New Year Challenge 1 of 4: Loosen the Reins

This is part 1 of a 4-part series in which we share the challenges we’re posing for ourselves in 2015. Join us by challenging yourself to the same things.

At this moment, I have more than 20 blog posts in a “draft” state.

Each one is what you might call epic, as in it’s 5000+ words and heavily researched.

Yet not one of those posts is ready to publish.

A few have been in my drafts since 2013. I’ve been chipping away at them. Adding, adding, adding.

I’ve got guest posts I’ve agreed to do for a heaping handful of blogs I admire. Have I started those posts? Nope. Not a one.

What’s holding me back?

Well, see, I’ve got myself what you might call a problem

I’ve Started Taking Myself Too Geedee Seriously

I do believe there comes a point in the life of every micropreneur when he begins to believe that he’s the linchpin.

That’s where I was at in 2014.

And that’s where my frustrations as a business owner lie. I’m held back by this foolish, unfounded worry that if I’m not helicoptering, tinkering with and approving everything, the coral reefs will explode, the ozone will slip off the planet like the wrapper off a gumball, and dinosaurs will rise from the ground as enormous skeletal zombies. The world will end.

Years ago, when I was 23 and about to start law school, a lawyer named Andrew Zebak gave me this valuable piece of advice, which I’d like to share with you in the hopes that we both start living by it:

 Never take yourself too seriously.

More than ten years later, it’s still easier said than done.

The Easiest Thing Is to Buy Your Own Bullshit

Perhaps you’ll remember this line from the film Quiz Show, in which the producer of rigged TV game-show Twenty-One says to contestant Herbert Stempel:

“Look, don’t start believing your own bullshit, all right? You wouldn’t know the name of Paul Revere’s horse if he took a shit on your lawn!”

To be clear: I don’t exactly think I’m full of BS.

But I do think that it’s easy to let nice wins turn into huge wins in your head, which in turn feel like they’re shaping you into something newer, bigger, better. Nice wins in point: I’ve long marveled that the ultra-cool Unbounce team seems to be, like, an advocate of Copy Hackers. (I hesitate to write that because I don’t want them to read it and go, “Hmm, why do we let that girl hang with us?”) And I was floored when Rand Fishkin walked up to me at Business of Software and introduced himself – so floored that I don’t even remember what I said in the first two minutes of our convo. I’ve had a very healthy number of very healthy job offers. Hell, I had my copywriting hero Brian Clark invite me to speak at his conference – twice.

These cool things happen. They’re awesome. But, for me, I let them turn, somehow, into a form of pressure. You want to be good. You want to be worthy. You don’t want to let a single person down. So you think that you need to keep doing what you’ve been doing because that’s the thing that they like you for, so you’d better not do anything differently…

…and suddenly blog posts get hard to write.

You’re buying your own bullshit.

You’re acting like you’ve made it or something. Like because you’re on a panel, you’re some kind of expert?? Really, Joanna??

You’ve started to take yourself very, very seriously. And by you I mean me. But maybe you too.

In 2015, I’m Going to Do the Opposite

It’s time for me to chill the f*** out and loosen my death-grip on Copy Hackers. You may not think I have one. I do. And it’s sucking all the fun out of writing about the stuff I love: copywriting, optimization, startups, and stuff outside those buckets. But that stops – as hard as it is – right now.

This year, I’m going to fuck up. A lot.

And embarrass myself.

And write things that contradict what I said two years ago because a lot can change in two years.

And write things that challenge accepted best practices, that question Ogilvy, that make the Eisenbergs roll their eyes, that pick a fight with a known concept – even if I lose that fight, even if I go down in the first ten seconds, even if three of my teeth get smashed out and my jaw snaps. (Better if it doesn’t come to that, of course.)

This year, I’m going to let more voices say more things on this very blog. After all, it looks like that’s what you want anyway. The guest posts on Copy Hackers have done really well insofar as comments and shares are concerned:

This year, I’m going to hire an associate editor to be a major voice on Copy Hackers. And I’m going to shut up and let them say what they will. …Well, I’m gonna try, at least.

