The value of being different for writers

Once upon a time, the blogging world was little more than loosely-connected bands of creative misfits, pilfering their personal world to fill online diaries with random comments and insights. They wandered a World Wide Web without cat videos, pop-up ads that don’t close, and anti-virus scams that ruin your life.

A time before cyberspace conquistadors and publishing pillagers discovered the land and a brave new world of content became not much different than that of old. Communities of escribitionists were driven out by the blogging robber barons who learned how to efficiently spin gold from the threads of the web. SEO replaced stream of conscious. Pageviews trumped personality. The blog, once known as the Dude of writing formats, decided to wear a suite and get a real job.

Despite this, we have something to learn from these aboriginal ancestors. Blogging thrived in an already crowded world of content because it was different. Readers enjoyed the exciting, personal writing form; writers were able to discuss their thoughts in free form.

Similarly, I argue that to be successful, in writing or in life, you have to be different.

Different means quality
Sometimes, I feel like 90% of the articles online have been summarized and regurgitated from somewhere else. Like there’s one mother bird that holds all of the ideas, and the rest of it feeds from her RSS.

So when I finally read something that strikes me as original, I immediately think of all the work that went into developing the work. The care that goes into tinkering with the words until it sounds smart; the effort of properly researching until it’s actually smart.

I know. We are all busy, and writing quality over quantity takes more time. But, people notice writing that’s different. If you don’t believe me, consider the research of New York University, that found “that working memory’s storage is not defined by the number of items it can hold…its limits [are] better defined by the quality of memories.”

Different means quality, and quality is more memorable.

If you had faith even as small as a plum jelly bean
Why in God’s delicious earth is there a plum flavored jelly bean?

I’ve always wondered why Jelly Belly, when he rubbed his grumbling, multicolored belly of wisdom, selected plum as one of the 50 official flavors.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s because you can’t enjoy strawberry daiquiri (clearly the best flavor) without a few plums, licorices, and sizzling cinnamons.

Writing that doesn’t suck knows that there’s inherent value to being different, even at the risk of being as ridiculous as a plum jelly bean. I’m not saying you should be different for difference sake. That would be useless, right? Rather, think of being different as escaping writing styles that restrict. If you read my article about voice, I show that even the best writers deviate from the rules.

Replace “should” with “shouldn’t”
In writing or in life, being different only requires replacing the word “should” with “shouldn’t.”

If your knight should slay the dragon, you can be different by writing that instead, they talked things over at the local pub. If the ninja princess should marry the ninja prince, your story would be very different if she ran off with an enemy pirate. If life is telling you that you should go to college, become a dentist, and wait to travel when you are older, you can drum your own beat by running away to Denver and becoming a professional cheese taster (that’s my plan anyway).

Whatever should be happening, said, or thought, can be done differently just as easily as it can be done the right, boring way. So be different, and do what shouldn’t be done.

A great example of being different
The following quote comes from one of my favorite book series, the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Specifically, Life, the Universe and Everything. I know it’s a long quotation, but pay attention to the bolded sections where Douglas Adams personifies the act of drinking. It will be worth it!

Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

``Freedom,'' he said aloud.

Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom.

``I can't cope with it,'' he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well.

He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

``You're drinking too much,'' said Trillian.

His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole position. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars.
``Excitement and adventure and really wild things,'' he muttered.

``Look,'' she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him, ``it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit.''

He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before.

``Wow,'' he said. He had another drink.

``You've finished the mission you've been on for years.''

``I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it.''

``You've still finished it.''

He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach.

Douglas Adams is one of the cleverest writers for his ability to think differently about every little thing in the universe, including the act of drinking. Clearly, drinks shouldn’t be teaming up and having parties, but if Mr. Adams doesn’t care about that, neither should you.

Be different because it’s fun
As a fiction writer, you are probably stressed out working on a million things anyway (between your social media, blog, short stories, novels, whatever). Being different allows you to focus on your voice, unwind, laugh at yourself, and explore your free writing. Readers will enjoy seeing this side of you, and you’ll enjoy writing more too.

Related: Here’s an Apple commercial to get you inspired about thinking differently. Memorable quote, “About the only thing you can’t do, is ignore them.” Pretty much sums up why you should think differently when you write.
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