.

However, sometimes issues on your web project greatly impact your organization and cost much money to rectify. I still maintain any mistake can be repaired, but the decision might go beyond your skill or authority as the content strategist. And similar to knitting, sometimes we make a mistake that we just don't have the heart, time, money, or skill to fix. In which case…

Sometimes it’s best to let go and move on

This is the hardest lesson for me, both when knitting or in my professional life. I am not a person who likes to give up. One of the more extreme moments of my knitting career is how I've kept a nearly-complete Juno sweater on the floor of my closet for eight years and counting while I continue to claim that I will finish it, despite how much I hate the yarn I chose. I know I will never wear the blasted thing even if I do complete it. I know my loved one would be very happy to see that project go so he stops catching the loose yarn in our vacuum each week. And yet, I just won't finish it. Nor will I throw it out.

When I think back on my most disappointing experiences as a content strategist, I see parallels between me refusing to give up on that sweater and the organizational leaders who refuse to kill a poorly-implemented, failure of a project. For whatever reason (ego?), they just can't let you pull the life support on that carousel or FAQ page you so badly want to vanquish.

For these moments, it's important to assess the impact of resources to both maintain and drop projects. Perhaps continuing ahead with your leader's vanity project requires minimal content and development resources, and even has the bonus of building a better relationship between you and them. And if you're extremely lucky, there will be minimal impact to your site visitors. On the flip side, if fighting against that specific project requires wasting time in meetings and angering your leaders, perhaps giving in and going with their plans is the best decision.

As for that unfinished sweater? Yup, I'm going to go throw it out right now.

Endnote: Some knitting content strategists

In the spirit of giving and of community, I want to end this post with Twitter handles of some content strategists who also knit. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and I hope those missing will add their names in the comments section for you.

Find out the story behind Blog Secret Santa and then check out all the 2014 #blogsecretsanta posts - follow @blogsecretsanta so you can play next year.

Declaration of 2015

There are lots of things I love about this time of the year. Lots of things I really look forward to.

One thing that has hopped up on my nerves early this year though is the end of year countdown. We’re counting down 2014’s best music on MTV and celebrity stories on E! and My Year on Instagram et al. All this before Christmas has even happened let alone the final week of the year.  

We’re not there yet people: calm.down*.

To distract me from these final countdowns, I'm going to jump right over Christmas, skip looking back on the past twelve months, and just get down to the business of 2015.

Rebranding resolutions

When I was living in Australia with Fox and Willo, we often wrote down our New Year resolutions. I mostly rolled my resolutions over from one year to the next, never achieving any of them. Fox would do better than me by getting quite a few of hers done, but it was always Willo who would nail his every year; usually by March.

Because of my dismal effort and the fact I'm a slow learner, I’ve decided to rebrand my resolutions into declarations. Instead of being specific with a task like “save more” or “get fit” I’m going to theme the entire year with a couple of ideas with the intention that they will soak into my life and produce some kind of output.

image.jpg

I am declaring that 2015 for me will be the year of :

  • SELFIES
  • LUNCH
  • MORNING

What on earth will that even mean, Michelle?

It means I want to:

  • be the subject of my life more often;
  • be more organised about nutrition during my workday;
  • have a better relationship with sleep.

Here would be a great opportunity to share a photo of me, making my lunch, in the morning - but I’m not going to do that - have to go watch MTV’s Wonderful Christmas Time! Top 40 countdown and wait for the first day of January 2015 to make it the best year yet.

 

*stop watching so much television, Michelle.