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The Sin of Originality (and the Truth about Building a Popular Blog)

The Sin of Originality (and the Truth about Building a Popular Blog)

Note from Jon: This is one of the most shocking lessons you can learn as a blogger. We’re all trained to believe originality is essential for standing out, but the fact is, it can be dangerous, even deadly. In this guest post by Henneke Duistermaat from Enchanting Marketing, she shows you when originality is good and when it’s bad, and she also gives you a strategy for exactly how to do it right. Enjoy. :-)

Okay, show of hands.

Who else is still searching for that perfect, original angle that’ll make you stand out?

Yeah, most of us are. The fact is, the blogosphere is a crowded place, and if you want to stand out, you need to be original.

Right?

Well, yes and no.

As it turns out, sometimes originality isn’t quite as important as we all think it is. Sometimes, it can actually hurt you.

Let me explain.

Originality gone wrong

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

One day, an idea strikes you for a new blog. It’s interesting, fresh, bursting with possibility, so you snoop around Google a bit to see if anyone else is writing about it.

And you’re in luck!

The space is totally wide open. Sure, maybe it’s not the biggest, most popular blog topic in the world, but it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a vast, dangerous ocean, right?

Most bloggers think so. Since you’re a beginner, you believe you couldn’t possibly compete in a big niche like personal finance or social media or parenting, and your only hope of standing out is finding a space where there’s no competition.

But here’s what usually happens:

Nothing.

You write and write and write, and nobody pays you any attention, not because your writing is bad, necessarily, but because there is a lack of demand. Yes, your content is great, but there just aren’t that many people interested in reading about it.

Essentially, you’ve created the world’s greatest asparagus restaurant. Maybe you have one or two regulars who are asparagus freaks, but the rest of the world would rather go get some pizza. So, your restaurant (or blog) is empty.

The truth is, originality is only good within the confines of what the audience wants. If you fail to consider the audience, it actually becomes something else:

A sin.

The myth of creativity

Have you heard of Drayton Bird?

He’s an English copywriting master.

The legendary David Ogilvy says that Drayton knows more about direct marketing than anyone in the world. So Drayton should know about creativity – don’t you think?

This is what Drayton says:

“You don’t have to be creative. You just have to be successful.”

Here is a guy representing some of the world’s most famous brands, writing ads that go out to millions of people, and he’s saying creativity is unnecessary.

So, that brings up a big question:

If creativity isn’t the secret to success, what is?

Well, let’s ask one of the most well-known artists of all time:

Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso was a master thief

“Good artists copy, great artists steal” ~ Pablo Picasso

You probably think of Picasso as a champion of originality, right?

He helped create the first collage. He was one of the leaders of the Cubist movement. He invented constructed sculpture.

But the truth?

He snatched success formulas from other painters.

For instance:

  • He used a scene from Las Meninas – a 17th century painting by Diego Velázquez, and he created 44 new paintings based on that scene.
  • He copied the central figure: five-year old Margaret Theresa – the favorite daughter of King Philip IV.
  • He imitated the arrangement: the maids of honor, the dwarfs, and the reflection of the king and queen are all snatched from Velázquez’ painting.
  • He even re-painted the large dog.

Does anyone think Picasso committed plagiarism?

I don’t think so.

Why would his 44 paintings all hang in the Picasso museum in Barcelona?

Picasso didn’t plagiarize, because he didn’t outright copy. He added his personal touch and his own style to create new paintings – his interpretations of the same scene.

And that’s the secret to success.

If you want to become a much-admired blogger, you have to study the masters and steal their blueprints for success.

How to steal your way to blogging success

Stealing isn’t easy.

No treasure of blogging jewels lies waiting to be heisted. You need to know where to look.

And you have to stop reading purely for pleasure.

That’s right. Instead you need to study content.

You have to determine what makes content successful. You have to learn the techniques of persuasion, the methods of bonding with your readers, and the recipes for being memorable.

You should study a variety of texts – blog posts, sales letters, adverts, email newsletters, novels, and newspapers. Even trashy magazines can teach you about blogging.

You need to analyze:

  • Why is a headline successful? What benefit does it offer? What power words are used?
  • What are the techniques for opening a post? Why does an opening paragraph draw you into the story?
  • How is the content structured? How is it set up for skimmers?
  • What does the closing paragraph make you feel? How does it encourage you to do something or believe in something?
  • How does a landing page encourage you to sign up or buy?
  • How are writing techniques such as stories, metaphors, and cliffhangers used?

Take your time to analyze. It is hard work. You need to learn what to steal. And once you’ve mastered that, you can start your swipe file.

A swipe file is the secret to blogging success

“A good swipe file is better than a college education” ~ Milt Pierce

A swipe file is a collection of material you can use as inspiration for your own work.

Without a doubt, it’s your quickest route to creating awesome content and boosting traffic to your blog. Why re-invent the wheel if others have already tested what works?

A swipe file will:

  • Save you time – providing suggestions for headlines, email subject lines, content structures etc.
  • Tell you what topics your audience wants to read about and what topics bore them to tears
  • Help you overcome writer’s block – it’s a lot harder to get stuck when you have a model to follow
  • Make you a better writer – there’s no better way to achieve excellence than to model excellence
  • Improve the effectiveness of your content – if others have found what works, why would you start from scratch?

