Surviving The E-Newsletter Jungle

My 11-year-old son Jonathan is in love with a bear. Not just any bear, mind you … Bear Grylls, the unbelievably appropriately-named host of the Discovery Channel program, “Man vs. Wild.

Jon can’t get enough of this guy, and it’s easy to see why: Each episode, Bear (or, as his friends call him, “Bear”) is deliberately stranded in a remote location. African volcano, Nevada desert, Panamanian jungle, whatever.

They drop him in by helicopter and over the next 30 minutes (minus commercials), Bear scales sheer rock formations, crosses raging rivers, eats disgusting insects, and pretty much does everything your mother ever told you not to do, as he makes his death-defying way back to civilization.

I think I’m in love with him too.

Not so much for his physical prowess – oddly enough, he looks like just an average guy. What I love about Bear is his ability to take things he finds in nature and use them to his survival advantage.

Abandoned bird’s nest? Excellent fire starter. Gooey tree sap? Perfect for plugging a hole in an ancient canoe. Venomous snake? Dinner will be ready in half an hour.

Believe me, as someone who spent 20 minutes this morning trying to fix a sneaker with a frayed shoelace, I’m in awe of how much this guy gets done with fewer tools than I carry in my briefcase.

But here’s something I’ve noticed: Bear searches for and collects this useful miscellany long before the next survival crisis arises (and believe me, it will arise). He’s trained himself to pick up stuff along the way, jamming it into his backpack as he cheerfully remarks in his English-accented voice, “This may come in a might handy later on.”

Not that you asked, but the fact is, Bear’s “collect it while you can” approach to amassing useful survival doodads is exactly how you ought to be collecting topics for future E-Newsletters (minus maybe the eating of live insects).

In other words, instead of sitting down to write, staring at a blank screen, and wondering why you can’t come up with anything, do what Bear does: kill something plan ahead.

Specifically:

  1. Develop the habit. As you move through your day, look for stories, topics and insights that might work in future newsletters. The ideas don’t need to be fully baked at this point either. Just as Bear comes across a length of rusty chain and saves it “just in case,” if you have something interesting or unusual happen to you, make note of it.
  1. Standardize your process. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but unless you have a specific, consistent place for storing your ideas – a word document, a notebook, a pile of sticky notes sitting on your desk (my method) – you don’t have a system. Pick one and keep everything in there, ready and waiting for the next time you write.
  1. Never let the moment pass. I shudder to think of how many brilliant topic ideas I’ve had and lost because I didn’t write them down when they arrived. It’s always a mistake. Do yourself a favor: Stop whatever you’re doing and find a scrap of paper to scribble on or leave a message on your own voicemail … whatever it takes to capture your thought.

Here’s the bottom line. For many of us, the hardest part of writing is not the writing itself, it’s finding the inspiration. And while that’s not always easy, there’s no need to make it harder on yourself than necessary.

Do as Bear Grylls does and start collecting now, before the next disaster, I mean E-Newsletter, strikes!

 

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