This year, I’m going to seek out more guest posts from the people who write shit I love. And if I don’t know you but you think you write shit I’d love, start connecting with me in the comments, then start emailing or tweeting with me, and I’m bound to ask you to write and pay you for it.

This year, I’m going to write posts that are long, posts that are short, posts that share more of my testing and business failures, posts that are not driven by a keyword phrase or a BuzzSumo analysis, posts that may or may not have been scheduled on an editorial calendar that may or may not exist. I’m going to write posts that may only be interesting to me. I’m going to loosen the reins on what a blog is Supposed to Be.

That’s my first challenge of 2015.

Good Lord, let me make it to February without having thrown in the towel…


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Limichilwe Simwanza

    You mentioned guest posts, why not invite students or beginners in various fields to write posts. It takes time and effort to be really good at something but you might be pleasantly surprised. Don’t know if it will work, but I think it’s a nice idea nonetheless.

    Note: I’m not saying this just because I’m a student.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Very well put! The rules are to be a better mimic, but that is rarely as satisfying as they’d have you believe, isn’t it?

  • Shae Baxter

    Nah you probably don’t know who I am but I do plan to write good shit this year and the challenge is accepted.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yay! (And, um, of course I know you! We’ve totally tweeted. 🙂 )

  • Mitch Bashore

    OK… so, you say you’re gonna write something that contradicts?

    You say you’re gonna challenge accepted beliefs?

    And, that maybe there’s another a**hole out there with an undigestible ego who’ll write some shit you’d love?

    Well… I have some pretty smelly stuff that’ll make even YOUR upturned nose take notice!

    But first, I’m going to be all agreeable and shit and say YES, YES, YES to everything I just read… just so you chill the f*** out and let someone else death-grip the reins.

    Because, from somewhere out in left field, I’m going to hit you with one of those contradictions by telling you why “Optimizing Your Website to Boost Natural Search Rank Conversions is a Money Suck!”

    Now, I’m not saying that SEO tactics to improve visibility are not important – not even close, as I use them every day… so don’t get feelin’ all weepy and abandoned just yet.

    What I mean is… loads of my time, energy, and resources are spent (being The SEO Guy) on natural rankings and the underlying issues surrounding my position in SERPs… why?… for how long?… and, for what end?

    High search rankings do not, in itself, improve conversions without the right broadcast message. So, if I’m going to spend precious time and resources on improving conversions, wouldn’t I first decide on the best control method (hopefully within my own golden frame of content I control) for delivering my message?

    And, can you honesty say that the time, energy, and resources spent on natural rankings is good, long-term ROI, with everything that Google is doing to counter SEO tactics?

    Or, am I just creating a job for myself to justify calling myself The SEO Guy?

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me I’m starting to get hints that it might not be such a good thing for an SEO guy to be TOO good at SEO… and, haven’t I just painted a bullseye on my back?

    That’s exhausting!

    Instead of (my) being the stereotypical pied piper of improved SERPs, shouldn’t I be working more on the natural language of the message I broadcast and on safely improving the content I control within my golden frame, than to toil endlessly in the battle for #1 in SERPs.

    Any company looking to improve conversions could care less if they are ranked #1 or ranked #1000, if they’re seeing consistent growth and high(er) conversions… besides, doesn’t ROI trump SEO?

    With how things are shaping up with Google these days, spending time on SERP visibility for conversions has had it’s time in the sun.

    It’s time to start letting go of the SERPs “money suck” and start thinking more about broadcasting ROI… IMHO

  • Richelle Futch

    Thanks Joanna, I too have a list of titles and ideas swimming around or half started. Too many voices in my head sometimes (all being mine of course). Challenge Accepted 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Ah, the voices – silly things that really shouldn’t be listened to, and yet they get more say in my life than the right voices do. Getting rid of them = the challenge. Good luck!

  • Awesome!

  • westcoastdude

    Related David Foster Wallace aphorism: “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

    • Joanna Wiebe

      How many times in my life will I be humbled by David Foster Wallace?

      • westcoastdude

        Think of it as permission to mess up without anxiety. Or to drop any false fronts. (This is what got me to finally sell all of the books from college & grad school that I was keeping to make me look smart—Deleuze and the like.)