Evernote is an excellent tool to compile your swipe file. You can access Evernote from your phone, tablet, or computer. You can add new content from any of those devices, too. And you can use tags and categories to organize your swipe file.

Use the following three steps to start your digital swipe file:

  1. Set up an Evernote account and install Evernote on your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, and computer.
  2. Create a Notebookfor each of the categories you’re collecting examples of. My favorite categories are:
    • Power words
    • Headlines
    • Opening paragraphs
    • Closing paragraphs

You can also add categories for metaphors, cliffhangers, and landing pages.

  1. Right-click the first category you’ve created, and choose Add to stack > New stack. Right-click New stack to rename your file Swipe file. Add all other categories to your swipe file.

You can’t send notes straight from your Kindle to your swipe file on Evernote. For the quickest way to transfer notes from your Kindle:

  1. Highlight text as normal while reading your Kindle.
  2. Go to https://kindle.amazon.com/your_reading; login to your Amazon account and click the book you’ve been reading.
  3. Click the Evernote badge in your browser and clip the whole page to your Evernote swipe file.

Once your swipe file is set up, you should add new content each week, and each time you start writing, you should plunder your swipe file.

Let’s have a look at a real example of how swiping works.

How to steal and write awesome blog posts

You know Jon’s post On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting for Your Ideas, don’t you?

Do you think Jon’s post is completely original?

Of course it isn’t!

Even a blogging superstar like Jon is a master thief.

Jon stole from this post by Brian Clark: The Snowboard, the Subdural Hematoma, and the Secret of Life.

Both posts tell personal stories. Both are captivating, emotional, and inspirational.

The similarity goes a lot further, though.

Compare the two headlines – you see how they use three elements to summarize the story?

Now, have a look at the subheadings.

Do you see how Brian’s first three subheadings follow his title? And how his fourth section (Wake up!) tells you to chase your dreams?

Jon’s structure is similar:

  • Jon first explains he nearly died – just like Brian’s introduction.
  • Jon introduces the miracle of mothers just like Brian introduces the snowboard and the subdural hematoma.
  • Jon talks about fighting for your ideas – just like Brian discusses the secret of life.
  • Jon inspires you, as a blogger, to fight for your ideas in his closing paragraphs – just like Brian tells you to chase your dreams.

Jon analyzed Brian’s post, applied Brian’s post structure to his own story, and looked for ways to make his post even better.

That’s how analyzing, swiping, and writing works.

Would anyone accuse Jon of plagiarism?

Of course not! Truth be told, Brian was honored to have his work modeled in such a successful way.

You will be too, once you’re successful.

But first you have to become successful, and to do that, you have to work your butt off.

The truth about building a popular blog

Becoming a blogging thief is hard work. You can’t just outright copy text.

You have to analyze why others are persuasive and memorable. You have to study what makes content mind-blowingly successful. You have to learn why others are adored by their audience.

And then you have to use those insights each and every time you write.

So start building your collection of the works to “steal” from.

By the power vested in me, you are hereby authorized to pinch, pilfer, and plunder.

But the most important point?

Quit doubting your talent.

All you need to become a better blogger is to study how others write and borrow the best parts from the bloggers you admire most.

Just do it your way.

Yes, you should color within the lines, but the good news is you can choose any color you want. Hopefully even a color that’s uniquely you.

And trust me, your readers will love it.

About the author: Henneke Duistermaat enjoys thieving to improve her writing. She is a UK-based marketer, specialized in marketing consumer goods. You can steal her ideas on content marketing by subscribing to Enchanting Marketing.

The Sin of Originality (and the Truth about Building a Popular Blog) by

113 Comments

  1. Sean Mysel
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 11:58:44

    Jon,

    Great Post! In my golf instruction business I’ve found what you have said to be true. I’m not teaching anything fundamentally different than anyone else. Yet, the creativity comes in teaching aspects of golf others don’t spend time on that customers love. I would love to go on about it, but your point is absolutely well taken!

    Sean Mysel

    Reply

  2. Dave Doolin
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 11:59:30

    As a scientist, originality is my stock in trade. As a reviewer for academic journals, I’ve denied publication to articles which do not advance the field with original knowledge. And will continue to do so. Currently, I’m spearheading revision on a paper which I inherited (long story), where the reviewers – rightly – point out that we’re not making much general contribution. No problem, I can deal with it. And it’s how science should be.

    As a blogger, this point of view, this way of seeing the world, this focus on originality, has temporarily put me out of business.

    However…

    On my next foray into blogging, Henneke, I’ve already chosen a topic which is about as far from original as I can think of, yet something where I can bring an interesting, relevant and valuable perspective to the world.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Reply

  3. Thomas LaRock
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:00:10

    Good reminders about how you don’t need to be original, or to have a particular niche, you just need to write about something you want to share passionately with others. Everything else can fall into place from there.

