Blog Topics: Original or Commonplace?

The past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of catch-up reading—you know, finally digging into that growing pile of magazines that got ignored during the end-of-the-year frenzy. This means that I’ve been reading several issues of a magazine in rapid succession.

And I’ve noticed something. Every magazine I read publishes basically the same articles month after month after month.

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In every issue of Self magazine, you can read ways to eat healthier, lose weight, have better relationships, be happier, squeeze in more exercise. In every issue of Real Simple, you can read how to become more organized, how to declutter, how to decorate, how to cook, how to save money. In The Writer,  you’ll find ways to work more efficiently, ways to sell articles/short stories/memoir/etc., ways to drum up freelance work, ways to become more creative.

Okay, so they aren’t exactly the same, but some of these articles come remarkably close. There are only so many ways you can say “eat more veggies,” “practice planks for firmer abs,” or “write every day.” Often, you’ll find the same basic information presented month after month, each time with a slightly different spin. Perhaps the writer will include a story of her personal experience; or provide some new insight to the cause of a common problem; or perhaps the “eat your veggies” message will come with information about some new research study. But still, readers are reading the same basic stories over and over.

This isn’t a magazine-only phenomenon. If you look through a list of writing blog posts, you’ll start to see a pattern emerge. The same few topics show up again and again and again…and again: writing craft topics like dialog, character, description, plot, passive voice; marketing topics; how to organize; how to focus; how to be more efficient; how to get published.

And we love it. We want to read these same stories over and over. It works. (Ha, thought I was complaining, didn’t you!)

This is good news for those of us who have been blogging for a while…but why the heck should this be true? Why does it work to write about the same topics over and over, while other writers are doing the same all over the blogosphere? I have some theories on why some topics remain evergreen:

You don’t learn it once and move on.

Writers at all stages think about dialog, plot, description, and characters. When a seasoned writer reads an article on story structure, she won’t gain the same insight from it as, say, a new would-be novelist; but she will likely gain some insight. As we grow as writers, we revisit old topics, apply the ideas to different situations, and gain a deeper understanding. I think of this as the spiral staircase of learning, winding through different ideas, repeating them time and again, but doing so at ever-higher levels.

New writers are continually entering the scene.

Just because a topic is old hat for me doesn’t mean it’s old hat for everyone. When I started in my first critique group, they graciously explained to me that I should avoid passive voice. And that it might be a good idea for me to pick one tense and stick with that. And that dialog from different characters belongs in different paragraphs. Now that information feels so familiar, it’s easy to assume everyone knows it—but as I interact with other writers, I’m reminded that everyone has to start somewhere, and when you’re starting out, you might not know the “basics.”

New perspectives generate new insights.

Just because I know the basic structure of the Hero’s Journey doesn’t mean that I can apply it to my own work—but reading how another writer applies the Hero’s Journey to women’s fiction can help me identify something that isn’t working in my own writing. By bringing different stories and examples to the same topic, we reach different readers in different ways.

Should we strive for originality?

It’s tempting to feel the need to be original, to avoid repetition—and yet, readers join a blog looking for a particular type of content. I blog about writing and the writing life; if I were to start blogging about weight loss, or sea turtle conservation, or even marketing, I’d probably lose a lot of you. On the flip side, if I posted exactly the same articles over and over, I’d lose you, too. As a reader, I want originality in approach to a topic—but I want that originality within a known framework.

Just as one can argue that all books tell one of a limited number of stories, perhaps there are no new stories in the land of blogging, especially the land of writing blogs. And I think that’s okay, because the joy is in the journey.

What about you? Do you feel like you seem the same topics covered time and again? Does that bother you?

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]

Comments

  1. says

    I find it useful to read about the same topic from different perspectives. You never know what is going to particularly resonate with you. It might be that third or fifth time you read about it that creates some kind of spark.

    • says

      Exactly! Sometimes it takes just the right example, or just the right explanation, for me to internalize a concept. Plus review is always a good thing! Thanks for stopping by :)

  2. says

    For me it goes hand in hand with being a writer. Trying to get it through my thick skull that if I just work hard enough on my writing craft, I’ll improve.

    So it is that I read things to help hammer home the basic facts and processes. Even if it’s a repetition, it helps my brain keep that stupid naysayer ego in check.

    • says

      That’s why I read magazines like The Writer cover to cover. Not only do they review basic info for me, they leave me motivated to succeed.

      By the way, anyone interested in motivation should click over to Kenda’s blog, where she is covering that very topic!

  3. says

    This is such a good take on this subject. Thank you. I have wondered about my own blog, if I’m reinventing the wheel all the time. But there are different ways to say things, and some way that I find to express something might be just what one of my readers needs to hear that day. Keeping to universal themes while giving them one’s own personal twist is key, I think. (Can you tell I’ve just been involved in a conversation about “high-concept”?)

    I particularly appreciated “You don’t learn it once and move on.” Yes!

    • says

      I’m glad this resonated. I’ve been worrying so much recently about being original–and then it hit me that “original” might not be the best course. Not that I should be repetitive, but a new twist on an old topic is fine.

      I like the parallel to “high concept”. After all, what is high concept but a universal story packaged in a fresh new wrapper? :)

  4. says

    What a great point! I worry about this sometimes, but then I remember that we’re all going through this together, and we’re helping each other out by bouncing this stuff around. And it’s fun to see what our writing buddies are learning!

  5. says

    I agree. Besides, recent research showed that students learned more from discussing problems than from traditional teaching, even when they came to the wrong conclusion initially. We’re enhancing learning with all this discussion!

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