I read a debate on Medium this week about whether or not an article was plagiarized. First of all, that word strikes terror into the heart of every writer more than any other. It sends shivers down your spine and whispers of ruined reputations and a lifetime of midnight shifts at McDonald's.
I was once accused of plagiarism in university by an overzealous T.A. because I incorrectly punctuated my citation! (Incidentally, she caught 85% of the class for plagiarism so her definition may have been a little off). And I've been a little jumpy about it ever since.
Yet all over the internet, you'll find articles telling you to get your ideas from your competition, to recycle the viral posts of other people (hey it worked for them it'll work for you, right?). They tell you to find the influencers in your niche and...monkey see, monkey do. Because that's the best we can aspire to right? Brainless monkeys who mirror the greatness of others.
People came down on both sides of the fence regarding the article on Medium. Some saw it as plagiarism, they were angry and demanded she either give attribution or get her own damn ideas.
Others felt it wasn't an exact replica so it was okay. There are no original ideas, right? Steal like an artist and all that.
But maybe this is why we end up with content overload. Maybe repeating what's already been said without adding anything of VALUE to the conversation is just contributing to the noise. And it's getting pretty damn loud out here.
We put a ton of pressure on ourselves to constantly come up with the next great viral post. In order to do that, we have to appeal to the masses, the crowd, the lowest common denominator. And in trying to appeal to everyone we end up producing vast amounts of regurgitated, shallow content that's been seen 26 117 543 times before (just guessing).
I understand the idea of coming up with something truly original is terrifying (though not you're-going-to-need-a-new-career kind of terrifying) and maybe it's even unrealistic.
So what's the answer?
Stop Chasing the Crowd
The crowd will love you and leave you in one hot minute. Yes, you might be visible for 15 minutes (or less, this is the internet after all) but how much is one viral post actually going to boost your bottom line? And is always chasing virality sustainable?
Instead of speaking to the masses know your niche. Cultivate your own crowd of devoted followers. Find your tribe (ugh, I HATE that word but you know what I mean, right?) Focus on just serving them. Be the person they seek out because your content is unique and top notch.
Then be patient. Growth over time gives you the space to figure things out. To make mistakes without the whole world watching. Enjoy your little community. Be grateful for every pair of eyeballs that land on your words and let the crowd sweep past on their frenetic race to the latest, biggest, newest and best.
Get Your Own Damn Opinion
Now, I'm not saying you need to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. But if everyone is saying one thing and you happen to have a different opinion...then - SPEAK UP!
We need voices like yours. Voices who'll dare to take a stand against everything the crowd is saying and actually think for yourself. Since you're speaking up now you might as well find your own unique voice. The uncensored you who's willing to risk saying what you think infront of a world full of strangers.
Need some inspiration? It was no small accident that after I'd drafted the outline for this post these two articles landed in my inbox the very next day! Jackie at Your Words Electric and Ash at TMF both encourage you to find your voice and say things differently. And the perfectly illustrate how the same topic can be explored in completely unique ways by staying true to your own voice and knowing who you're speaking to. I couldn't have said it better...so I'm not going to try.
Speak From Personal Experience
How about instead of searching Google, Twitter or Facebook for ideas or brilliant strokes of inspiration you actually use your own life? Find inspiration in the real world. Talk to people.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking 1) My life is boring. Nothing ever happens worth writing about. May I humbly point you to another article I wrote on finding magic in the mundane.
2) we all hate reading self-centered blog posts that talk about someone else's life. I don't care about your cats! TRUTH!
Which is why your personal experience is just the starting point. Then you have to relate it back to the reader and their life. How do you do this? Easy (okay maybe not so easy - but you'll get better with practice). Look for the universal truths in your personal experiences. Those universal truths that unite all of us.
So it looks sort of like this...
Yeah, this thing happened to me but it's bigger than me because we all go through this, feel this, experience this. We're all just humans trying to figure it out one day to the next. And here's what I learned, or figured out so far.
And it doesn't have to be a big meaningful, profound moment. Universal truths can be found in all the little, daily, mundane moments too.
Quality Over Quantity
Now, I believe in publishing consistently. But pick a schedule you can live up to. As much as it may feel like it some days, there is not big, burly man with a whip standing behind you making sure you hit publish at exactly the same time.
Silence is better than crap. A day late is better than an unedited, half-assed job that isn't up to your usual standards.
Prep an answer ahead of time for the punctuality trolls if it helps you sleep better. Something to the effect of "in an effort to maintain the standard of quality you're used to the blog will be a day late this week".
Or if you're feeling ballsy feel free to use, "silence is better than crap" :) Or if you're super organized try to write a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. I haven't discovered that level of organization yet but I aspire to it.
Find a way to go deep on your topic. We have thousands of people willing to scratch the surface. But how many are willing to invest the time, research and energy to really go deep?