This is Chapter 5 in my Content Stacking series, on how to be prolific and consistent with blogging, podcasting and video.
One of the first questions that springs to mind when thinking ‘stacking’ is: “Alright, I’ve got my content idea – where do I start?” Is it media first, or text?
I think it can be either, depending on how you process ideas. But, I also think there’s one way which can lead to spectacular clarity. And clarity breeds engagement. That’s what we’re looking for, so let’s find out how to create it.
Text First, or Media First
In this series, I’ve described media first. That’s partially because it’s the part that a lot of people aren’t doing: many more are writing than recording. It’s also partially because of the power that media has to create engagement.
But, text has a huge part to play. I’ve already made that obvious, describing in chapter 1 how it’s the biggest tool we have for attracting a larger audience.
So, where do we start? Media or text?
When Media Leads to Better Text
When it comes down to it, I’m a podcaster first and a writer second. I love writing, it has advantages over podcasting in the right context, but I get a lot out of speaking through ideas. That’s why I sometimes record my content first, and THEN write it out. For some, like me, this process leads to a really tight, really fluid article.
Why? Well, I always have a rough plan for what I’m going to talk about. But, I find when I speak something through, it starts to morph and evolve in my head. Speaking about something, communicating an idea, forces me to turn it over in my mind, weighing it more thoroughly.
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That's why one of the best ways to learn something, REALLY learn something, is to try and teach it to someone else.
Think back: have you ever had a really big dilemma in your life. Something you were really struggling with? If you did, most likely you ended up talking it through with a friend or your family.
Do you remember, as you were talking it through, describing it to the other person? Did you start to come to some decent conclusions all on your own?
It happens to me all the time. The other person doesn’t have to say anything. The simple process of communicating an idea works to makes it more clear to me.
When Text Creates Better Media
On the other hand, some people prefer to go text-first. In this case, the process of writing is what helps you to explore every aspect of a content idea.
Writing tends to be a slower, more careful process than speaking. It allows you to put your thoughts on paper (screen, really!), read them back, weigh them, debate them, and then refine them.
The text-first approach can be particularly powerful when delving into new areas. That means subjects that you're still exploring, refining, evolving. I mentioned earlier, I can do this to an extent when speaking, but more often I like to write it down first. Once that writing and refining process is done, I can create a really, nice tight recording.
Find Your Flow
This, like so many things, is a personal choice. And, as I said, it can change from day to day, from idea to idea.
It might even be context-dependent. I’m writing this on a plane right now, so even if I wanted to record, I’m not in a great position to do it.
So, I’m writing first. I’ll record an episode on this later. And it’ll probably be a little better than an episode I would record before writing.
The 3-Step Approach for Spectacular Clarity
We’ve now explored two approaches, both of which are two-step in nature; audio-to-text and text-to-audio. What if we combine the advantages of each to create the best of both formats?
I’d argue that I can often create better media by writing it out first. But, I’d argue that I can also create a better article by talking it through.
So, how about doing it all?
A Combined Text and Media Editing Process
If your aim is to create good quality… no, `good` is not good enough… outstanding quality content, then you should have an editing process. In the world of text, my process looks something like this:
Current Writing Process –
- 1st draft: Write non-stop, uncensored, unedited. Get those ideas out of your head.
- 1st edit: Structure – is it well organised? Should this initial brain-dump be reordered?
- 2nd edit: Clarity – how’s the language? What can I remove or reword to simplify?
- 3rd edit: Proof – the nitty gritty, spelling, grammar, etc.
What if I inserted media recording right between edits 1 and 2? By writing, and then doing that first edit, I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of processing and refining.
The initial stream of consciousness is where I figure out what I want to teach. That brain dump gets it all out onto the page. Then, in the first edit, I figure out how to teach it. That means the structure, the flow, the narrative.
Once I get past that point – having formed the narrative – I’m in a great position to talk about it in a really clear, concise way.
