Don’t Worry About Being Original — Everything’s a Remix
One of the biggest limiting beliefs I run into when talking to aspiring writers or creators is that they don’t have anything “original” to write about or say.
“I don’t have anything unique to say on this topic.”
“Somebody else already said what I want to say about this.”
“There are other people saying this out there.”
“How can I be ‘original’?”
It turns out, your own experiences and your own background give you the opportunity to create content that only you can create. Instead of trying to convince people of this (which is like pushing a boulder up a hill once they start running the script that they aren’t “creative”), I think it’s better to tell aspiring writers what all succeeding writers already know:
You don’t have to be original.
Remix, Don’t Plagiarize
In the world of content creation, there’s plagiarism (which you obviously don’t want to do) and then there’s remixing.
Plagiarism is when you take something else that is very clearly somebody else’s work verbatim (or pretty close to verbatim) and pass it off as your own original work. If you wrote an article about this cool technique you developed to measure your fears and it is a word-for-word copy of Tim Ferriss’s Fear Setting exercises, then you’re plagiarizing Tim Ferriss. If you instead take Fear Setting and apply it to an area of life unique to you and your experiences, while giving credit that the original process came from TF, you’re not plagiarizing.
Most people don’t really plagiarize and, when they do, it’s not malicious. Don’t worry about that.
Instead, think about remixing.
The great stories throughout history are all remixes of the same plots. Pinocchio, Peter Pan, the story of Christ, the parable of Philoctetes, Jonah and the whale, and numerous other famous stories follow the plot of descending into darkness to save something whole. The Disney princess stories come from thousands of years of European and Asian princess stories. Famous musical performances from Haydn through Wiz follow the same chord progressions. Even in the personal development world, lines of thought that have very little to do with each other are remixes on the same themes of personal responsibility and frame control.
The things worth saying and worth reading are worth being said by different people at different times.
Remixing is as easy as consuming and creating.
How to Remix
There’s a reason that it’s both of those.
Reading more lets you take in more raw information, sure. If you want to write about cooking and you read about more cooking techniques, you’ll learn more stuff you can write about.
But it’s also to help you notice major themes and archetypes through writing throughout history (also why I recommend reading older books when possible). Once you read dozens of books on the same handful of topics, you see that there are really only two or three core things you need to know.
Everything else is a remix.
To overcome your fear of needing to be “original” and start remixing, follow these steps:
- Start writing. Choose something that interests you and write some simple posts about it. These posts can just be about your own personal experience with these things, or they can be book reviews, or even poems. Just start writing. In my case, I am interested in education, so I wrote about education while working at an education company.
- Start reading. Read more on this topic. Find the top couple of books that people read on it and consume those. Keep writing while you’re reading. In my case, I started reading more about education.
- Read in another area that interests you. Find another area that is supposedly unrelated and start reading in that area. I am also interested in economics and psychology, so I read some classics in both and some pop books in both.
- Combine the two areas in a post. Write about “The X of Y,” (e.g., “the history of cooking,” or “the psychology of higher education,” or “cooking and American cars,”) or make notes while reading about things authors in different fields are saying that sound similar.
- Share your articles with others. When getting started, Wordpress and Medium are good tools for writing. As you gain more momentum, try to get your posts shared by other writers and do guest posts on others’ blogs. I put together my tried-and-true email scripts for boosting your writing to bigger audiences available here.
- Repeat. As you share your articles, others may send new resources your way. Keep reading. Keep writing. Combine.
If you do this repeatedly enough, you end up developing your own semi-original niche. In my case, I’ve carved out an interesting place I enjoy writing between the intersections of education, personal development, and professional development. These are the things I enjoy reading about and that people pay me to talk about, so the niche serves my life in other ways, too. For you, your primary niche should be something you enjoy reading books (or articles) about as it is. Don’t try to force yourself to enjoy something you don’t because it’s trendy or because you think it will get more clicks.
Go forth and remix.