      • Joanna Wiebe

        You sold those? I’ve still got mine. Lyotard’s The Differend is sitting on my table right now. Haven’t read it in 10+ years, though. 🙂

      • westcoastdude

        I still have piles of books waiting to be read. I need to quit my job(s) and catch up. 😉

  • This is too good. (And not just because you happened to mention my name 😉 Here’s to fucking up in ’15!

  • Nadia Chaudhry

    Love this, Joanna!

    I feel like I have the opposite problem. I need to learn to take myself more seriously and honor my work. But there is common ground. I know I need to be more free-spirited when I create. I recently released a free 7-day course on setting up a website with business in mind. It was great! It really confronted my resistance around creating and now I feel more prepared to give abundantly. 2015 is my year!

    <3 Nadia

  • ummm, … Ms. Joanna … they want to see you in the Principal’s office. Something about scaring the children …

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Uh oh – I think I might’ve used a word or two not meant for children’s ears…

  • Joanna, this was fantastic…and SO close to home. My Evernote account is filled to the brim with perfectionism. It drives me insane! I’m with you!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Catina. I had a feeling others might feel the same. Most people I talk to say they’re “not ready” to go on a podcast or they “need more practice” before they speak at a conference. If you can just let that go – I *think* – then things should at least get more fun, right?

  • Evelyn Starr

    Bravo Joanna! I’m a recovering perfectionist myself. I try to focus on the 98% I get right, and not the once-a-year typo that I did not catch after 45 proofings.

    Writing what moves me vs. the editorial calendar entry has always worked well for me and resonates well with the audience that can feel your passion in the moment, as we have sensed yours here.

    Looking forward to connecting with you more this year.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Ah, the typos! I find that, the more I write and the faster I write, the more I flub up with little things like using the wrong your/you’re. Your fingers just fly faster than your brain (doesn’t say much for my brain), and you’re haulin’ ass to get stuff out the door… and boom! You hit ‘send’ on an email that makes you look like you failed Grade 3.

  • Great post. I’m totally with you. I have blog post drafts, ideas, and outlines all over the place… but they haven’t seen the light of day.

    I’ve been really stingy with my knowledge the past few months (“hey self: way to be dick by not helping people!”) and I’ve just started working on publishing a whole bunch.

    It goes beyond blog content too, I’ve got plans and ideas for trips, parties, and films that I’ve been sitting on too.

    My theme for this year is FOCUSED ACTION. To always be creating, publishing, and moving forward toward my goals.

    I’m excited to see what sort of content you’ve got coming up. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oh, ideas for films? That sounds fun! Don’t deprioritize that!

      • For reals. They got put to the side because of the whole make money or make art dilemma.

  • I like this plan. Am buckling under the pressure of trying to make everything “perfect”, the fear of falling down and fucking up. Incidentally, Joanna, I am sooo relieved you dropped the f-bomb here ( I am guilty of letting rip more than I probably should – and in these forums, you don’t want to be viewed as someone with all the social graces of a dog on a golf course). But I am also told (by a FB friend…that counts, right?) that people who swear more are more honest. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. And writing for FUN…what a novel concept. I’m in 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      ha – I’m gonna use that as my excuse for the odd f-bomb: “I’m just honest.”

  • Ronald Mock

    I’m in… having similar problems. Have been planning for other companies for 30 years. But I’ve been semi-retired for 5 years. I’ll be 70 tomorrow and I want to get back in the game. I specialize in sales automation. I’m now trying to “plan” for myself and I discovered that I am an uber perfectionist. I knew that before, but now that it’s for
    myself… UUGH

    I even had to go back and edit this…

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That’s why I love the programmer’s mantra to “just ship it” aka “always be shipping” aka whatever else goes on the stuff Robleh Jama’s team makes. If you get something to 95%, why not put it out there? There really is no such thing as perfection (outside of the world of math, perhaps).

  • Now that’s a plan I can get around. Too often I plan and don’t take action. The action needs to come right along with planning. I would love to guest post on your blog BTW. I’ll be waiting by my phone for your tweet. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Well when the plan is “be okay with effing up”, it’s a pretty easy plan to take action on. 😉 Looking forward to chatting more and working out an idea for what fab thoughts you’d like to share.

