How to Create Remarkable Content When There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

Sunrise

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. ~Ecclesiastes 1:9

Being creative in a world where nothing is new is difficult. We all want to be the one to shake the earth and move mountains with our brilliant ideas and thundering blog posts, but it’s tough.

It’s all been said. Finding the angle is a challenge.

Sure, giving our work a personal voice helps to be original. It’s much more fulfilling to read a post that carries personality and a sense of the writer’s voice. After all, each of us is unique, with unique thoughts and perceptions that make us different from the next person.

Is your own voice enough, though?

When you’re writing about common concepts that anyone can find in a textbook, you aren’t being original. The textbook author probably wasn’t original either. The concepts and theories we strive to put forward as different have been done repeatedly from every angle possible.

“Beating a dead horse” takes on new meaning with over 17 million blogs.

What’s Old is New Again

Let’s take a look at what you can do to make a basic “Information 101” concept that isn’t new at all come off as more creative and unique:

  • Infuse the 101 concept with a personal experience that you lived to drive the message home. The concept may not be original, but its application and effect on your life as well certainly is. No one has lived what you have. No one has experienced your life but you.
  • Add some examples that aren’t what people would think of automatically. Using common ones is just too easy. If you can find it in a Google search, it isn’t good enough. Step off the beaten path. Stretch your mind and seek a metaphor or an analogy that is different, even if your main concept isn’t.
  • Step back in time. With centuries behind us, history provides a wealth of rich experiences that you can draw on and bring forward into your work. Use storytelling to wind a tale from the past and use it as an example for the concept you write on today.

Give Yourself Restrictions

One of the biggest problems with being creative is that we try to throw our mental doors open wide and take a flying leap. For some people, that works just fine. The mind flies on the winds of imagination, catching the breezes of inspiration.

For others, that flying leap ends in a smashing splat. Our mind goes blank. We can’t think. We struggle to be different, but everything we think of is just old news.

It’s overwhelming.

It’s almost hopeless.

Procrastinators have the answer. These people put everything off until the last minute. They deliberately ignore what they have to do and restrict their own time. Then they burst into activity with minutes to spare and a job to do.

And they perform brilliantly. Limited by a looming deadline, procrastinators accomplish a great deal. They use every resource they can. They also create a result that is often far better than what would have been had they paced themselves.

So limit yourself. Ask a friend to give you a title topic, or a subject or three points to cover. See how your creativity responds to the challenge of fitting into limitations.

You might be surprised.

Fun with Dragons

Here’s a mental challenge to break the creativity barrier:

Choose three random words. It doesn’t matter what they are. They could be sheep, lilac and dragon, for example.

Write a three-paragraph blog post on copywriting, with each of your chosen words the focus of one paragraph.

Devote all your resources. Unleash your creativity inside the restrictions to wander loose. Find ways to relate the words to the subject. Use metaphors. Use examples. Use history. Tell a story.

  • Impossible? Not at all.
  • Demanding? Sure.
  • Worth it? Oh yeah.

By limiting your creativity, it needs to stretch beyond its comfort zone to find a solution. It goes through a warm-up process while your brain neurons start firing. Then you’ll get the burst of an idea that suddenly sparks a fire.

You’ll write. You’ll feel the rush.

And then you’ll enjoy the satisfying cool-down as you polish off you’re your post – lilacs, dragons and all.

You’d be amazed at what your creativity can come up with. Are you up for the challenge?

About the Author: For more tips on fighting the blogging dragons from James Chartrand, head over to Men with Pens. He’ll teach you writing tricks that make the pen mightier than the sword. Better yet, try a fast slash and grab the Men with Pens RSS Feed.

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Comments

  1. Don’t be afraid making a mistake!
    That’s another lesson I like at most.
    Still now.
    See as a graphics designer I amazed
    by how incidentally mistakes made my works
    look greater. Customers asked me “How did you do that?”
    By mistake! I replied. Even they didn’t believe what I said they comes again – this time by satisfied customer.

  2. Another suggestion:
    Rework existing content into new formats. Technology is always changing, so you could find a new way of delivering an old message: e.g. video, slideshows.

  3. This reminds me of quote by Billy Corgan, from Smashing Pumpkins.. it goes something like this…

    “All the notes and sounds that I use have always existed. They’ve all already sounded. I just take those sounds and rearrange them in a new different way. That is what art is about, that’s what music is about”

    There may be no new ideas… maybe. But there are always an infinite number of ways to re-arrange things and present things from a different, fresh perspective.

  4. “Beating a dead horse” takes on new meaning with over 17 million blogs.

    I think you’ll find the expression is “flogging a dead horse” and comes from the naval term to go to sea having already spent your pay.

    Sorry to geek-off but for a copyrighting website… you get my drift :)

  5. Personally I always get great results with the limitation method. Another angle on that one could be to find a great picture that you then have to base your story on (only works in some fields though)

  6. I think you’ll find the expression is “flogging a dead horse”

    Not doubting your origin, but in the States we say “beating a dead horse.” We’re not big on flogging, outside of some… ahem, perverse recreational activities. :-)

  7. Ahhhh! Still considered acceptable capital punishment round these parts :) Reminds me – Must varnish the ducking stool.

