As a Writer, Curation Is Part of Your Job
You’re the last line of defense — and that’s a good thing
Let’s start with remembering that there are no brand new ideas. Whatever your writing idea is, it has almost certainly been said before on the internet. This quote below explains the reality perfectly:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.
We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
— Mark Twain
Once I understood as a writer that there were no new ideas, I realized that a lot of what we do as writers is expand on ideas. And with that very act comes a form of curation.
A writer is like the last line of defense before an idea infiltrates a reader’s mind for good and affects them either negatively or positively. That’s a huge freaking responsibility when you think about it.
It’s your job as a writer to shield your audience from BS, but at the same time, to expose them to ideas they may not have heard before or even things that could be hard for them to swallow.
When you seek to inspire, teach, entertain, or make someone feel a different way through writing, you’re going to be curating outside ideas and references as part of the process.
Here are some of the things you will need to curate as a writer:
A disproportionately large part of writing is telling stories. They can be your stories or they can be borrowed from other people.
You may have an excellent point or something valuable to teach, but without stories, you won’t have the powerful impact that will get your reader to a place you’re attempting to take them.
Curating stories is difficult.
- Some stories are too long.
- Some stories have questionable sources.
- Some stories are plain boring.
Your job as a writer is to curate the stories you feature in your work. This is no small task and you should take it extremely seriously. The stories that are worth curating are often the ones that have some emotion attached to them. Raw emotions in stories drive readers to make a connection in their mind with the story that helps implant an idea deep in their subconscious.
Emotion is the glue that makes ideas stick to the mind and allow them to be helpful when they’re required in the reader’s life.
I just finished writing a story about the writers who impacted me the most, and it included one quote from each of them that can help anyone who reads the article.
The process of curating the writers in the story was grueling. Some of my fellow writers on Medium had great ideas that I wanted to share, but they didn’t make the cut.
Curating writers to feature came down to a strict criteria:
- How long has the writer been writing?
- Does the writer take their own advice?
- Is the writer a good person or a self-obsessed asshole?
- Does the writer regularly publish stories?
- Is the writer’s advice really life-changing?
For days, I went back and forth on which writers I wanted to feature. There were some brilliant pieces of advice I wanted to share, but to feature another writer was a big responsibly. By talking about a fellow writer, you’re sublimely saying, “Read the rest of their work.”
If you write, you too will come to a point where you need to feature other writers. Use the criteria above when you curate the advice you quote.
Writing stories will regularly involve quoting books or movies that helped you arrive at your point.
There are so many to choose from, and even if you get one useful idea out of a book, that doesn’t mean that you should feature it if the rest of the book is no good. I rarely link to books because I’m happy to curate a quote, but curating and recommending an entire book is a big deal.
Too often, writers mention books without a lot of thought and don’t realize that again, they’re sublimely telling people to read the book. When someone gets burnt by the books you recommend, they may stop reading your work altogether.
Rather than recommending books left, right, and center, focus on mentioning fewer books and only the ones you would be happy to read yourself or give to someone who is in a desperate situation.
My approach is even more drastic. I ask myself this question:
“If a reader was deeply depressed and needed one book to step back from the brink of despair, would this be one of the books I would tell them to read?”
Now there’s a question to sharpen your curating skills!
The ideas you choose to share and expand on are endless. Your job is to carefully curate ideas and get good at not only curating ideas, but also making them simple, shareable, and meaningful to your readers.
There are many ideas I’m exploring right now that I haven’t shared yet because they haven’t been validated.
Don’t share every idea you have — curate the good ideas that are helpful.
Your Job as a Curator Doesn’t End When You Hit Publish
One mistake I made was to share what I thought was brilliant advice that came from Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street.
This was a huge mistake. I didn’t do the proper research and when a mentor forced me to reconsider featuring Jordan, I realized that his shady background wasn’t something that readers should be exposed to.
As a result, I deleted the post that featured his advice.
What is important to take away from this moment is that your job as a curator doesn’t end. If something you share down the track needs to be edited or deleted, it’s your job to do it. Hitting publish isn’t the end of your curating duties.
Don’t be afraid to change your position, apologize when you make a mistake with your curation, or take the drastic approach of deleting a piece of your work.
If you see the job of a curator with this level of seriousness, your writing will improve, and your audience will trust you more because of it.
Trust is a huge piece of a reader’s heart that they give to you as a writer. Don’t take it for granted.