Do you feel like everything has already been said? That it’s impossible to be original, in an age where everyone has instant access to everything?
Well, I disagree.
Fresh, original writers and bloggers emerge every day. Each of us is an utterly unique human being.
Yet originality remains a struggle for many writers. Here’s a typical comment I recently got on one of my blog posts:
“I run a blog and I’ve been trying to be original in my content. The more I try, the more I get less original.
“What’s your advice on this?” –Ifeanyi
When you feel like you have nothing fresh to contribute, it’s time to take a step back and shake up your creative process.
I put together this list of 18 originality-enhancing ideas because in Hebrew, the word for life, chai, has the numerical value of 18. Pump some new life into your writing with these!
1. Stop reading your competitors
If you spend hours each day reading competing bloggers in your niche, it’s time to take a break. This is one of the top habits that can make you feel intimidated, overwhelmed, and like there can’t possibly be anything you can add.
Yes, you want to know what’s out there…but for now, tune it out. Focus on what you know, and write from it.
2. Ask “What’s missing?”
While you were reading all those other writers in your space, did you ever find yourself with unanswered questions? Ever wonder what would happen next in that trend? Or what the effect of a new development or emerging problem might have on that topic?
In every story, there are holes. Find them, and you have a new idea that spins the topic forward. For instance, in the world of freelance-writing blogging, I found no one was doing exposés — so I write exposés. They’re among the most popular posts I’ve done.
3. Listen to your heart
You are a one-of-a-kind person, with your own emotions, passions, and desires. Make a list of what makes you:
Think about how you can use these as drivers of posts that by definition will be unique. Let your anger or your pain inform your word choices, your topic choices. When you follow your heart, you’re bound to create something new, since only you have your feelings.
For me personally, learning about super-low rates content mills paid writers was a watershed moment in my writing career. The rage I felt at that writer exploitation drove the creation of what is now a $500,000-a-year business.
So speak out. Seek to right a wrong. Take your joy and spread it around. Great things can happen.
4. Listen to your gut
Sometimes, when you read an article, do you get a feeling in your gut that it’s all bull?
Listen to that feeling, and pursue justice. If someone’s throwing baloney, call them out on it. Be contrarian. Disagree with the conventional wisdom.
Stake out your own point of view about what’s going on in your industry or topic, and you’re instantly original. You also get yourself mentioned in the same breath with a well-known pop-culture icon or topic, which can really help you get instant attention.
5. Draw from other media
Instead of reading blog posts all day as you try to create your original blog posts, go to a play. See a movie. Go to an art museum.
When nothing creative is coming out, it often means you’re not getting enough creative input. If you feel boxed in by the written word, it may be time to branch out.
Another approach: If you also sing, or are a designer, or cartoonist, bring it together with what you do as a writer. Two people I love who create a fresh approach by adding their cartooning to their writing are Sean D’Souza and Mars Dorian. I’ve personally sung songs on podcasts to inspire my readers, drawing on my years as a singer-songwriter.
Do you think writing must be a lonely thing you do in a garret? Let me disabuse you of that notion! Writing can be a collaborative activity — and a lot of innovation and vitality can arise from that collaborative process. If you feel like your creative batteries are low, it’s a great time to co-write something.
I can tell you teaming up with The Renegade Writer’s Linda Formichelli for some of my e-books and courses made for radically more well-rounded and unique material — because it incorporated two writers’ points of view, and the two of us have had quite different writing careers. And watching how Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant collaborate on their novels reminds me that two writing heads put together can crank out an amazing amount of great (and funny!) stuff.
I’m not saying you need to turn into a travel writer here — instead, travel for the exposure to other cultures, customs, sights, sounds, and ideas. It’ll shake up what you do!
Think of what Paul Simon sounded like…before he went to South Africa and listened to Ladysmith Black Mombazo, and found something that connected to his roots in doo-wop in a new way. That experience rejuvenated his career, creating a fresh sound for him.
Every language has a cadence to it, and a way of putting things. Get a new slant, and you may bring a fresh approach to your writing.
Sometimes, just going for a half-hour walk, or moving your office to a different room of the house will give you a new outlook — try it! I became super-productive when I moved to a co-working spot for a couple summers.
8. Mix and match
Take hip-hop, and cross it with the tumultuous-yet-formal era of the 1700s. Who would think of that? Only Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the super-smash-hit, multi-Tony-award-winning musical Hamilton. He throws out many conventions, casting actors of color as well-known historical white figures, for one.
