Experiences Are Ingredients
It's not enough to capture experiences. You must let them collect before you publish.
Imagine you enter your kitchen and open your pantry to a dazzling array of spices. Your fridge is stocked with delectable produce - shiitake mushrooms, red bell peppers, carrots, and baby bok choy. You start plucking ingredients out to match the mood of this beautiful day.
The possibilities of creativity are robust only if you have a diverse set of raw ingredients to choose from. This is true for all forms of creativity whether it is cooking or creating content for the digital world. When we harvest moments and ideas from our lives, it is important for us to store our experiences so that we can create richer content later. A common mistake is to capture experiences and post them directly to the web without sitting on it. This reduces our experiences into commodities rather than unique products.
Say, when you travel to Rome, you take photos and immediately post them to Instagram. Yes, you have captured your experiences and delivered them to an audience, but is your photo in front of the colosseum any different than the other millions of photos in front of the colosseum? In fact, by publishing our immediate experiences we have sold them as a commodity. The difference between commodity and product is the former is the raw material, like lumber, whereas products are finished goods like a wooden table. Commodities are largely indistinguishable from one another whereas products are inherently unique.
When we harvest our experiences and immediately bring them to market we are providing a lower value to the consumer. By harvesting experiences and collecting them we can elevate our output so that the consumer, our audience, is eating a Michelin star meal rather than a raw potato. We still must collect our experiences by taking photos, jotting reflections, and storing notes from what we've read, heard and seen. When we produce a new piece of content, we draw from these direct experiences and mix them together to create something completely original and far more interesting to the end user.
In A Swim In A Pond In the Rain, George Saunders analyzes what makes a story come alive and gives the following analogy:
“A story is not like real life. It is like a table with just a few things on it. The meaning of the table is made by the choice of things and their relation to one another. Imagine these things on a table: a gun, a grenade, a hatchet, a ceramic statue of a duck.
If the duck is at the center of the table, surrounded closely by the weapons we feel that the duck is in trouble. [...] If the three weapons are each hanging precipitously over one edge of the table, and the duck is facing them, we might understand the duck to be a radical pacifist who's finally had enough. That's really all the story is a limited set of elements that we read against one another.”
The content you produce, whether it is an essay, a video, or a tweet, behaves like a story. If you assemble it with just one experience on your table then the range of your story is limited. But by introducing a new item to the table, the consumer has new angles to examine what is happening. Consider what I have just done by weaving a quote from Saunders’ book. It expands your understanding of both me as an author, the mechanics of a story, and ties it back to this idea of capturing and storing your ideas.
Should you immediately publish your experiences? Only sparingly. The strongest form of content is to harvest your experiences diligently and let them sit. Then you enter your kitchen one beautiful morning and you open your pantry to a dazzling array of ingredients. You rush to your fridge that is stocked with interesting thoughts. And you start plucking ingredients out to match the mood of this morning. What you make will be far more interesting.