    Reply

  4. Rana Shahbaz
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:03:38

    You don’t need new ingredients, you need unique recipe :-)

    Reply

  5. Sophie Lizard @ Invisiblogger
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:06:12

    With clients, my code word for stealing is admire. As in, “Now tell me, boss, whose product/blog/speech/campaign/tweets do you really admire?”

    Once that’s established, I do my best to build our new work from all the admired items, stealing the best stuff as a framework on which to stretch our own canvas.

    Oddly enough, I don’t use this approach so much in my own blogging – I’m chronically prone to just letting my brain spurt out through the keyboard and onto the interwebs. But that’s changing. I have a lot of experience making other people’s stuff be excellent, now I just need to apply it to myself too.

    Thank you, Henneke!

    Reply

  6. John Hannah @ redpointhq.com
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:06:33

    Nice post, Henneke. It reminds me a bit of Picasso’s quote, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

    Reply

  7. Momekh
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:13:16

    One of the most ‘comforting’ posts I’ve read in a while.

    The problem is that some people will take this as an excuse to copy.

    Instead of copying the opening paragraph, one can copy the the structure for example.
    I am well on my way in copying this posts structure.

    But thanks for the reminder, Henneke. (whose name – both first and last – I will not even attempt to pronounce :P )… a pleasure reading this. Hoping to see more from you. :)

    Reply

  8. Nicki Goff
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:22:38

    I don’t care how much you think you want to be original – we all use other people’s stuff – every day. Think cooking. You check out other people’s recipes, and add your own flavor, taste, or just what’s in the fridge. Voila – your own new recipe.

    We all steal – or swipe. Just be picky about what you swipe, and always add your own slant, experience or thoughts to make it uniquely your own.

    Reply

  9. Nikki
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:25:31

    You are 100% speaking my language.

    Picasso, stealing, swipe files – yes!

    Reply

  10. Shayna
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:39:12

    My blog teaches English grammar and vocabulary to speakers of other languages, meaning the subject matter is 100% UNoriginal (just look in a dictionary or grammar book!)

    However, I try to present it in a fun, visually appealing, and easy to understand way – and my readers have loved it!

    Reply

  11. Bobbi Emel
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:39:19

    Wow, this is a completely helpful post, Henneke!

    Did you steal it?

    I hope so!

    ;-)

    P.S. I’m printing this one out and placing it in front of my eyeballs until I have it memorized.

    Reply

  12. Rich Amooi
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:39:25

    Great article. I’m in the mood to steal something right now. I’ll be back.

    Reply

  13. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:40:57

    Henneke, this is a really refreshing look at things. Almost feels… *original* :P Thanks for his!

    It also reminds me of a recent CopyBlogger post by Tom Treanor, not because it mirrors structure or anything, but because it references Jon + Brian’s posts: http://www.copyblogger.com/social-media-networking/

    I think words like creativity, originality, and success mess people up.

    Not because the words are bad, I use them often, but because people’s attitudes towards them are haywire and confused… generally.

    Food for thought :)

    Reply

  14. Ian Edwards
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:53:55

    Great post.

    The movie industry is living proof that this works. It has produced blockbuster after blockbuster by adopting then re-framing the same plot recipes over and over for many years.

    Reply

  15. Kimberly Houston
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 12:57:22

    I wholeheartedly agree that you should study a variety of texts to get content ideas — I think Melanie Griffiths character in “Working Girl” said it best: “You never know where the next great idea is going to come from,” or something like that.

    I get ideas all the time from newspapers, conversations with friends, crappy t.v. shows, headlines from pubs in the check-out line at the grocery store (soooo magnetic and hard to resist!) and so on. I think nearly anything can be used to spark ideas.

    Like the old saying, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” no content is truly, 100% original, but you can certainly put your own truly, 100% original spin on it!

    Reply

  16. Debbie@happymaker
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:00:08

    Thanks Henneke. Now i don’t feel so bad when I do get ideas from others. Now i know that this is ok. I do have a swipe file that I have built. Guess I’ll check out the Evernote. maybe transfer mine.

    thanks again and blessings to you,
    Debbie

    Reply

  17. Blogger24
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:02:17

    I think you have hit the nail on the head with this post. Even if people are unaware of doing it, I believe that all good writers take something from other good writers. Just like in life where our experiences and interactions shape the people we become, writers subconsciously emulate the things they have read and been influenced by.

    Reply

  18. Alvalyn Lundgren
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:42:35

    I think it takes more courage to “steal” effectively than to try to be original. Knowing what to steal, even giving yourself permission to do so, and then how to customize it is key. Your point about reading for technique rather than simply for content is my biggest take-away.

    Thank you sharing your insights. I’ve clipped this post to my Evernote “blogging tips” notebook.

    Reply

  19. Bill Alpert
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:55:06

    Not sure I agree.

    You’ve gotta’ know what to “steal,” how to shape it, where and when to apply it. This requires that you have a good measure of your own insight.

    If your approach is solely based on trying to sniff out a topic in the hope that it will go viral, you may be in for a long wait. I’d argue that Picasso and Mozart were completely original in their own synthesis of material; it was merely inspired by other works. Not copied.