And people can’t stop raving about it. Mashups of different cultures and styles can produce highly engaging material. Obviously, hip-hop isn’t new, and neither is the Revolutionary War. But put them together, and you get something that stops people in their tracks, and makes them think. Speaking of that:
9. Ignore the naysayers
Think your concept or novel idea or writing style is too far-out, and no one will ‘get’ you? In a video at the Tonys, president Barack Obama related how laughable they found the idea of a musical about our nation’s first tax collector, when Miranda presented an excerpt as a work-in-progress at a White House poetry jam. Now, you can hardly get a ticket to this show on Broadway.
One of the most important things an original writer needs is an inner belief that what they are doing has value. If you think you’ve got something, don’t let any negative exterior feedback stop you from pursuing it…or the next great novel, or musical, or song, or investigative piece of reporting, might never be written.
10. Talk to live humans
How long have you been writing off the top of your head? If it feels stale, it’s time to find people to interview. In my Pitch Clinic class, it’s amazing how many pitches we see that have clearly been written in a vacuum, with no input from an expert or even a ‘real person’ source who’s been affected by this issue.
The result is usually something dull. If you have a fear of interviewing, practice on a friend. Then, start finding people to talk to. You’ll be amazed at how much interesting new information you turn up, and your posts will have a slant that hasn’t been seen before.
11. Collect and compare styles
A technical way to attack the problem of developing a unique style is study people who have one. What are they doing that makes their style so refreshing?
For instance, I’m currently reading the Pulitzer-winning book The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. His story is interesting…but his style just knocks me out! He throws $10 words around (the way I’m always telling people you shouldn’t because you’ll lose too many readers), and hardly a sentence goes by without a funny descriptor.
Read that back to back with, say, The Shipping News (a book where I read each sentence twice, once for plot and once to marvel at its construction). Maybe read The Fault in Our Stars next. Compare and contrast. Then think about your voice, or your character’s voice…and make them crackle.
12. Turn to your idols
Who did you worship as a kid? Are there long-ago giants of your industry who you love to study? If so, use them as fodder for posts that have a time-bending twist.
One blogger who’s always going to the past for fresh post ideas is Brian Clark, who likes to unpack lessons from old-time advertising greats such as David Ogilvy.
13. Write your ass off
How hard do you work at your writing? There’s one sure-fire way to forge a unique voice in writing, and that’s to write a crap-ton. Eventually, your style begins to emerge.
Writing less because you feel sad about how unoriginal you are will not solve this problem. Instead, write something — a letter to your mom, a journal entry — every day.
14. Draft quickly, rewrite slowly
Great writing, as we all know, is really elaborate rewriting. Stop overthinking your first draft — just spit it out.
Then, prepare to work on it like you’re carving a sculpture out of marble. Good writing is not less work than that! Keep chiseling and trimming and sanding and polishing, until you’ve revealed your truth, until you hear the cadence of what you want to say. Until your character comes alive.
15. Copy and substitute
Do you have favorite authors? Try copying out some of your favorite passages by hand (not kidding!).
Then, rewrite them the way you would write it. Target adjectives and choose new ones. Shorten some sections, lengthen others. See how it changes the feel? Next, apply this to a draft of your own writing. Sometimes, it’s easier to play around with someone else’s writing, and it can form a bridge to becoming more open with your own writing.
16. Get critiqued
I began my career voluntarily heading to Hollywood Boulevard once each week to have my songs shredded by my songwriter group. I can’t recommend this enough! I completely got over the idea that anything I wrote was set in stone, or was done and couldn’t be improved. And all that rewriting really helped my personal style emerge.
When someone gave me a piece of feedback that really felt wrong, I knew there was something personal to that — something I needed to keep.
Find a mentor or a peer group, and seek feedback constantly. Stop thinking of your words as precious children. Keep asking questions, rewriting, and learning from others how you can make it better.
17. Pull from your life
Where you’ve been and what you’ve done are unique elements you bring to your writing, that no one else can duplicate. For instance, Liz Strauss‘s background in teaching helped her develop her super-concise, yet friendly and accessible blog style.
18. Become self-competitive
One of the most powerful tools that helped me develop my writing voice was to focus inward, and only compete with myself. Each piece I wrote, I wanted it to be better than what I wrote last week.
That self-improvement program can drive a lot of creativity.
Be an original
There’s no point recycling what you’ve already seen 100 times online. Dig a little deeper, and bring out what you’ve got to say that no one else has said. Bring your light — the world is waiting for it.
What’s helped you be an original writer? Share your tips in the comments.