  • Way to go! You’ve been working your butt off and could stand to have a bit more fun with what you’re doing.

    I’m raising my hand straight up in the air like the obnoxious kid in class who’s just dying to be picked on. I’m game for just about anything you’d like to throw my way. So, keep me in mind.

    My big goal is to collaborate on projects as much as possible. And, if I can get back to writing some social commentary/humor again – it might help restore the creative balance.

    Here’s to 2015. Hoping we criss cross paths and get to grab that glass of wine in person… instead of by email.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yes, we should be at a few conferences this year, so maybe see you there, Jen! And guest pitches = always welcome. 🙂

  • Beth

    I just discovered you this week, Joanna, so I’m not expecting perfection. That’s a load off, I’m sure.

    Anyway, I personally embrace the philosophy of effing up publicly (I mean, not taking things too seriously). If you ever need any help embarrassing yourself online, look no further.

    Other than that, I just wanted to say hi and thanks for the great resource. I’m a former tech writer trying to wrap my head around copywriting and have learned a ton from this site already.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Hi. 🙂 If you’re cool with effing up [publicly], you should have a lot more fun in copywriting than you did in tech writing. Tech writing can be fun – I’ve done it and enjoyed it – but there’s def more room for fun with copywriting. Sometimes.

  • I started a new podcast this past week which has been in the planning stage for about 2 years now. You know because I didn’t have the logo done 😉

    So I’m with you, lets fuck up and embarrass ourselves this year and have a great time doing so!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Well you can’t start without a logo!!! 😉

  • Jennie Nash

    I am a raving fan who has lurked on your site for many months now. I love the way you use copy as a lens through which to view the broader world of business. It’s a lesson all writers need — to realize that the crafting and sharing of ideas in any form is indeed business. Unless, of course, you just want to sit in Starbucks and write poetry no one ever reads. I’m a book coach who guides writers to become author-entrepreneurs who know how to combine genius ideas with genius execution so that the books they right stand a chance in hell of getting read. I am jumping up and down saying, “Pick me! Pick me” to your statement about hosting guest writers on your blog, but of course you have no idea who I am or what I do or what I could offer because of the aforementioned lurking. Your instruction to make a comment here and follow you on Twitter made me LOL because it was so obviously directed at me. So here I am stepping into the light. And thanking you for sharing your wisdom and your heart and your words.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      hahaha! Is that you sitting in the parked car across from my house… with the big sunglasses on… and the scarf over your hair? Would love to hear more from you and see what you’ve got to say/share on CH.

      • Jennie Nash

        LOL — I picture one of those windowless vans with all the listening-in equipment. I always wonder why no one in the movies ever NOTICES those vans. Thanks for the invitation — I’m on it!

  • Brilliant Joanna! A much need f*** you to the world and the pressures it can pile on while you’re not looking! I hope you have a great year! 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Sarah – you, too!

  • Joanna Wiebe

    Thanks, Jeni! That’s my worry: that I’m sitting here, stewing over everything, and failing to actually, as the programming world says, ship. Just gotta get stuff out there and see. Obvs I still want to get my best stuff out there, but I don’t want to feel too frozen to ship a 95% product/post or to let the unknown – like a guest post from someone saying something very different – skerr me.

    • I recently read a book called “Just F-ing Ship” – you can imagine what it’s about. 🙂 It has the right mix of info and motivation to keep you (me) moving forward:

      I’m hoping to ship a lot more this year as well. Cheers!

  • Jane Tucker

    I’m a person of few words so the only thing I can think of saying is, failures pave the way to success. I also accept your challenge.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      We love succinctness ’round here! Thanks, Jane. 🙂

  • Anthony Sills

    I’m looking forward to the loosening of the reins!

    And I’m pretty sure you can make it past February without quitting. 😉

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Well, it’s a day after this post, and I’m still feeling okay about it. So that’s a good thing.

  • Lori

    Your Email was great and was just what I needed to hear at this moment. Its why I continue to follow and learn from you and others will definitely benefit from your creativity and intellect..(:

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Glad to help, Lori!