    Today we see way too many people trying to pass off stolen insights as original. Their focus is chiefly to mix the pot well enough to avoid getting busted.

    Isn’t that what we’re talking about here?

    Now, if your swipe files are organized around process, that’s something else entirely. Creating copy based on time-proven principles is great. But… copying and pasting someone else’s opt-in letter using a “paint by numbers” approach is doomed to failure. Most readers are shrewd enough to spot a fake.

    The lesson is: Learn your craft. Be the real thing, not something propped up by a spin master. Then the truth will pour out of your words in a torrent, and the subject of originality becomes a moot point.

    Reply

  20. Amandah
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:55:50

    So true. You have to analyze popular blogs and their content to understand what makes them popular, and what makes posts go viral.

    I would also add that it’s important to read comments to gain a better understanding of readers. What makes them tick? What posts attract them and keep them coming back for more?

    Consciously, I think most writers may not be comfortable with becoming a blog thief. Writers like to be original, or like to think they’re original. But the truth is an idea is an idea. Knowing how to tweak it and make it awesome is the key.

    I’ve embraced my dark side and became a blog thief. I study blog content, headlines, and content. I visit online magazines like Cosmopolitan and glance at the tabloids when I’m at the grocery store. Their headlines may be out-of-this-world, but they sell!

    Reply

  21. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:56:11

    Debbie – I highly recommend you check out Evernote. I love that you can access it from multiple devices. Also, if you don’t use too much space, it’s free!

    Reply

  22. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 13:57:43

    Bobbi – yes, I’ve stolen quite a lot to write this post.
    All the sub headings, for instance, are stolen formulas. ;-)

    Reply

  23. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:01:50

    Bill – I agree. Copying isn’t the way forward.

    Successful stealing requires carefully studying what works and what doesn’t. And then applying the lessons to your own stories, arguments, and ideas.

    It’s not about copying content other people wrote, but learning success formulas and applying those.

    Reply

  24. Georgina @GemWriting
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:07:40

    Hi Henneke, I really enjoyed reading your post. I thought it was packed with ideas that are actionable, and I loved how you added in some real examples of how this stealing stuff actually works. And I didn’t know about Evernote – that’s a really good find which I’m going to explore right away.

    Thanks for putting pay to a myth. You kind of assume that you need to be original, but you argue so effectively that I’m convinced observing the masters and cherry picking the best bits to put your spin on is the way forward.

    Great post :-)

    Reply

  25. Angie
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:12:49

    Love this. Reminds me of “Imitation is the highest form of flattery”. Awesome post!

    Reply

  26. Karen
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:33:07

    I was so happy to read this. It’s so exhausting being original… especially with a real estate blog. How many times can I post the top 5, 6, 7… tips to sell your home?! I’ve been copying posts and turning them around to the negative… like “5 Tips to Sabotage Your Home Sale”… stuff like that. I’ve been worried that I’m going to be outed… but this article really helps. I’ll keep re-hashing great ideas that I get out there. Thanks!

    Reply

  27. Is marketing’s mortal sin to steal another’s content? | BrandOne Marketing Services
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:37:05

    [...] In this post Jon Morrow’s guest blogger Henneke makes that point that being original isn’t the end all, when it comes to creating popular blog content. [...]

    Reply

  28. Gay Barefield
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:37:34

    Oh so true, modeling is where it is and why not model after the bloggers we think are the best and brightest.
    Thanks so much for the reminder and yes Evernote is awesome! But had not used it to “swipe” yet. Thanks for the tip.

    Reply

  29. nancy
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:38:17

    ‘Swipe file!’ I love it! Great post, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Reply

  30. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:41:13

    Momekh – you have my permission to steal the structure of this post. I might have pinched it from somewhere myself. ;)
    My first name is quite easy to pronounce: Heh – nuh – kuh.

    Reply

  31. Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:41:27

    REMEMBER: No matter how original you are, it still takes 5 to 10 years to become an overnight success! LOL!

    Reply

  32. Janet
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:03:30

    Henneke,

    This is a very insightful post. I will definitely implement your Evernote strategy immediately. The tip about how to save my Kindle highlights to Evernote is the star take away for me today! Thanks for this great information.

    Janet

    Reply

  33. william@itsbiggerthanus.com
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:14:23

    Thanks for this post.Trying to be original has always slowed my writing down to a crawl. Again, thanks!

    Reply

  34. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:18:36

    You’re welcome, William. Swiping can definitely save you time! :-)

    Reply

  35. Scott Arrieta
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:23:11

    Love the case study comparing Jon’s and Brian’s articles.

    Great post overall. This was probably the most surprising that I learned from Jon’s Guest Blogging class, but like Picasso, you helped me to see it from a different perspective.

    Reply

  36. Jean Gogolin
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:29:56

    The borrow/steal maxim applies to art and music too, especially before there were copyright laws. (I bet cave painters did it.)

    Handel even stole from his own earlier works. If it worked once . . .

    Reply

  37. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:31:59

    Love that idea from Handel, Jean.

    Stealing from yourself – or recycling content – helps speed up content creation, too.