  8. I am so not going to comment… mostly because I can’t stop laughing.

  9. I had something all logical & argumentative written out, but then I started giggling at Brian’s comment and now I just can’t.

    Anyway, thanks for the post James! This is a huge issue for bloggers, and I think too many of us a) shy away from important points because we feel like they’ve been done and we can’t add anything, or b) don’t work hard enough to make the old new again.

  10. One secret is to combine disperate elements to create something “new”.

    Blair Witch + Godzilla = Cloverfield

  11. More suggestion:
    make it paradoxical / contradictory / antithetical. Like:
    “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong)
    “Man proposes – God disposes”.
    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” (Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities”).
    Brutus: Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
    “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at St. Louis, 1964)

  12. One can always give the old things catchy new names when they recombine them, too.

    Business school + Blogging school = Gateway Blogging

  13. This was a refreshing and needed boost of encouragement. Thanks!

  14. This is such a edifying post, and a challenge that all bloggers face… eventually you glance at the screen and your mind goes blank. Thank you for this post!

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  15. I love your blog. Great tip here with the writing excercise. I find myself to be an expert procrastinator, unless it’s a labor of love. If I really care about it, I either never get it done (I hung up your f’words post on the wall by my computer) or I keep working on it instead of the thing I should actually be working on. Either way, it ends up causing even more procrastination.
    Anyway, if you get a chance, please look at my new blog, I’d love to know what you think
    http://www.cheapskateshandbook.com/

  16. After eight years of blogging… I feel like I’ve said it all. But we all know better that it isn’t true. Yuwanda Black recently reminded me that I have plenty of experiences to share that might sound like old hand to me, but brand new to many others. So set aside any biases and think about your experiences.

  17. And remember as a writer you are giving YOUR opinion on an “old” take, therefore it will be different than others that have come before you. My creative writing prof used to tell us, “There is nothing new. Don’t try for a new idea. Try for YOUR idea.”

  18. Meryl, that’s such a good point. There are still plenty of folks out there who need the “old” (classic?) advice.

  19. In addition to Mark’s and Jacob’s great reminders, I find that “a new angle” can be had by finding a new perspective, literally.

    An art installation currently in NYC includes giant folding chairs and tables, which make you feel like a tiny child walking through, under, looking up — instantly bringing a wondrous POV.

    That literal change in POV may help you see your products, services, world, and relationships from underneath, from a shrunken proportion, from a visitor’s vantage, etc. Examining, marketing (and writing) from one of the many different POVs possible is a refreshing way to approach and reach readers, clients, etc.

  20. Limiting myself has definitely worked for me at times. Sometimes too many options just gets you stuck. For a while I only wrote two word headlines, not as a gimmick, just to see if I could hold myself to it. The results were great.

  21. @ Stephan – I find I write my best work when I *don’t* have creative freedom. Too much freedom can be as overwhelming as not enough. Finding the balance is a must.

    @ Girl – That’s an interesting one, and I do use that. I’m a consumer – how would a consumer react? I’m a buyer – how does the buyer react? I’m not interested; I’m searching for solutions; I’m busy; I’m tired… All of these perspectives make a huge difference in creating content that resonates with people just like you (for the moment you assume).

    @ Sonia – What’s old is new again ;)

    @ NGW – Your perspective is always unique. No one has ever been in your brain, after all!

    @ Meryl – I agree. On our own blog, we always blog about our experiences, because they’re unique and they’re new to other people, even if the situation is old.

    @ Jill – Procrastination can make for wonderful bursts of creativity. Works for me!

    @ Web Diva – The blank screen syndrome… augh…!

    @ Lawton – You’re welcome :)

    @ Michael – Finding the catchphrase often opens up all your thoughts and lets you hit the ground running. I agree.

    @ Jacob – Pros and cons are always fun to explore, and you can’t go wrong with that. Similar angle to yours. Good one!

    @ Sonia – I think people like you and I try to find new stuff that’s exciting to please the old hands around the web – and then we forget that every day, there are brand new people wandering this world for the first time. Sometimes going back to the beginning is a good thing.

  22. James,

    The quote from Ecclesiastes is superb. I love it–really sets the context for your post.

    As well, I think your point about explaining how an “Info 101″ concept has impacted your own life can be a great way of infusing originality into your writing.

    As noted, pretty much everything has already been said, in one form or another. In fact, I also agree with C.S. Lewis on this point. He said:

    “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

    Being honest and transparent can make one an original.

  23. @ Jesse – Thank Brian for that quote. For a minute, I wondered what you were talking about, because it’s a rare day that I quote anyone. That’s *his* thing ;)

  24. I was just having a converstation with a fellow marketing professional yesterday about the lack of anything new to say. Both of our days start with reading about 40 marketing and business blogs and we both felt that it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything new (on our own blogs, too!).

