It’s a paradox. The pundits encourage bloggers to find a niche, think differently, and say something unique and valuable. Then they give us standard formulae for producing content, as if your unique voice, approach, readership, and topic will be neatly addressed by a preselection of three or four formats.
In editing the content at ProBlogger and FeelGooder, I receive posts in the same few styles over and over and over (and over). These are the most common.
The personal story
Personal story posts are characterized by an arresting opening, a fictional style, and a personal voice. Frequently they separate sentences that are intended to blow you off your feet into their own, single-sentence paragraphs.
Often they are long, requiring the reader to surrender to some degree, because to read this kind of post, you have to be prepared to be captivated before the author lets you in on the true purpose of the post, often with the words “How does this relate to [topic]?”
The news reportThe news report cuts right to the chase, relating facts, and linking to sources. Whether it contains the blogger’s opinion or not, it’s about alerting readers to something big, something immediate, something they need to know about now.
Fear and panic, or alternatively fun-poking, often have a role to play in bloggers’ news reports—that’s them injecting their own unique brand of [insert adjective here], the thing that sets their blog apart from the others.
The how-to is a process, and is often presented as a list post. Most how-tos oscillate between carefully paced and plodding.
Often it seems the blogger really isn’t that interested in producing it, because by the end they’re all out of fervor and finish the piece without so much as a “Let me know if you have any problems”—let alone a conclusive summary.
The conglomeration of stuff
The conglomeration of stuff is usually pretty easy to pick—it’s got a title that includes the word “things” (e.g. Five Things You Must Know Before You Launch an Ebook), and on reading it, you find that it lacks a frame of reference, solid purpose, or strong angle.
All too often the conglomeration of stuff ends up being little more than a bunch of things, loosely linked, that need to be somehow mentally filed by readers. The only problem is that the author hasn’t told them how that mental filing should work, so readers are left with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction.
I’m not saying these approaches are bad, although I have pointed out above what most commonly happens when these post styles are used as out-of-the-box formulae.
The thing that’s important to remember is this: an established “approach” should not necessarily dictate the content you produce.
If no one had ever broken out of the established approach to particular kinds of content products, we’d never have had movies like Pulp Fiction, books like In Cold Blood, or series like The Sopranos.
You do not need to create content the traditional way.
Back to basics
You write a blog post because you have something to say. What is that message?
Most bloggers seem to start with that question and then, once they’ve ascertained the answer, turn their thoughts to the Official Blogger’s Catalog of Post Types and choose the one they feel will best communicate that topic.
That’s fine, but what if you did it differently?
What if the first thing you did after you defined your post’s message was to think about your audience, or a medium you’d never used before, or a technique you’d seen used elsewhere, in a different medium, that might work more effectively to communicate your message than any other? Maybe it doesn’t involve writing. Maybe it requires the input of others.
Joke and Biagio included a two-part script in their recent ProBlogger post. Macarongg used the language of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange in her retelling of her experience baking Korova Sables. What about blog posts posts that are comprised entirely of comics, or sound, or videos, or songs?
What’s the best way to communicate your message to your audience? The answer might lead you down some exciting avenues involving experimentation, collaboration, and new creative adventures. It did for Leo Babauta, who wrote his yet-to-be-released ebook The Effortless Life in Google Docs in a single day, with real-time input from his readers. It did, too, for Seth Godin, who redefined “pithy blogging” with his now-famous 57-word post.
What do you think? Is it time you stopped blogging like everyone else?