    Reply

  38. Larry James
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:45:08

    I use a similar technique. He calls it a “Swipe File,” I call it a “Thought Starter” file. Excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  39. Scribble, Scribble… Write, Write! « Authors & Speakers Network Blog with Larry James
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:47:29

    [...] BONUS Article: 36 Writing Tips from Successful Authors The Sin of Originality (and the Truth about Building a Popular Blog) [...]

    Reply

  40. Dave Thackeray
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:02:18

    Henneke – you’re on the money. Modelling and mirroring are two of the most important tricks of the blogging trade.

    I’m spirited by your swipe file antics using Evernote. I tried using the Kindle link you provided but like you, I’m based in the UK and the .com just won’t render any results for my .co.uk ways. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    While we’re on it – I do like emulation but by the same token, I find it hard as hell. Being a professional writer I love charting my own journey and I know a lot of people dig that I have a unique style. What I fear is losing that individuality by following the herd. I think a hybrid journey is mine to pursue.

    Great show, H!

    Reply

  41. nancy
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:23:17

    For me, a combination of two words on a billboard, or even two colors together, or a photo, or a comment overheard in the grocery checkout aisle–all fodder for blogging. Seriously, I’ve gotten more ideas from tacky casino ads as I drive across the bridge from PA to NJ… the blog never has anything to do with the billboard itself, just a couple of the words on it. It’s odd how the strangest combination of things can turn into a new blog post. But I have to write it down quickly, ideas are ‘easy come, easy go!’

    Reply

  42. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:37:14

    Dave – I’m a Amazon.co.uk user, but the link kindle.amazon.com/your_reading still works for me.

    Have you tried going to kindle.amazon.com & clicking the link “your books” at the top of the page?

    Reply

  43. Michael Yardney
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:45:15

    Thanks, some great ideas there

    I’ve been using evernote for more than a year and recommend it to everyone who wants to know.
    I also write some of my blogs in evernote – often in stages so I have a notebook called partially written blogs and another of blogs waiting to be published

    Reply

  44. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:48:45

    Thanks, Michael.

    I keep a notebook with post ideas, too. Just brief ideas, usually with a couple of initial headline ideas. It’s so easy to keep them all in one place.

    Reply

  45. Dave Thackeray
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:53:14

    Henneke – I tried your second link and it worked fine. Sadly most of the books I read are Personal Documents and so I cannot get Highlights using My Kindle Books. But your methodology is perfect. Thank you!

    Reply

  46. Henneke
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 16:55:42

    Dave – glad it worked. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way around personal documents. That’s such a pity isn’t it.

    Reply

  47. Chris
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 17:00:41

    Love this! Great and useful post. Will have to check evernote out!

    Reply

  48. Kate
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 19:56:52

    @Dave Doolin: just think of it as IMRAD and a style guide :)

    Reply

  49. Jean
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 20:25:58

    Do you get paid for posting blogs? Or are blogs just attention pulling strategies used by individuals to make their web-sites more appealing?
    Evernote? Will check on this.

    Reply

  50. Rebekah Ruth
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 21:46:02

    Henneke, thank you for this. What a refreshing and insightful article. I’m a new blogger and I feel like a sponge trying to soak up all the wisdom that I can from those who are already successful bloggers/writers. I will be setting up a swipe file on my evernote asap. And I love the “Asparagus Restaurant” example. So true! I think I will need to re-read this one several times to glean all the great tips. Thanks again!

    Reply

  51. Mohul Ghosh
    May 01, 2012 @ 00:19:19

    wow! earth shattering post for me! I had a very very very serious issue which got resolved today. Since last two years, I had this habit of taking down notes. I used to access websites, and blogs, and whatever I found useful for any freaking use in future, I used to note down the URL with a small brief. Just imagine how many files I accumulated since last two years. I always believed that I will work someday on these stuff, but just couldn’t capitalize. Now, I realized that these are the swipe files!! And hey, I am suddenly a rich person (by content point of view :) .. woot!

    Reply

  52. Mohul Ghosh
    May 01, 2012 @ 00:20:54

    Just another doubt.. I have saved all these files in Google docs (now Drive). Although I am not able to create tags in them, but I am able to create categories and stuff. I guess its ok to use. Or should I change to EverNote?

    Reply

  53. Jared
    May 01, 2012 @ 00:28:19

    Awesome post! Will have to try this thinking towards my idea generation.

    Reply

  54. Henneke
    May 01, 2012 @ 00:32:45

    @Kate @Dave Doolin That’s a good way of putting it, Kate. You can have original ideas and content, but you should use proven writing techniques to put your argument across.

    Reply

  55. Henneke
    May 01, 2012 @ 00:35:55

    Mohul Ghosh – I don’t know Google docs well enough to comment.

    Some of the benefits of Evernote include that you can clip whole articles, a selection or just an URL. You can easily add categories, tags and even notes. You can also email your notes straight to your Evernote folders.

    Reply

  56. Carolyn Murrell
    May 01, 2012 @ 03:19:50

    What an insite, and truly inspiring. I know that I don’t teach anything new, I just take what I’ve learned and wrte about. This will surely help me to write about it in a bettter way. Thank you.