    I started to feel like Charles H. Duell
    Director of U.S. Patent Office, 1899, who has been dubiously credited with saying,
    “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

    Your post helped get me out of that funk and to find ways to keep our content fresh. So, thank you!

    We also realize that there is a whole group out there to whom marketing and web 2.0 are not old hat. That’s who we’d like to try to reach.

  25. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog post! I received a very rude comment this morning on a post I wrote on a writing forum I am involved in. Long story short, this lady commented that she sets deadlines as a way of motivating herself to write. I commented back that I thought her techniques were dead-on and I was going to use her advice in a blog post I was working on. She then turned around and accused me of stealing her ideas and saying that I shouldn’t be writing advice on my blog if I didn’t originate it.

    And this (your) blog post has helped me to know for certain that I was correct when I tried explaining to her that there are no original ideas or advice anymore, just stuff that’s been reused and repackaged.

    So thank you for making my day!

  26. I whole heartedly agree that boundaries actually allow greater freedom – a concept which can be applied to many aspects of life.

    The random words exercise is excellent. Check out Edward de Bono’s “How to have creative ideas” which contains 62 exercises based on random words. And provides a random words table at the back.

    The mind is an amazing instrument and once given a puzzle will work away to find a solution – even when you are not aware of it.

    I find it helpful to articulate and write down any problem I am having and then put it aside for a couple of days – I am surprised by the ideas that just pop into my head!

  27. I dig that advice James.

    I used to do poetry challenges where people would provide 10 random words and people had to make an interesting piece out of them (check out this interesting example http://www.fromthepen.com/issue86.html )

    Anything to spawn creativity helps.
    Rock on
    Buck

  28. These are great tips — recycling content can often become frustrating but perhaps infusing some interactive content and commentaries can help when a writer’s block takes place. Good article!

  29. I’m going to give the ‘three random words’ a try for my next article. We will see if the editor will publish it. lol

  30. I forgot what I was going to say when I started laughing about the beating/flogging..but the essence was thanks James for yet more great advice. I actually torture myself with this pretty regularly.

  31. Hi James,
    Thanks for the wonderful post! I started my blog and wondered for days on what to say: because everything has been said and there’s nothing left.
    Then, suddenly, I thought no matter what others said about it. I need to share my experience about it. That broadens the spectrum to some other and others’ to me.
    Your view that each principal though old must have given one a new surprise when attempted individually-It means so much to me.
    Keep inspiring the world
    Solomon
    Then I suddenly thought

  32. Oh man awesome info, excellent article, helps a lot.

    Thanks.

  33. This is very true. I know somtimes I struggle with what to write about, even with niches that I actually have an interest in.

  34. The “limit your creativity” is the perfect example of how thinking in an opposite direction can be good. To be creative, most people work on expanding their creative ideas, not limiting them.

    It is in itself a creative means to get what you want done.

    Hmm, if part of creating something “creative” means you have to expand your creative thought process, but part of creating something “creative” means you have to limit your creative thought process, is that a rip in the space-time continuum?

  35. I’ve been doing this a lot lately and have found myself coming up with some great content

  36. other two tips:
    1) write a post about other posts of yours. in this way you will refresh your older posts and you will let your readers see what they missed.
    2) make some linkbait. this is a little risky because you have to know what to write. write an article with some link to other interesting posts belonging to other blogs. dont just make a list but try to review the articles themselves. in this way you will have the chance to create a post with very little efforts and at the same time you will get noticed by other bloggers

  37. @Frank — very good one to look at older posts. Been trying to do that. It’s a lot of digging for someone with 8 years of blog content, but I know my audience today is nothing like it was 5 years ago. So it never hurts to reuse old content and only takes 30 minutes or so to change it up, refresh it.

  38. WOW! 8 years! that’s a very long period! in this case i advise you to try some plugin which makes the work for you. if you uuse wordpress try simple tags. among its features there is one that lets you show older posts in different ways:random, oldest, newer etc. you could even hire sombody to make a plugin like that(it doesnt cost a lot) personally speaking i will use the refresh thing in the summertime when i will go to vacation or during those periods where there is not a lot to write

  39. @Frank, I do use plug-ins including one that lists “related posts” and the home page shows the newest posts from the blog as well as random posts from the blog’s 8 years. I also have a tagging plug-in. Thanks for the tip.

  40. When you press too hard, it leads to fear. The fear will rob you of your creativity. Writing is hard work, but it should also be joyous. I think when the author is in a state of flow, the joy translates, and the best writing occurs on the page.

    http://death-sentences.blogspot.com/

  41. Great article! I bookmarked it!

  42. Hey James, just came across this post and you know… it’s still awesome.

    One thing I’d like to add is the fact that Google loves fresh ideas, topics, and anything close to “new under the sun”.

    Even more reason to implement the suggestions you listed here.