  • Great post and great idea. Here’s to hoping that all my future mistakes are the good kind—the ones you make when trusting others, pushing limits, and doing scary new stuff.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      +1 and I’ll add “trusting myself” to your list.

  • Emma Capell

    Best thing I’ve read all year!! I decided I had to cut out some of the emails I subscribe to as I was overwhelmed, but thought I had better read them first before doing so. This was the first one I came across. Instead, I will now rush to read all your emails. A real voice in a world of information. Thank you!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      hahaha – the best all year, all 6 days of it. 🙂 Glad I won you over so you’ll keep reading, Emma.

  • John Bonini

    There’s nothing I love more than candid posts such as this one, Joanna! Whether it’s personal in nature or about work in general, it’s human. much like your work.

    Your level of self-awareness is enviable, however I’m sure a bit overly-critical too, as whatever you’ve been doing has been working tremendously well. The way you felt meeting Rand is exactly how marketers such as myself will feel when crossing paths with you.

    Thanks for the great post. And all the best in ’15!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, John! So nice of you to say. 🙂 All the best in 2015!

  • I tried to comment with this pic but you don’t have the option available…

    Sooo looking forward to your posts this year! Cheers to the amazing content (and possible fuck ups) ahead.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I can’t see the pic, but I’m picturing a… Parks and Rec gif? 🙂

  • Can’t wait to see what’s to come this year, Joanna. In 2+ years of reading your stuff, I never would have imagined you as nervous prior to publishing it…because it’s always SO DAMN GOOD. 🙂

    Thanks for hitting publish today…going through some writer’s anxiety of my own right now, and this definitely helped.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oh, thanks, Will. Nice of you to say! I wrote this whole post in the hopes that someone would say that — hahaha! Kidding!!!!! #egostroke

  • Amy Butcher

    I am inspired to set up a BS-detector beside my computer when I write. Maybe a monkey that throws bananas when I stare intently at my computer screen, a sure sign I’m taking myself too seriously.
    (This is a bit off topic, but I thought your post on attention management was out of this world. I wish I had written it. I actually started writing a similar post a while back. And then you wrote that mother-effer way better than I could, so the only comment I could have made was “Yep” and I would have sounded very stupid. 🙂 But the comments were in indeed in my heart.)

    • Joanna Wiebe

      You could probably do a decent Kickstarter campaign for banana-throwing monkeys.

      As for my attention-management post, thanks! That is one of the posts that had been in draft form for at least a year, so I finally forced myself to publish it. You should publish yours! I’d love to read it.

      • Amy Butcher

        Ha, ha! Kickstarter gold, fer shur.
        Okay, I’ll dust off the post and let you know in about a year from now. 🙂

  • Puranjay

    Joanna, you hammered this nail a little close to my heart. I was reading this and going “this is me. This is SO totally me.”

    Small victories turn into big victories in your own head. And when that happens, you get scared to take the big shots.

    It’s ironic that you can build yourself up by being the guy (or gal) who takes risks. And then when you actually make it, you feel too pigeonholed and scared to take risks.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      OMG, you said it, Puranjay. Exactly. That’s the tl;dr of this post. Glad it resonated with you – actually, too bad that it resonated with you, but hopefully you’ll challenge yourself to return to a life of taking risks, too. 🙂

      • Puranjay

        I’m already calling 2015 my “Year of Brutal Honesty” 🙂

        Your post was just the right kick I needed to get off my high horse and start giving my 100% again!

  • Freaking A! (If that’s not a Canadian saying, I don’t know what is. 😉

    Fired up and totally on the same page in many ways, Joanna. You rock, and I can’t wait to go along for the ride. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I’ll add an “effin’ eh” to your “freaking A”. 🙂 Thanks, Nathalie!

  • Well now, that was an interesting post, Joanna. I was nodding my head the whole way through, thinking, “Yeah, that’s *exactly* what it feels like…”

    Consider this the first connection of hopefully many more to come between us this year – oh, and challenge accepted!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oooh, James Chartrand! I love your stuff. Thanks so much. 🙂

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