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Five Reasons Why Cows Are Cute; Or, Thoughts on Writing

That headline was a bit of clickbait, wasn’t it? I’ll explain the cute cows thing in a moment.

First though, an admission: I hate writing headlines. From the time I started writing the news professionally, I’ve always hated that one specific part of the writing process.

If you’ve not worked in a newsroom, this might not be intuitively obvious, but the journalist who wrote a given story probably didn’t write the actual headline you read that caused you to read the story in the first place. This was almost universally true in the days before digital media – a reporter would submit a story, and then a copyeditor would write the headline that fit the space on the page allotted to that story.

Some news organizations are especially good at this – The New York Post has made its clever/infamous front-page headlines its particular point of differentiation over the years, its trademark, if you will.

For me, however, it was always a daunting task. I’d write some headline that I thought adequately enticed the reader to peruse my presumably coherent telling of a given tale, turn it in to my editor, and then come up befuddled when that headline didn’t actually appear in print. And worse yet, that sometimes the headline that did appear didn’t accurately describe what I thought the story was about in the first place! (A lot like this blog post, as it turns out.)

So I came to realize that headlines were something I was not terribly good at, and that I in fact didn’t like doing all that much. Headlines on a blog are easier, of course, because you’re not limited to the space on the page, and since this is my own personal publication, I can be flip or sarcastic or what have you.

Okay, back to cute cows.

Some time back, I was having lunch with one of my dearest friends in the world, fellow speaker and host of the Live Your Story podcast Marlene Eick. We were discussing a broad range of topics, ranging from professional fulfillment to the growth of my speaking endeavors over the years, when Marlene said something along the lines of, “Dude, you need to write more.”

Not quite five years ago, I moved from the Feedstuffs editorial team to our advertising account team, where I work with agribusiness parters such as Elanco and Kemin Industries to create multi-channel advertising and marketing campaigns. And while I still identify – in my mind, at least – as a writer or journalist at heart, I haven’t had a byline in an ag publication since 2013.

And I missed that.

So Marlene’s advice was practical – writing more (and more frequently) is one way to expose myself as a speaker to event planners and other potential clients. But on a deeper level, she knew I missed the professional fulfillment I got on a daily basis as a writer for one of the most-important news and business journals in the industry.

She took things a step further – knowing that I am what author Gretchen Rubin describes as an obliger, Marlene offered to be my writing accountability partner. If I don’t have something posted to this blog by a certain day and time each week, Marlene sends me a loving but firm text message to let me know that I’ve missed my commitment.

Even with the accountability partner, this is sometimes a struggle for me. On some level, having spent so many years as a news writer meant that I didn’t much have to think about what to write about… I have a fairly great news sense, so I’d write about whatever was newsworthy. But in this role, writing on this blog, I have pretty much free rein to write about whatever I want. And that means sometimes I’m not sure that I have anything to say that is worth reading, honestly.

So a few weeks back, I was working on a really serious post about anti-science activism and cyber bullying, and the story took a left turn on me, and I didn’t feel comfortable publishing what I had written.

I texted Marlene to let her know that I wouldn’t make my self-imposed deadline, but she, like a good accountability partner, didn’t let me off the hook. “Why can’t you just write an article about five reasons why cows are cute?” she texted back, prior to giving me a much-needed lecture about the importance of writing consistently, both for my own wellbeing and because of my strategic goals for this blog.

So this week, when I didn’t think I had anything worth saying that someone else hadn’t already said today, her words about writing about cute cows came back to me, and I thought the best course of action was to be honest with you, as the reader. And because in writing about it, I’m also letting you peak behind the curtain a little – writing, like a lot things that are really important, isn’t always easy. But, like a lot of those things – it’s ultimately worth doing, so make the time.

Oh, and if you’re really miffed that I didn’t give you five reasons why cows are cute, it turns out that some random #content farmer at Buzzfeed did a listicle called 22 Reasons Cows Should Be Your Favorite Animal. It looks like 22 pictures of cows from Instagram, so have a great time.

Stay tuned – later this week I’ll have some thoughts on GMO labeling, based on comments from Purdue ag economist Jayson Lusk, and why we may have all been wrong about labeling in the first place.

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