The Story Economy Blog

When Nine-Patch Quilts Won’t Fix It

9 patch quiltWhen I was about five months pregnant with my first kid, I found myself in New York City for a conference. So of course, I blew off an afternoon and headed down to Purl Soho to fabric shop. I’m a fabric nerd, so picking out fabric to make my first baby quilt was a pretty big deal.

I had no clear idea of what I was going to do; I just grabbed all of the prints in my color palette that spoke to me (typical of how I approach projects).

But I figured it would be something sort of off-the-wall. Wacky. Un-babylike.

So when I sat down and started making a nine-patch quilt, I was surprised. Because nothing about it was wacky. Or unexpected. But something about the evenness of the squares and the white space just grabbed me. So I went with it.

Looking back, I think I choose that pattern because it felt very ordered. And I knew that having a baby was going to do some serious re-ordering of my life. So, a structure with set rules and definite order was comforting in that space of the unknown.

I love the quilt (pictured here), and the kids and I have spent plenty of time wrapped up in it. But I look at now and think: how naïve. It makes a nice picture of order. But in reality, nothing about personal experience or business feels that ordered.

Especially not right now, when I feel just a little bit stuck and out of order.

Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me . . .

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my nine-patch quilt is the most re-pinned out of all of the images on my Pinterest board full of stuff I’ve made.

People like straightforward stuff.

In fact, the marketing world seems to be trying to make nine-patch quilts of everything. That is, if you replace “nine patch” with “bulleted lists of a bunch of stuff you need to do.” I come across so many blog posts and articles that are just recaps of marketing ideas, neatly organized. Big to-do lists about social media and SEO and authenticity and list-building. A bunch of “follow this process” lists.

Now, I do find some of this stuff helpful. I like tips as much as the next person. I even create my own lists from time to time, and make attempts to share processes that I think work. (Not to mention the entire lifetime I spent before this one where I was a women’s magazine writer, boiling everything down into bullet points and tips.)

Here is my stuckness though: if we’re all just spinning around these tips on how to market to other people who market how to market, are we making anyone’s life better? Sometimes I feel like everyone on Twitter is just talking at everyone else, and no one is actually listening, because they are all saying shades of the same thing.

People seem to be making whole careers of selling a process for how to sell a process. The cycle doesn’t seem sustainable.

My stuckness is that I’m feeling like in all of this content creation about how to create content, it’s possible that nothing tangible is actually getting delivered. I want to find my place in it, without getting stuck in an endless nine-patch cycle, where things are ordered quite nicely, but nothing feels new or surprising.

For example, earlier this week, I bought a $15 “surprise” gift from Modcloth (you pick your size and they send you some piece of clothing that might be worth pretty much what you paid, or a lot more). Some random thing is actually going to get delivered to my door this week. And it will be a complete surprise. I might hate it. But I will get to hold a thing in my hands that will be brand new to my little world.

I feel like there aren’t enough real surprises. And, at the same time, I’m craving some kind of order. I don’t know how these things are true at once. But they absolutely are.

Maybe this is just the reality of marketing today: a lot of voices talking over each other. Maybe I think too much. Maybe I’m just jealous that other people seem to have figured out things that I haven’t figured out yet. Maybe I’m just tired of winter.

Or maybe I just need a short break from the noise of the digital world to find the order that is inside my own head somewhere. That is why I’m taking next week off from the newsletter. It’s my version of a spring break (not to be confused with an actual spring break).

I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks, definitely with another story.

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