    Reply

  57. Karl Craig-West
    May 01, 2012 @ 05:03:21

    Well I have to admit that it’s not every day that you’re encouraged to pillage and steal.

    Thanks for a great and inspiring post. Now I can worry less about being original all the time.

    Karl

    Reply

  58. Mohul Ghosh
    May 01, 2012 @ 07:07:30

    Thanks for the clarification Henneke.. Will try out for sure :)

    Reply

  59. Susan Friedmann
    May 01, 2012 @ 12:54:47

    What an absolutely wonderful post! Thanks for being so open and honest. I love to learn from others and look forward to learning more from you!

    Reply

  60. Henneke
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:57:32

    Mohul – Let me know how you get on – it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on Evernote vs Google Docs

    Carolyn – If this helps you writing better, that would be great. Analyzing and stealing have helped me for sure.

    Reply

  61. Todd Gray | Bold Interventions
    May 01, 2012 @ 17:10:02

    The critical factor is that the other person’s work might be your inspiration, the idea, a muse of sorts, however you make the work your own when you add your individual perspective to the subject matter. Brilliant post, it helped me a lot!

    Reply

  62. Rodney C. Davis
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:29:58

    I keep telling anyone willing to listen that even Darren Rowse wasn’t the overnight success so many people think he is. Jon was a writer even before Brian Clarke put Copyblogger on the map. Reading between the lines, this theme keeps coming at us.. you can build a successful business in amazingly fast time if you had taken the time to master your craft.To this day, I don’t have to force myself to read and ponder every single word when it comes from Clarke, Godin, Morrow, and a few others.

    Evernote huh? I finally have the solution to that memory stick I keep pulling out, but can’t access at odd moments. Now to go reverse-engineer someone’s swap file. hehe.

    Reply

  63. Shelley Alexander
    May 01, 2012 @ 21:55:19

    Jon,
    Thanks for all the good advice for building a successful blog that engages your readers. I’m new to blogging but I have many blogs that I read and admire and I have learned alot from them and am inspired by their posts and they have help me to figure out content which I hope will resonate with my audience.

    Reply

  64. Shaa Taylor
    May 02, 2012 @ 00:54:31

    For the blogger who is just starting out, this post is gold. There is just soooooooo much info out there on every topic that I have ever wanted to blog about that it is almost demoralising at times. Though most of it can be written in a much more interesting way, I must agree.

    Thanks for the tips bro, much appreciated.

    Reply

  65. Nathalie Lussier
    May 02, 2012 @ 10:57:06

    I pride myself on being different, but the truth is that just being yourself is often enough to set you apart. The content strategy outlined here is great. I’m a huge fan of swipe files, even though I don’t always read through my swipe file as often as I could… ;)

    Reply

  66. Alexandra Young
    May 02, 2012 @ 13:01:51

    Thief!

    Once again you have stole my heart with your inspiring post.

    Well done Henneke!

    I want to let you know that I took immediate action while reading your post.

    Yup!

    I didn’t even wait to finish the post to start signing up and downloading my copy! Evernote is officially the belt-buckle to my blogging tool belt essentials.

    But, may I also suggest 2 other categories for your swipes?
    1. Quotes
    2. Images

    My reasoning for both categories is because I’ve written several engaging documents that originated from a famous quote. And, don’t they say, a picture is worth 1000 words?

    Reply

  67. Adam Costa
    May 02, 2012 @ 13:12:21

    So true. I recently posted on ProBlogger why stealing is a good thing IF you do it right.

    http://www.problogger.net/archives/2012/05/01/why-i-steal-content-and-why-you-should-too/

    The trick is to copy the form, the structure and/or the essence of something and make it your own.

    Hollywood’s done it for years ;)

    Reply

  68. Henneke
    May 02, 2012 @ 14:20:50

    Hey Alexandra – I do hope you finished reading the post after signing up to Evernote? ;-)

    It’s a great suggestion to add quotes and images to a swipe file. Thank you!

    Reply

  69. Henneke
    May 02, 2012 @ 14:24:38

    Adam – I saw your post yesterday and was briefly worried your stealing had gone too far. ;-)

    You’ve suggested some interesting tools for recycling content. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  70. Alexandra Young
    May 02, 2012 @ 15:25:32

    You bet I did and then I went over to Adam’s post and swiped something! :D

    Reply

  71. Jamie Wyatt
    May 02, 2012 @ 22:16:19

    Every time I read one one of your articles, I have an “AHA Moment!” Thank you!

    Reply

  72. Corky Swanson
    May 02, 2012 @ 22:22:23

    Jon, if I had to choose, I’d pick creative over successful. And I’m successful! Picasso had a name that was easy to remember. Quick, who painted Nighthawks? Who painted The Scream? Who painted Dogs Playing Poker? Now name Picasso’s best painting. Mmmm hmm. I thought so.

