How to Stand Out Among the Writers
Most of the writing you see online is painfully boring. “5 Tips for Waking Up Early in the Morning.” Gee, thanks, really enlightening.
I get it. It’s getting harder and harder to stand out these days. Listicles galore and no original thoughts, right? Everyone is writing the same exact shit and you’re afraid you’re just adding more manure to the pile.
I write listicles too, but people say they have flair. I write about tired topics, too, but I do it in a way that readers find compelling. The market has been saturated forever, but you can still find a way to stand out.
How? Simple. Do things other writers can’t do, won’t do, or are afraid to do. Here are some strategies you can use to beat the competition.
Stop Pulling Punches
Most writers play it way too safe. They’re afraid of saying what they really mean. They don’t want to go all the way there. So they stick to approved narratives and topics. This isn’t something just writers suffer from. It’s a problem you see in today’s overly politically correct world.
Everyone is afraid of getting canceled. They don’t want the mob to come after them. If they do manage to put some controversial words out there, they’ll back down and apologize for something they meant to say. If you have controversial opinions, share them. If your content polarizes people, that’s a good thing.
One of my best-performing articles was titled 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. I dared to suggest that there’s some objectivity when it comes to how to live. I’ve written articles calling the self-care movement a scam. Medium leans left and woke outrage content does really well, but I’m not afraid to quote conservatives like Thomas Sowell or share ideas from the other side of the aisle. I’m not afraid of random people on the interwebz who I’ll never meet and wouldn’t have the balls to talk recklessly to me in person. You shouldn’t be, either.
Guess what happens when you write a post that sparks a raging debate in the comments? You get engagement. Guess what happens on Medium when people hate-read your posts? You still get paid.
There’s Only One Thing Other Writers Can’t Steal From You
Nobody can out-compete you at being you. Every writing topic has been covered to death. You’re not going to win the originality battle by coming up with ideas people have never heard before. But you can create an original feel to your work by injecting your personality into your writing.
Nobody can copy your experiences. I’ve written articles about my experiences with being in jail, getting a divorce, going on drug and alcohol benders, the strain my business put on my relationship with my child, my travels, and a bunch of other experiences that helped shape the way I think and feel today. Instead of just writing random stories about myself, though, I weave pieces of my story into articles where I provide insights and lessons based on what I’ve been through.
Nobody can copy your interests, tastes, quirks, little idiosyncrasies. Every personality is unique like DNA. Use yours. I’m a wise ass. Every once in a while I’ll throw in some puns, sarcastic comments, and little dark jokes into self-help articles. This provides contrast to other self-help writers who keep everything super positive and peppy. I’m curious and contrarian by nature, which lends to my style of writing where I’m always questioning authority and established narratives.
Next time you’re reading over your work, ask yourself, could you add a bit more you to your article? What unique experiences do you have? What are the highs and lows of your life you can use to relate to others? Focus on not just ‘writing how you talk’, but writing the same way you live.
For Better Output, Change Your Input
You’ve heard the cliche – to become a great writer you must become a great reader. Reading widely does give you an advantage because you have more source material to draw from when you write. Be careful of your sources, though.
Murakami put it well:
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
In the beginning, I stuck to mostly self-improvement books. I’ve read all the staples that everyone else has read. After reading those I started to branch out and read about different topics — pop psychology, economics, biology, culture, politics, religion, relationships, marketing, you name it.
I discovered several insightful authors that helped shape my thinking like Nassim Taleb, Thomas Sowell, and Charlie Munger. I started reading more obscure blogs like the Last Psychiatrist, Slate Star Codex, and Hotel Concierge. I follow random anonymous Twitter accounts with insightful bits of wisdom.
All these different ingredients feed into my thought process and allow me to come at a basic topic like self-improvement from many angles. Don’t be afraid to draw from random sources. Read whatever you want to read, even if, especially if, you don’t think it will provide some direct benefit to your writing. You never know how random ideas will connect together.
Study, But Don’t Totally Copy, Your Competition
Here’s a pro tip to write a unique article: take your idea and put it into Google. Read the top 5 results. Write down everything the articles do well and highlight the points that seem to appear on every article. You actually want to keep some staple ideas in your articles, so make sure to take note of what works and add it.
Also, look at those articles and see what they’re missing. Where do they gloss over concepts that could be explained better or more thoroughly? What are some points you think are important, but are missing in the article you read? Where do you disagree with the points in the other articles?
I used the same process to differentiate my books. I looked at 3-star reviews of popular books in my niche. Usually, these reviews provided both positive and negative feedback. I used the positive feedback to know what worked and used the negative feedback to fill in the gaps where the other books fell short.
You can read the comments on popular articles in your niche too and see what readers have to say. They’ll give you clues to what they want, which will help you write articles they want to read.
The Same Piece of Advice I Give In Every Article
Coming up with a unique writing voice is a matter of time. People always ask me how I found my voice. I have a general idea of how I did it, including some of the items I’ve mentioned already, but honestly, a lot of it is intuitive. I’ve been writing for six years. I developed my voice gradually.
I always add this piece of advice no matter how redundant it sounds. Nine times out of ten you struggle to create a unique voice because you don’t write enough. If you write 100 blog posts, some unique elements to your style will emerge. Keep at it for years and you will create a voice that no one can copy.
How do you develop the motivation and discipline to write every day for years? I always look at it this way. If writing is something you say you want to do, then you might as well write often for a really long time even if you don’t get the results you want right away.
If you suffer from perfectionism, get over it. It’s not that serious. Just publish your stuff. Edit no more than 3 times and get it out there. For those with too many ideas, pick some and run with them. Time is running out. I can’t force you to sit your ass down in the chair and write. No one can. That’s on you. So, just do it, will ya?