How to be original when everyone’s talking about the same subject

Following the death of former South African leader Nelson Mandela last week, tributes and reports on his life have dominated the news agenda.

Last week on my blog I wrote my own opinion piece about Mandela. To begin with I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say.

Mandela is one of the most iconic and significant world leaders many of us have seen in our lives. The news has been dominated with opinions about his life and career. When I started thinking about what I was going to write, I asked myself the question:

‘What can I add to the discussion about Mandela that hasn’t already been said?’

This got me thinking about how we can write original and interesting content about topics that everyone is talking about.

Nelson Mandela’s life is one story that’s so well known and documented that at first it seems difficult to find anything new to say.

In saying this, just because a subject is popular or topical doesn’t mean you won’t have anything interesting to say.

Here’s a few ideas on how to get started:

Look at what’s not being said:

I felt much of the coverage about Nelson Mandela focused on his ability to forgive his former oppressors and his desire to seek peace and reconciliation between blacks and whites.

All this is true but Mandela wasn’t a modern day saint he was a politician and political leader. An extremely skilled political leader as well.

I didn’t feel there had been enough emphasis or focus on his political skills and instincts and this was something I wanted to write about and remind people of.

It’s easy to repeat what everyone else is saying but sometimes you need to look at what’s not being said on a topic. That’s where you can look to be more original.

When you hear the same things being said about a story there’s a danger of falling into generalisations and cliches that don’t offer anything new.

The challenge is to find those angles or areas of a story that can be explored a bit further than the general consensus opinions. They are out there you just need to look for them.

Your audience still wants to hear from you

Because I write a blog covering topical news stories, I feel there are certain stories I have to comment on. The death of Nelson Mandela was one of those. I felt that if I didn’t comment on the death of one of the world’s most significant political leaders my blog would lack credibility.

Knowing this gave me that motivation to start writing. I have opinions about Nelson Mandela and admittedly some are similar to other people’s but regular readers of my blog would still want and expect to hear my thoughts.

Remember that people still want to hear what you’ve got to say. You shouldn’t automatically assume that everyone will already be familiar with your thoughts and opinions.

Think about what the story means to you? How does the story affect your audience. What do they need to know?

Make things personal

How does the story you’re writing about relate to you on a personal level?

When I was writing my thoughts on Nelson Mandela, I looked back to my childhood to make things more personal.

It was when I was a child that I first became aware of Mandela and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

In my blog post I spoke about how being a black child, the news reports from South Africa during the 1980s made me truly aware of racial discrimination in its most extreme form.

By the time of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 it was one of the biggest news stories of my childhood – here was this figure I’d heard so much about that the world was finally going to see again for the first time in 27 years.

By looking at your own personal experiences and how a story has impacted on you – it will help in creating more original content. My childhood memories are unique to me.

Personal stories also help engage your reader as they’re learning something about you on a personal level and that will help them connect with you.

What have you written previously?

When I was thinking about what I wanted to say about Mandela, I decided to look back at a post I’d written in 2010 to mark the 20th anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison.

I knew there were thoughts on Mandela I wanted to use and expand on and this gave me the foundation to write my thoughts on Mandela.

One of the great things I love about having a blog is that all my old posts can now act as a resource. Sometimes you can forget some of the thoughts and opinions you might have had on a topic.

Stop worrying

Writing original content is one of the great challenges we face as writers but I think worrying about being original all the time only stops us from actually writing anything!

Certainly when it comes to blogging and social media, I look at my writing as being a conversation.

When we talk about topics with family, friends, work colleagues, we rarely say to people we have nothing new or original to say, we give our thoughts and opinions on things.

Our opinions might not always be ground-breakingly original but that’s not always the point.

Sometimes it’s important to just start writing, identify the points you want to make, think about why you want to make them and take it from there.

By building on your thoughts you can surprise yourself on just how original you can be on topics everyone has an opinion about.