    Reply

  73. Damon @ Gold Coast Spring Water
    May 03, 2012 @ 01:36:41

    I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. It’s nice to hear someone actually say it (or write it)! I don’t feel so guilty anymore…

    Reply

  74. Dom @elevate
    May 03, 2012 @ 06:57:06

    I’ve always thought that I write a bit too much on the nichey side, I must broaden my posts. Thanks for the tips Henneke. And Evernote definitely helps with organising those swipes and snippets – it’s so much easier.

    Reply

  75. Jamie Finlayson
    May 03, 2012 @ 14:34:14

    Hey Henneke,

    Great article, though I’m not sure I completely agree with you. Sure, it’s easy to say you only need to be successful, not creative, but I think the two go hand in hand.

    It’s obvious everyone can’t be successful with something completely unique, everyone has to learn and get ideas from somewhere, but that’s no excuse to become lazy.

    Everyone should inspire to being a creative and an innovator of new skills, techniques, or whatever else applies to your niche. It will make you stand out.

    I love reading blogs. I’d hate to think that I was just passing around the blogosphere reading the same rehashed content over and over again.

    What you say is perfectly true. People should take ideas from everywhere, on and offline, and come up with creative ways to make them unique. That shouldn’t mean people don’t need to become thought leaders in their niche.

    I just think the article was a bit one sided. I hope people don’t get the impression it’s easy to be successful by stealing other peoples ideas 100% of the time.

    Cheers

    Reply

  76. Henneke
    May 03, 2012 @ 15:20:30

    Hi Jamie

    Being successful is by no means easy; and one should never just copy things from other people.

    I am advocating that bloggers study successful writers and learn from their writing techniques. Sometimes we’re all trying to reinvent the wheel, but there is so much we can learn – even from “old fashioned” copywriters like Victor Schwab and John Caples.

    I am not advocating plagiarism. Of course some creativity is required to add your own colour, your own voice, and your own point of view.

    Reply

  77. Stephen Lee
    May 03, 2012 @ 18:36:28

    I’m convinced. I will start building a blogging swipe file immediately, and this article will be the first entry.

    Reply

  78. Rodney C. Davis
    May 03, 2012 @ 20:25:16

    @Jamie Finlayson: This is a clear-cut case of a blogger who knows his audience. Henneke knows that Jon’s subscriber probably has an interest in copywriting, and also knows a thing or two about getting us past his headline. You can’t take the word “steal” literally. I do believe that is quite clear by the end of this illuminating article. Being a “thought leader,” on one hand, and being someone smart enough to master copywriting skills (someone who “steals”), on the other hand, are not mutually exclusive. There is quite a bit of truth in the statement, “there are no original ideas.” As the article points out, the most original idea usually turn out to be a twist of an age-old concept.

    Reply

  79. Problogging Success Weekend Read: Random Read
    May 04, 2012 @ 09:01:30

    [...] The Sin of Originality (and the Truth about Building a Popular Blog) [...]

    Reply

  80. Jools Stone
    May 06, 2012 @ 09:06:03

    Just be like everyone else, forget about being creative, copy what the guy in front is doing, did I get that right, that’s the big secret? While I’m sadly inclined to agree, it’s a depressingly empty thing to be sermonising about in an advice post no?

    Reply

  81. Stacie @ womaninleadership.com
    May 07, 2012 @ 07:28:39

    Hello Jon,

    I appreciate everything you do and I am so happy to know you via the internet. Thank you for sharing this awesome post by Henneke Duistermaat. She has a wonderful way of explaining her expertise. You have shown through this post that you don’t have to be original to make an impact on your followers.

    Many Blessings,

    Stacie Walker
    Woman in Leadership founder

    Reply

  82. Rodney C. Davis
    May 07, 2012 @ 12:19:11

    I wouldn’t recommend anyone forget about being creative. In fact, the work of any writer or blogger worth his salt is the production of ideas. But our best thought-leaders do so ONLY by seeing the relationships between old ideas. When you read people like Seth Godin, this is very obvious. There are no new ideas per se. think about this. If there were such a thing as a new idea, no words to communicate their meaning would exist, would it? We would all do well to revisit James Webb Young’s 1939 gem, “A Technique For Producing Ideas.” I just clipped an excerpt from it for my fast-growing Evernote collection. I’ll never forget this post.

    Reply

  83. Rodney C. Davis
    May 07, 2012 @ 12:27:23

  84. Tho Huynh
    May 15, 2012 @ 06:47:18

    You have to put your personal feelings to the blog post to make it more persuasive and remarkable :)

    Reply

  85. Crystal Watts
    May 17, 2012 @ 08:01:17

    Awesome Post. I’ve heard of creating swipe files in the form of saving clippings, which I never really did because I don’t have the time to save tidbits of information via hardcopy. However, Evernote sounds like a AWESOMELY easy way to go and I thank you for sharing this great resource. I will definitely check it out for the building of a swipe file :) Thanks again for a great post! I look forward to more…

    Reply

  86. Shalu Sharma
    May 20, 2012 @ 11:42:33

    Cool post. I had an idea once and created a site. I ranked so well that I happened to be the number 1 till the penguin decided to send to the back pages. Now a new kid on the block using my same idea is number 1. So much for originality and the so called updates. I give up. I am getting a day job.

