This guest post is by Greg McFarlane.
If there are already 100,000 posts out there that express a particular viewpoint, what’s the point of adding a 100,001st?
Look for a different angle. If you can’t find one, then resist the temptation to rehash conventional wisdom, and go unearth yourself some unrelated subject matter.
When you’re desperate for ideas, the default method for finding something to blog about is, of course, to read the news. It’s not the most organic way to inspire a post, but sometimes it’s necessary—especially if you’re on a deadline. The problem is that hundreds of other bloggers with writer’s block are doing the same thing. Follow everyone else’s lead, and by definition your blog will become correspondingly less fresh and readable. Or as legendary baseball player Yogi Berra put it, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”Here in the United States, our latest political scandal featured a narcissistic, libidinous, and ridiculously aptly named politician who thought that he could send erotic self-portraits to minors on Twitter and not have to deal with any ramifications.
A good number of bloggers felt obligated to discuss Representative Weiner’s indiscretions. Understandably, most of those bloggers felt that the kind of person who tries to get with women half his age while embarrassing his semi-prominent wife on the national stage isn’t fit for office. Others added that anyone who would initially claim that his Twitter account “was hacked into” should lose his job for showing so little respect for his constituents’ intelligence.
On the other side, the minority (mercifully) opinion was that this was a distraction and we should all just move on and concern ourselves with bigger, more prominent things.* But regardless of how you felt about how suitable Weiner was for his job, the very act of expressing an opinion on his peccadilloes lumped you in with the unimaginative blogging masses.
That’s the downside to blogging about an ephemeral news story, especially one that inspires such strong opinions. The story surfaces, then it quickly gets picked clean, leaving a meatless skeleton. There was little that was truly insightful to say about the scandal, and few arguments pro or con to make that weren’t obvious.
Worse yet, bloggers who wrote exclusively on their non-political subjects of choice tried to shoehorn the scandal into their efforts in an attempt to seem relevant.
Like everyone else, I wondered what I could do to gain attention and capitalize on the moment. A story that was so absurd on so many levels doesn’t come around every day, and you can’t exactly predict when the next one will appear.
My blog is about personal finance, the second-most unsexy topic in all of human endeavor (quilting remains #1). Was there a way to tie the biggest national news story of the day into something Control Your Cash subscribers could get value out of, without forcing it?
Absolutely there was, and it was seamless. I studied Weiner’s list of financial assets and liabilities—which America’s federal elected officials are required to disclose some of the details of—and found dirt far more ignominious than anything in his sex life (at least to an audience of personal finance enthusiasts).
Weiner’s credit card balance equaled about 10% of his annual salary, and was growing faster than he was paying it off. He’d spent years amassing and failing to pay parking tickets throughout Washington. He owned more cars than there were people in his household, and committed the minor fraud of putting the registration sticker for his cheapest car on his most expensive car to save himself a few dollars. On top of that, he was paying monthly processing fees on the credit card balance, which my blog’s readers understand is something of a mortal fiscal sin.
In short, he was yet another in the endless series of bad examples that we could poke fun at on Control Your Cash. But unlike the welfare mother with nine kids from seven fathers, or the lottery winner who celebrated his fortune by spending it all and then some, Weiner held the distinction of being partially responsible for taxing my readers and spending their money. That gave the post a potency that the bloggers who wrote merely “Should Weiner resign?” couldn’t hope for.
I blogged about the scandal only because the opportunity presented itself. Granted, I had to look for a way to fit it into my narrowly topical blog, but it didn’t take much effort to find one. Had there been no angle, or only an awkward one, I wouldn’t have. A far more famous politician found himself in far greater trouble a couple of weeks earlier, but Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have any money problems that I could write about (forthcoming retroactive child support payments notwithstanding).
When everyone else is zigging, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should zag. It might be your cue to find your own unique tangent—to para-zig, if you will. Even the road less traveled can get congested at times.
*Oh, grow up.
Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected]