Here’s How Ann Handley (the World’s First Chief Content Officer) Writes

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Want a quick and dirty way to test whether your content is compelling?

Show it to a teenager … and then answer these questions:

  • Is the teenager still reading, watching, or listening after 30 seconds? One minute? Five minutes? Fifteen? Thirty?
  • Is the teenager happy, confused, or mad?
  • Is the teenager your child?

If your own teenager is still listening after 30 minutes — and is happy about it — you created some good content.

Scientific fact for those who aren’t paying attention: written into the DNA of teenagers is a revulsion for anything adults do, especially their parents.

So imagine trying to get your own daughter to listen to your presentation … and she actually ends up liking it.

That’s what happened to Ann Handley.

After hearing her mother’s presentation, Ann’s daughter said, “I thought I’d be bored, but instead I’m ready to go create some content!”

What’s Ann’s secret?

Well, for starters, she wrote the book on content marketing

Literally.

Content Rules, which Ann co-wrote with C. C. Chapman, is a best-seller that has been translated into nine languages, including Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese.

Before that, Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, which was one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

In the meantime Ann serves as Chief Content Officer (the first such position to ever exist) at MarketingProfs and blogs at AnnHandley.com (which used to be called “Annarchy” way back when … loved that name).

Then there’s that part where Forbes magazine named Ann as the most influential woman in social media in 2011 — it sure helps she boasts more than 215,000 Twitter followers.

Back in 2010 ForbesWoman named her one of the top 20 women bloggers.

Let’s not forget she’s a member of the LinkedIn Influencer program (a role you need an invitation to get).

And, oh yeah, she writes a monthly for Entrepreneur magazine.

Dang, what doesn’t Ann do?! Funny you should ask …

Yeah, but can Ann speak? Can she bring it to the podium?

Just look at her testimonials and you’ll get the answer to that question.

Mind you, these aren’t testimonies from “Sophia in Anchorage” or “Buddy T. from South Carolina.”

There’s one from a VP at JP Morgan. Another from a VP at Cisco. Senior Director at Marketo. Another VP at Kinvey.

Nothing personal against Sophia or Buddy T., but Ann’s got testimonials that matter.

“This is what stands out about Ann’s impact as a speaker,” says Live Your Talk CEO Jill Foster. “It’s her ability to assert a unique, usable point of view as a writer and marketer (versus merely generalizing from common knowledge already out there).”

This explains Ann’s long list of keynote speaking invitations. Which brings me to my next point …

Did I mention Ann is speaking at Authority Intensive? It’s true. She will be a treat (and hopefully wear her cape).

But enough with the introduction. I’m going to let Ann speak for herself now …

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

Who am I? This question just threw me into a bit of soul-searching that took the better part of an hour, and that ultimately ended in me questioning the validity of my very existence.

But to take the easy way out: I’m an author, speaker, and the first Chief Content Officer in the world.*

(* as far as I can tell)

(* and I’ve researched)

What is your area of expertise as a writer?

I’m waging a war on mediocrity in marketing content.

(This makes me sound more violent than I actually am.)

Where can we find your writing?

Wherever books are sold (Content Rules, anyway). Online: AnnHandley.com and MarketingProfs, mostly. I’m also a monthly columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, and you can find me on Twitter here and here.

The writer’s productivity …

How much time, per day, do you read or do research?

I don’t know. I’ve never tallied. And it depends whether I’m working on a project or not. Can I give non-answers? Or perhaps I just did? Also, can I answer a question with a question?

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

I pay all my bills. I catch up on any movies or TV series I might’ve never gotten around to seeing. I change the oil in my car. I waste an hour or two on Facebook. I decide to make something really complicated for dinner.

Then I leash up my dog and on the walk decide what the first line I’m going to write when I get back home will be.

Do you prefer any particular music (or silence) while you write?

Silence. If anyone is breathing nearby, I ask them to stop. Because it’s distracting.

How many hours a day do you spend writing (excluding email, social media, etc.)? What is your most productive time of day?

If I’m working on a project, I spend much of the weekend days writing, because I have a weekday job that keeps me pretty busy. If I’m not working on a project, I spend much of the weekend days feeling liberated and relieved and oddly guilty that I don’t have a project.