    Reply

  87. Alex K
    May 21, 2012 @ 08:51:37

    Well there is a lot of creativity in getting already good ideas and turning them into amazing ones. Steve Jobs did it for 30 years and we still regard him as one of the most innovative people of our time.

    Reply

  88. Link Love
    May 26, 2012 @ 16:47:35

    [...] The Sin of Originality [...]

    Reply

  89. Marvin Caldwell-Barr
    May 27, 2012 @ 04:53:25

    W.H. Auden wrote, “Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” I was a bit confused by that quote at first, but shouldn’t have been, considering that I reduced my golf handicap from 24 to single figures in less than a year by copying the swings of better golfers in my club. My swing remained uniquely mine, but something obviously rubbed off. You improve by “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

    Reply

  90. Henneke
    May 27, 2012 @ 05:33:53

    That’s a great quote about the difference between authenticity and originality, Marvin.

    I’ll add it to my swipe file ;-)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  91. Link Feast For Writers, vol. 10 | Reetta Raitanen's Blog
    May 30, 2012 @ 16:02:58

    [...] An Original Blog Idea Is Overrated by Henneke Duistermaat [...]

    Reply

  92. Mitz Pantic
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 20:14:34

    This is the truth! The best bloggers are thieves, but so are most that are successful.

    A great idea is always made up of many fragments of different ideas gathered from god know where.

    The people that are successful are the ones that know what to do with those ideas. It is how they present or communicate them to their audience that transform the original idea into greatness!

    Reply

  93. Test Post |
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 20:53:44

    [...] Maybe you are too original. [...]

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  94. Are You Creative In Your Blog Posts? | Ron's Copy-e-Writing Blog
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 13:07:26

    [...] read a post on whether your blog needs to be original or not. The guest author has showed several examples to prove that you don’t need to create something [...]

    Reply

  95. The One Iron Law of Blogging | Jim amann
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 05:57:34

    [...] Duistermaat calls this the Sin Of Originality in his guest post on Jon Morrow’s blog, and I think it’s an apt title for what I hold [...]

    Reply

  96. Link ♥♥♥
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  97. The One Iron Law of Blogging – DailyBlogTips | eBreak
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 06:48:39

    [...] you are, and it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is. Henneke Duistermaat calls this the Sin Of Originality in his guest post on Jon Morrow’s blog, and I think it’s an apt title for what I hold as the [...]

    Reply

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  99. Is your blog blah blah boring or is it brimming with creativity?
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 18:04:14

    [...] Originality is a wasted search for it has all been done. [...]

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  100. Research On building a online audience | scarletjames
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  101. Tom Southern
    Nov 20, 2012 @ 12:28:09

    This is the secret shortcut to learning. What matters is how much of your own talent you can bring to improve on the original. Picasso had talent, yes a talent for copying, but also a talent for copying in a way that brought new insights into what he did. As with my favourite novelist (name witheld to protect the talent!), the most likely way to write a best-seller is to copy the plot and story of a best-seller, and add your own imagination.

    One method I use to hone my skills in writing is to copy out in longhand the articles which are most popular. Do this 3 times. This process seems to train your brain to get the message. Once this happens, you can then add your own sauce. And then there’s always Jon’s course to add the icing.

    Tom

    Reply

  102. Pushkar Kohli
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 23:11:16

    Pablo picassos quote Good artists copy, great artists steal is quite controversial. If stealing was great then people would be looting banks and not following the stock market (practically seeing the graphs of previous years to invest ) , Lets be honest in our dealings and belt out some wonderful unique stuff!!

    Reply

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  104. 5 Silly Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Blog without Even Realizing It
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 20:43:33

    [...] Originality is a Sin. [...]

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  105. 5 Ways to Look Like A Pro - Even If You Are A Newbie | 'corePHP' Blog
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 10:19:51

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  106. 7000 Newsletter Subscribers from 1 YouTube Video (Traffic Strategies with Incredible ROI) — Think Traffic
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 05:46:07

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  107. What a Notorious 16th-Century Philosopher Can Teach You About Content Marketing Today | IM Worlds
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 14:09:23

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  108. Daniel Day-Lewis's 4 Tips for Writers Who Want Recognition and Respect
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 00:36:03

    [...] despite all this, you’ve committed. You’ve invested in building a blog and learning the multitude of tools that support and enhance your work. And you’ve accepted [...]

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  109. Nydia
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 02:44:17

    My husband showed me this great post of yours.

    I believe there are fragments of another’s words in every writing. We all use other people’s works.

    Great, great stuff! Sharing this :)

    Reply

  110. 27 Wacky Ways to Beat Writer's Block
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 18:39:17

    […] your wish to be original blocking […]

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  111. 11 Lame Excuses That Successful Bloggers Never Make | Internet Marketing | News | Bookmark |Tips
    Jan 08, 2014 @ 16:04:54

    […] remember, you don’t always need fresh ideas. Instead you […]

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  112. Stan Eigi
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 06:20:28

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t suppose there are many authors who write only genuinely original content. So many words been said on the topic that I hardly believe there is still something original out there. It’s all the same, just in different words.

    Reply

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