Creating Content for Mass Distribution Is an Energy Vampire

The Act of Publication Can Have a Duplicative Effect on Invested Time

I have noticed a very interesting occurrence when it comes to the act of creation—regardless of if you’re recording a podcast, creating a new vlog, or just writing a simple blog. There is an almost fractal like amount of time that is required by each creative work, and as one creates more and more thought products, the amount of time invested grows enormously.

For instance, when I write a blog post, I start out by writing a vomit draft, which is a great term I learned from an English professor that captures the essence of vomiting your raw ideas onto a page without fear. Once I get to a point where I feel that it’s “good enough,” meaning, that I’ve gone through to edit my voice and ensure that I don’t use the same repetitive language or patterns I revert to by default, I move over to posting it in Grav (my blog platform). Once I’ve added the post to Grav, I preview it to read it yet again. The benefit to this is that since the font sizes and line spacing in the preview window are different, I sometimes catch errors that I didn’t see previously—since our eyes are great at missing things we assume to be correct (pattern matching or filling in the blanks). Sometimes it can be quite beneficial to actually print the post prior to adding it to Grav since the difference in medium can also help with error checking. Reading a post out loud is another way to test this. For most things I go from editor > Grav admin > live, with several improvement cycles throughout (and will still miss errors in some cases).

I had to detail this process to get to the real meat of the idea that inspired this post, which really has more to do with the time I spend on each step. Recently, I recorded a podcast, which was about 1.5 hours long. When I got home, I imported the podcast to start working on the post-production aspects, like tweaking the audio quality and levels, removing ambient noise, and most importantly, reflecting on what was said. This meant that I had to listen to the entirety of the podcast to ensure that the things that I had said were actually representative of how I feel—which can change over time and can be hard to define. Once that was finished, I had to then check that the editing had worked as expected, and didn’t clip (a term for when an audio file, or channel, exceeds the set volume and sounds like it is missing data). I would randomly sample portions of the file to check for quality and that the filters sounded good throughout, and then let the entire thing play to make sure it never clipped at all (which meant just letting it play, but not necessarily listening to it, while I checked the clipping monitor periodically). My point is that, all said and done, when I looked at the time it took to setup the podcast equipment, record, and do post-production, I was probably going to spend several hours (perhaps five), per session—assuming I was able to create a repeatable process for applying the same post-production techniques to each audio file (and wasn’t receiving any outside help).

This was a very daunting prospect, because just recording a podcast was enough of a challenge. I have noticed another emerging trend among content producers: at one point or another, they stop listening or watching the content they produce. Johnny Depp has mentioned that he doesn’t watch the movies he’s appeared in, which may sound strange to many. I have seen interviews with podcasters where an odd thing happens—since they no longer listen to their own podcasts, the available information they are producing creates such an information asymmetry that people regularly reference something they’ve said from a certain podcast, and they can’t remember if they said it or not. This is even more common when people talk about provocative subject matter, since a listener could bring it up out of context years later and say, “what about that point you made on X date at Y time, do you still stand by that statement?” The podcaster might feel like a deer in headlights, since they have slept since then. The power is shifted to the audience, which can intimidate people to such a degree that they never put their opinions out there at all.

This can certainly hold true with politicians, or anyone giving speeches regularly, since so much prep work goes into a speech or debate, and there isn’t enough time in the day to marinate on each point or error they made, or to evaluate the content afterwards. The creation process eventually evolves in a few important ways. Let’s consider the following simple workflow, including time estimates for writing a simple blog post:

  1. Capture the initial idea (30 seconds)
  2. Write rough draft (30 minutes-1 hour)
  3. Edit draft (30 minutes)
  4. Publish (5-10 minutes)

For me, my primary goal for optimization would be step 3, followed by step 4. I can’t get anyone else to generate the idea, nor can I have them write about my ideas in the same way I would. Therefore, if I somehow find another person who can act as an editor for my work, who really understands my voice and what I’m trying to say, with great accuracy, I can cut down on a significant workload. Publishing then is only a matter of copying and pasting my edited work into Grav and adding a couple of tags.

Defining a workflow for Step 3 should be the primary focus of a content producer who wants to reduce the amount of time spent on the creation process, because as one creates more content, more time is spent by that same individual (in the early days), editing their work—which is time that could be better spent doing other things. Now, this isn’t to say they shouldn’t thoroughly review the draft from Step 2, but that having someone else read their work can add quite a bit to the quality of the end product. As the work we create gets more comprehensive and complicated (a book for example), this step becomes more important, and in many cases, is baked into the routines used by most publishing houses.

With podcasts, if I recorded a one-hour podcast a few times a week, that’s already three hours of my life gone (albeit saved). Listening to each podcast (if you’re overly concerned about your own thoughts and perspectives—and improving them) requires an additional three hours a week. Leave room for incidentals like loading the podcast onto your phone, and the like, and we could say we lose at least ten hours a week by taking on a new project like this (assuming you have a talented team to edit the content). For anyone with a hectic schedule, this gets very demanding, very fast.

It’s not a linear progression, nor exponential, but the time required for editing can be addressed by having a staff, or someone smart to edit and review the work. This is the only way to fly, since as I described, doing this yourself (if you’re blogging or podcasting on the side), can sink you, from a time perspective.

I think there are some cool modern ways to get help with the editing of ideas, or low-level issues like typos and grammatical errors, and hope to describe those further as I test them in the near future. Until then, relying on your readers (if you have any), is a good middle ground for finding holes in your logic, or correcting assumptions.

Nick Warren

Nick is the Founder & CEO of MetaSensor, a venture-backed internet of things startup located in Silicon Valley, and a Behavioural Product Designer at Duke's Center for Advanced Hindsight (with Dan Ariely et al.). | Read Full Bio »

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