First Published: July 6, 2023


Last Updated: July 6, 2023

Over the weekend, my partner came home from surfing to find me laying on the living room floor crying into my paperback book.

(I reject the concept of crying on the bathroom floor. It's cold and hard...I find the most comfortable floor in the house to cry on. 🙃)

"Third act breakup?" he asked.

"Third act breakup," I confirmed.

I've been reading romance for a decade now, but for most of that he didn't need to know much about them.

In the past year or two, though, between him working from home and me reading more romance than I did in the other years he's worked from home, he's had to get more familiar with the genre's different beats and formulas.

You know, so he knows what's going on when he finds me crying on the floor, or I almost hit him when I throw a paperback across the room, or yell "KISS ALREADY!" through the noise-cancelling headphones playing my audiobook. 🥴

Lucky for him, the romance genre relies heavily on formulas, on mixing and matching different known variables, so it’s easy to get a grip on.

The formulas of romance novels

For example, the overall setup of the book is usually a well-known trope like...

  • Enemies to lovers
  • Forced proximity
  • Fake dating
  • Friends to lovers
  • Second chance romance
  • One fell first, the other fell harder

Then, the individual characters are usually based on popular archetypes like "grumpy" and "sunshine," or "cinnamon roll" (I LOVE a cinnamon roll).

Finally, the plot itself is made up of different tropes, like…

  • The meet cute
  • The almost kiss
  • The previously mentioned third act conflict (which is frequently a breakup)

Basically, the romance genre, like ALL genre fiction, is formulaic as hell. BUT that doesn't make it any less entertaining.

In fact, I'd argue the formulaic-ness makes the reader experience better.

It makes it easier for us as readers to seek out what we know we’ll enjoy, leading to picking up less books we don’t end up liking.

By choosing a cozy mystery over a general crime or mystery novel, for example, I know I won't have to deal with any descriptions of violence or gore that’ll make me nauseous.

Formulas also don’t make the stories any less original.

When you take into account that there are hundreds of different overarching story tropes, character tropes, and single plot point tropes, in addition to hundreds or thousands of different writing styles and voices…

There are millions of different combinations of variables.

Millions of different results of the formula.

Millions of different stories to tell.

So, what does any of this have to do with content and marketing?

The formulas of content marketing

Well, I’ve been trying to bring this mindset around formulas to my own writing, too.

I’m trying to remember that formulas, templates, and frameworks aren’t inherently bad things, and that I could probably on them a lot more.

I think a lot of us have misplaced “ick” around templates that I’m trying to work through.

For example, lately, I’ve seen a lot of people in the content marketing & online business spaces bemoaning templates, formulas, and frameworks, writing them off completely as useful tools.

They probably see bad content that was very clearly written from a template or formula, and assume that everything written based on a template or framework is equally bad.

But here’s the thing:

Most of the good content you see was ALSO created with a template or framework, it’s just not as noticeable because the content is better overall.

I have some theories as to what makes some template/formula usage more obvious than others:

  • Sometimes the template or framework itself is poorly designed, so content that comes out of it will be poor quality. For example, I don’t know if I’ve ever used a fill-in-the-blank copy/content template that gave me results I was happy with, but I love content templates that basically outline what you should say where WITHOUT trying to say it for you.
  • Sometimes the person using the template or formula is too lazy with customizing it or adding details, so it comes off reading awkward and choppy with lots of generic language.
  • Specifically with templates (vs. formulas or frameworks), sometimes they become a victim of its own success. This happens infrequently, but sometimes a template is so good, it gets so popular that there are thousands of business in the same space using the same template and everyone sounds the same.

But ultimately, these things are just tools.

They’re not good or bad in and of themselves, they’re just neutral.

There are high quality tools and low quality tools, and there are the right tools for the job and the wrong tools for the job.

You’re not going to be able to screw in a screw with a 30-year old drill that has a dead battery and a drill bit that strips the screw’s metal.

And you’re not going to be able to nail in a nail with a wrench.

But that doesn’t take away the usefulness of the tools in general.

How I’m using templates, frameworks, & formulas

The past year or two, I’ve been dealing with a lot of new health issues that are limiting my energy in new ways, and working through the additional brain fog has been harder than I’m used to.

This has meant I haven’t had the mental energy needed to create as much content as I usually do.

For months, I’d been trying to push through it with the same content processes as usual.

But one day, I was thinking/journaling about how I could adapt my work so that it takes less mental energy…given I don’t have any.

And the best answer I could come up with?

Relying on more mental tools and shortcuts, which is all these things are.

I’ve been trying to organize and build my arsenal of mental shortcuts for writing into my content remix library. Things like:

  • Hook/angle templates
  • Formatting templates
  • Introduction templates
  • Conclusion templates
  • Call-to-action templates

Instead of deciding how I’m going to approach each of those content elements off the top of my head each time I go to create, I can work off a reference list to help me frame and structure things, and create my own building blocks to reuse over and over.

For example, let’s take this email. I outlined it using a combination of a hook template and an outline template.

The hook template I used is “what [topic unrelated to business] can teach you about [main content topic].

And the email itself follows a basic structure I often use as a template for my initial outline:

  • A few paragraphs telling a story that seems unrelated to my usual content topics (bonus points for using the in media res writing technique to grab the reader’s attention).
  • A quick 1-2 sentence segue teasing how the story actually is relevant to usual content topics.
  • An in-depth explanation of what lessons the story holds about your usual content topics.

These are extremely basic examples (if I was more organized, I’d have a CTA template to give this email more of a point), but I’m working on more complex examples too.

For example, instead of just using templates or frameworks created by other people, I’m also making my own templates for more specific use cases in my businesses:

  • Product description templates for items in the Work Brighter shop
  • Design templates for promoting lead magnets on Instagram
  • Copy templates for promoting different products in the Work Brighter newsletter’s call-to-action section
  • An overall template for the entire structure of the Work Brighter newsletter (which, I would argue, is the difference between a marketing email in general and an email newsletter specifically)

Overall, I’m trying to build out a well-rounded toolkit that’s specific to the types of jobs I need those tools for.

And instead of either over-relying on templates or writing them off completely, you can do the same.

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