My most productive time of day seems to be between 10 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. every morning: I’m still caffeinated from the morning and not yet distracted by thoughts of lunch.

Do you write every day or adhere to any particular system?

I try to write every day — in some capacity or another. It’s not always for public consumption, but it’s the best way for me to know what I think about something.

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

No. “My father never got truck driver’s block,” as the journalist Roger Simon has said.

I do believe in Writer’s Evasion — as all that business about changing the car oil suggests, above. I believe in Writer’s Difficulty and Writer’s Procrastination and Writer’s I Wonder If There’s Any Donuts Left I Should Go Check.

But I don’t believe in Writer’s Block.

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

This question would be easier if you made it multiple choice. But here goes: one part inspiration, one part motivation.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

E.B. White, Kate Atkinson, David Sedaris, Alexander McCall Smith, Joan Didion, Barbara Pym, Orhan Pamuk, and Roz Chast (who is mostly a cartoonist, but her work delights me).

Can you share a best-loved quote?

I have two:

“The reader doesn’t turn the page because of a hunger to applaud.” — writing teacher Don Murray

“A writer always tries … to be part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.” — Anne Lamott (in Bird by Bird)

Who or what is your Muse at the moment?

Right now, I’m working on a book about marketing and writing. So my “muse” is kind of a weird “anti-muse”: I’m tired of reading bad marketing content. Is “anti-muse” a thing?

[Editor’s note, “anti-muse” is totally a thing.]

What makes a writer great?

Empathy for the reader or audience, and a relentless focus on them.

The writer’s work flow …

What hardware or typewriter model do you presently use?

A quill pen crafted from a North African Lapwing and vellum from the skins of heirloom livestock.

I kid –- a two-year-old MacBook Pro.

What software do you use most for writing and general workflow?

I just yesterday bought Scrivener (after Sonia Simone started talking about it on Facebook and then David Meerman Scott told me at lunch this week that it changed his writing life for the better). I’ll have to let you know how it goes.

Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?

I am an excellent procrastinator. But I never miss hardly ever miss am pretty good at adhering to deadlines. Ultimately, my work ethic saves me. Even if I do most of the work while crying.

What helps is what Seth Godin talked about in Linchpin: Pick a date, and SHIP!

Just for fun …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

Regrets at not taking a risk.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

To me there’s no greater success than loving the life you’re living. Which I do.

What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

Never having enough time, and too many demands on the time I do have.

Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.

George Eliot, because she lived in interesting times for women, and yet lived an extraordinary life on her own terms. I’m interested in her personal story perhaps more than anything else. But that’s not a dis of her writing; It’s just that I love reading (or in this case, potentially hearing) autobiographies.

If you could take a vacation tomorrow to anywhere in the world, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

Someplace warm. Ideally on the coast of Greece or Italy.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

That I’m grateful to them for reading this far: Thank you.

And finally, the writer’s desk …

Every serious writer builds a shrine of some sort, whether it be picking the perfect table at a coffee shop, or carving out a quiet nook in your home, with which you hope to entertain the Muse.

And yes, Ann has an office, but says she uses it “mostly to warehouse the printer and some supplies.”

Writing at a desk typically makes me feel hemmed in. This is where I do most writing, because it’s comfortable and it makes me feel more legit, when I’m surrounded by #shelfies.”

We totally get that, Ann. (And love your Hugh MacLeod print!)

And thank you for sharing The Writer Files …

More Q&As are in the works from writers who inspire us, and if you care to sift through our archives, you can find more inspiration here.

If you’ve already subscribed to Copyblogger via email or RSS, the next installment will be delivered to you just like the rest of our daily content. If not, go ahead and subscribe right now so you don’t miss a thing.

Now set some ambitious deadlines and get back to work! See you out there.

Editor’s Note

We are thrilled that Ann Handley will be speaking at our content marketing and networking event — Authority Intensive — taking place May 7-9, 2014, in Denver, Colorado. It’s currently sold out, but stay tuned for details on next year’s Authority Intensive!

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

The post Here’s How Ann Handley (the World’s First Chief Content Officer) Writes appeared first on Copyblogger.

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