A Minimalist’s Guide to Content Creation

When was the last time someone told you to “do more with less”? How about “think less, live more”? Or, “reduce, reuse, recycle”? When was the last time you saw an article about the tiny home trend? Minimalist design? Or a DIY Pinterest post about reducing consumption via, well, doing it yourself?

Minimalism as a trend has been around for a fair few years now, and it doesn’t seem to be leaving the cultural zeitgeist anytime soon. And for good reason. The threat of climate change is real, and massive (the size of Delaware, at a minimum), and it, like minimalism, isn’t going anywhere fast. Now is the time to be thinking about reducing, reusing, and recycling pretty much everything in our lives.

William Morris Minimalism
I found this on Pinterest. Where else?

So how do we explain the overdrive publication of digital content, the constant crowding of our newsfeeds, the clickbait articles desperate for our attention, the freelance writers in developing countries being paid pennies on the dollar for poorly-written articles designed to tempt us to click in their direction? How can we be minimalists in a world with billions of 140-character tweets, vanishing Snapchat and Instagram stories, and articles that get buried at the bottom of the news feed as soon as we publish them?

For both creators and consumers, the explosion of digital content can be a source of constant anxiety. Over at NoSidebar.com, Melissa Wilkins writes,

Before long it starts to seem like the humming stream of updates and posts and photos is whispering that you’re falling behind, you don’t compare, you can’t keep up.

How do we reconcile physical minimalism with digital maximalism?

As a blogger and a writer, I’ve struggled with this conundrum. I wrote a blog post years ago called Write, Publish, Repeat? that was a refutation of Sean Platt and Johnny Truant’s book of the same name. In the post I argued that this mantra, Write, Publish, Repeat, as a get-rich-quick scheme for authors, is “an exhortation to verbosity” and will over time degrade the perception of literature as art.

Minimalism 2

But Platt and Truant aren’t wrong. To sell more books, you have to write more books. To attract new folks to your platform, you have to generate content. To stay relevant, you have to keep creating.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

What does this mean in a world where some forms of growth lead to civilization death?

In the physical world, I practice waste reduction, I only eat plants, I make choices that decrease my water usage and greenhouse-gas footprint, I buy 80% of my clothes and books used, and I don’t often drive my car.

In the digital world, I am constantly writing new articles, producing new books, generating content for my social media channels, Tweeting, Facebook-ing, Instagraming, and Pinning.

To me, this feels counter-intuitive, even hypocritical. The two lifestyles are at odds with each other. I can’t reframe my lifestyle around reduction while gearing up for constant production. In order to reconcile these two worldviews, I’ve had to take elements from both and combine them into one holistic approach. As I’ve built my online platform, I’ve come up with a set of tenets that have been recycled and repurposed from the zero-waste philosophy I try to live in my daily life. Here are the four fundamental tenets of my Minimalist’s Guide to Content Creation:

1. Everything should be reusable. 

In the physical world, I would never buy something that can only be used once. (The obvious exceptions are food and toilet paper.) I wash Ziploc bags and clean aluminum foil. I avoid paper towels whenever I can. I even have a set of wooden silverware I carry around to avoid using plastic. In my view, disposable goods are valueless trash. Why would my digital content be any different? I devote many hours to every blog post I write. I think carefully about everything that goes on my Instagram. My books are the products of months worth of man-hours. Once I’ve published something, be it a photo, a poem, or a book, I want it to get maximum traction to compensate for the effort I’ve put in. This is why all of my platforms are linked together. When I post something on Instagram, it also goes to my Twitter and, often, to my Facebook. I’ll dig through my best-of blog posts to repost on Twitter and Facebook. Everything I write or publish should be shareable across multiple platforms and on multiple occasions.

2. Buy used (and cite your sources)!

Although this tenet comes directly from my physical philosophy, it applies to digital life as well. By “buying used,” by which I mean reblogging or reposting content from other folks (with proper credit, of course!), you can both win allies by amplifying the voices of others and deliver relevant content to your readers and fans without a lot of effort.

3. Minimize emissions, a.k.a. “content farts” 

Don’t produce junky content that will die a day after it hits the Twittersphere. If it’s not good content that can be recycled or repurposed in accordance with the above tenets, why did you waste valuable time generating it in the first place? I’ve been guilty of this before; there are a few blog posts I’ve put into the world that are nothing more than content farts.

There is an exception to this, and that’s when you’re practicing your craft. Photographers who post photos they’re using to practice a new skill or hone an old one aren’t producing art farts. They’re seeking feedback and reinforcement by sharing their results. This can be an integral part of a young artist building a platform. An artist’s sketchbook might not be something they’d sell at Sotheby’s for thousands of dollars, but that hardly makes it a wasted effort.

Here’s how to tell the difference between junk content and practice: Did you learn something from it? If not, will your reader learn something from it? If you can’t answer yes to one or both questions, it’s a content fart.

4. Don’t be afraid to use the same recipe twice. 

I would never spend hours crafting the perfect vegan mac and cheese only to forget entirely how I did it! When I find something that friends and family enjoy in the kitchen, I take note so I can replicate it later. (Well, I’m trying to get better about that, anyway.) Every family has their classics. The same should be true of content creation. When you find a subject that resonates, either with you or your audience, don’t be afraid to create something similar later – with updates and a fresh perspective, of course! Just because you’ve “done it before” doesn’t mean it’s not still relevant – and while you could choose to just re-post what you wrote the first time, it’s always helpful to repackage and add a new touch.

All four tenets of minimalist content creation are adapted from the lifestyle choices we can make to reduce our ecological impact as well. It’s important to remember, though, that “minimalism” is just a trendy word. Sometimes over-focuses on decluttering for the sake of increased productivity. Does that sound counter-intuitive to you? It should! It’s important to remember why we become minimalists in the first place: to reduce our eco-footprint, to reduce our dependence on material goods, and to focus on the things that really matter.

Questions? Additional thoughts? Strong opinions, kindly worded? I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a line in the comments and I’ll get back to you.