Last weekend, I travelled to Brunswick for my brother’s graduation. It was a weekend filled with speeches, well-wishing, stress, and SO many feelings (mainly from the graduates and their parents). As a passive participant in the festivities, I found myself listening critically to the speeches given by the President, honorary speakers, and students. When you break all of those speeches down, they all had the same message. And, the same message as the speeches given at my own graduation, and probably the same message given to graduates across the country this spring, and all the springs to come. Whoa.
This provoked my own fear of sounding the same as other writers, and having nothing worthwhile to say. Being redundant, or even worse, unoriginal, is a creative mind’s worst fear. How do you ensure that your thoughts and ideas maintain a level of exciting and important?
Here are some ideas I’ve collected in my quest to answer this question:
1. Know your niche. You are an expert on something. Not everyone is going to have the same knowledge and expertise on this “something,” so you may want to consider it as a topic. Ideally, your area of expertise overlaps with an area you’re passionate about. When you know and love your subject, it’ll shine through in your work, and makes the information more valuable to your audience.
In addition to knowing your niche, knowing your audience helps with generating new ideas. This article mentions a couple ways to engage your people: answer the questions they have, and give them information they need (even if they don’t know they need it).
2. It’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it. In terms of graduation speeches, the theme is usually something along the lines of “go forth and prosper.” But guess what? There are millions (billions? trillions? infinite??) ways to convey this message.
Everyone has a unique voice, whether they realize it or not. Find out what your voice is, and play into that. Mindy Kaling, for instance, recently gave a speech to Harvard Law graduates that was entertaining and engaging (plus she called them all “nerds”), but still had the same underlying graduation genre message.
3. It’s okay to recycle old stuff, if it’s still relevant. In this video from Marie Forleo, she addresses the content creation dilemma. She brings up an excellent example from O Magazine, showing the same headline on three covers from different years. I’m pretty sure Oprah isn’t exactly lacking in terms of audience, so it’s probably safe to say people still like reading something they’ve heard before. The headline in question was along the lines of “cleaning your space,” which will remain relevant as long as people have spaces and spaces need cleaning.
So, go ahead and revisit older material. If your people can still benefit from it, you’re not being unoriginal or lame.
4. And, finally, stay inspired, but don’t be too hard on yourself. In my experience, creativity grows more elusive when you try to force it. Some days, you’re just not going to feel it, and that’s normal. If, while trying to generate new material, you find your teeth grinding, eyebrows furrowing, and/or blood pressure spiking, take a step (or several) back. Doing something else for awhile is usually recommended, and you’ll have a fresh mind when you come back to it.
It also helps to remind yourself, I’m doing this because I love it. The things we love give us high blood pressure sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on them.
In the end, no one wants to feel like they’re beating a dead horse. The good news: the internet (and the world) changes constantly, and while sometimes this freaks me out, it means there will always be more to talk about.