the myth of blogging turf

“There may never be anything new to say, but there is always a new way to say it.” ~Flannery O’Connor

“Are you telling your story from your unique perspective, with a voice and style that’s clearly all you?” ~Ann Handley in Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Once in a while people write to me for blogging advice and the most common concerns I hear are along these lines: “I have nothing new to say.” Or, “Everything has been done already.” Or, “Why does the world need one more blog about [fill in the blank]?” I recently read Ann Handley’s book that I quoted  above, and I’m so glad to have that line of hers to help me express my view that originality is in a writer’s voice more than the idea.

I’ve been thinking about these types of concerns for a while and the underlying question of blogging turf. First, I think we have to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as blogging turf in the first place. In other words, are you not allowed to write about a topic because somebody else that you know (or don’t know) already wrote about it?

Can one writer or even a small group writers claim a topic to the point where they own that “turf?”

I say no and any writer who claims that a particular topic is “taken” is really out of bounds. Likewise, I think that any writer who stops writing because the topic is already out there is probably looking for an excuse to stop writing anyway. Because writing is hard. It really is. I want to quit at least once a week for the exact reasons others ask me about before they decide to begin. What else is there to say about friendship? Or Judaism? Or books? Or writing? Or marriage? Or parenting (which I write about infrequently now, but still)?

But back to “turf.” I don’t believe that any blogging topic is off limits just because someone else writes about it, too. See: food blogs. See: parenting blogs. See: empty nester blogs. See: travel blogs. See: yoga blogs, etc. If it was a legitimate gripe to claim any one of those topics as your own, then we certainly wouldn’t have thousands and thousands of blogs in each of those categories.

So what’s my point? Don’t let the fact that everything has already been done stop you from putting your voice out there if you want to write.

There is a certain universality to the areas of life that bloggers of a certain age (ahem) or stage of life tend to cover. My main topics of friendship, reading, writing, parenthood, marriage, and Judaism are hardly unique to me. If I were to claim so, you would have every right to never visit me here again. And if you have a writing/blogging friend who claims that a topic is hers or his, then feel free to tell that person that a writer owns only one thing in the writing world—a unique voice. The topics that cover “life in general” or even areas that are more specific like, say, paleo cooking, cannot be claimed by any one writer or group of writers.

If you’ve seen your specific words with someone else’s name attached? That is plagiarism, and it is WRONG. But to claim that you own the topic of, I don’t know, meditating or homeschooling or college admissions? That is ridiculous.

Another underlying issue that seems to be the real cause of people worrying about having nothing new to say is the belief that their lives are not interesting enough to make for potential nonfiction writing. I can relate to that, too. I appreciated what creative nonfiction author and teacher, Dinty Moore, said in this article for Writer’s Digest in response to feelings of envy he was having over other writers with darker material to mold. After some introspection, he realized,

It’s not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it’s what we make out of what happens to us. It’s our distinctive point of view.

Yes! Exactly.

Rainbow Rowell, author of the popular books Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, recently did an interview with Time about her new novel Carry On. When asked whether it bothers her that there are writers out there creating fan fiction that uses her characters in new ways, Rowell said,

I don’t think ideas are as clean and separate as we think they are. Everything is derivative in a way. What you write is often a reaction or a response to the things you’ve read.

Rowell’s words are actually what encouraged me to write this post that has been brewing in my mind for a while. Writers and bloggers especially tend to react to our real lives and to the lives of those around us. So yeah, I assume that other women in their late 30s who also have children around my kids’  ages and who also love to read and write and especially those getting ready for Passover soon are going to end up writing about several of the same topics as I do this month. I am 100% okay with that. We are all having a big conversation here in the blogosphere. I welcome the nod and the me too or the not me but thanks for sharing because I learned something new or whatever somebody wants to add to the conversation, even in their own posts. (If you are directly responding to someone’s post, I do recommend linking back to the original.) I would never, ever assume someone has taken my idea, and I hope other writers assume the same.

I will leave you with this from Mark Twain:

blogging turf II ninabadzin.com

What do you think, bloggers and writers? You can read my other posts about blogging here. (Scroll past the Twitter tips.)

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, an advice columnist at The HerStories Project, a book reviewer at greatnewbooks.org, and a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.