Using Speech to Create Clarity
When I write, I find it easy to overcomplicate things. I have the time, the space, to seek out fancy words or craft a beautiful sentence. On screen, I don’t have to worry about wrapping my tongue around these wordy works of art. They just coalesce in my mind, fully formed.
But, then I speak and flowery, complex language clatters off my tongue like a bag of bricks. It’s clumsy, pretentious, patronising. As I mentioned, nothing forces me to simplify an explanation more than trying to explain it to others – particularly in the spoken word. So, for me, it’s in speaking that clarity tends to emerge.
Let’s translate this back to the three-step creation process. Once you’ve recorded your episode – audio or video – it’s then time to go back and do a clarity edit on the original written piece.
Try to keep in mind the way you explained it on microphone. Attempt to replicate that simplicity. Pare down your writing, your language, your style, mimicking your spoken approach. Keeping editing until you’re delivering your message in the simplest way possible.
That’s how you teach. Not by elevating yourself through beautiful language. Rather, by elevating your audience through beautiful simplicity. Speech is a powerful step towards that.
This chapter: The Case Study in Progress
Here’s a great example of how this works.
Yesterday, I started work on the next part of this series. I intended to write the text chapter, exploring how we go about creating text material for our content stack.
My initial plan included a section in the text chapter on whether you should do text first or audio first. Nothing complicated, just a discussion around how people differ, and that you should go with what works for you.
But, when I started to write the chapter, my ideas began to evolve. I thought through the process I follow and realised how my writing and my presenting mesh together. Honestly, I hadn’t considered how closely woven they were before writing this chapter.
I realised how powerful speaking is for me in producing clarity, and so that led to the section above on clarity. I realised how that ties into my editing process which, really, wasn’t at all like I originally described. I found myself outlining the audio > text and text > audio processes, when really I do both.
This whole chapter evolved out of one little concept – initially a couple of paragraphs in a larger chapter – simply because I tried to teach it. In teaching it, it grew, it merged, it formed in my mind, and now I’m doing a final edit to simplify it as much as possible.
Even more interestingly, I’ve just taught myself something. In thinking it through, I’ve realised that I often do the 3-step process without thinking. But not always. It was never a conscious process, going back to edit an article after recording the subject. But, now I’m aware. And being aware, I’ll make sure I do it all the time from now on!
There’s write > evolve > record > evolve > simplify in action for you. It’s powerful.
The Ideal Process?
For me, on reflection, it’s obvious how well the 3-step process works. Text to speech to text. It takes a little more time, of course, but it can raise your game. It can push you over that aforementioned good to brilliant barrier.
But, it’s not ideal for everyone. Many still get great results by going with text > media, or media > text. And more still keep them totally separate and still create great content. In content stacking, though, we’re looking to drop a much leverage as we can on that initial content idea – creating truly exception content every time. I believe that meshing the mediums together, letting them support each other, is a big step in that.
And you? It’s about testing, finding what works for you. Try it all, and take the time to dig into the results with a critical eye. You’ll soon see what suits you best.
Here’s what I’d love you to do next:
- Take an episode idea and map it out, roughly, in bullet points
- Open your writing app, and start typing.
- Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Record your stream of consciousness.
- If you go off-plan, roll with it. Let the evolving idea guide you.
- Once finished, go back and read it through with an eye on structure.
- Reorder the material to reflect the easiest way it can be taught.
- Alter your bullet point plan to reflect the new form.
- (Anything that was bumped out, save it for the next episode!)
- Record a video or a podcast (both?) based on this new plan.
- Do a clarity edit of the article – use concepts, phrases, language from the spoken word episode.
I’d love to hear what you think. If you follow this through, let me know your answers to the following questions:
- Reflect: Did writing first lead to a better media episode?
- Reflect: Did the spoken episode help to clarify the written article?
Drop it into the comments below. Look forward to hearing from you!