It’s Been Said Before — Write Anyway

“I want to write a book, and feel like I have something to say. But there are so many books in my field, and I don’t know if I’ll contribute anything original.”

I’ve been hearing variations on this theme recently from people I admire and respect, who have led successful careers and are valued by others in their fields. But they hesitate.

A couple years ago I wrestled with a similar form of resistance — until I read this quote from Seth Godin’s blog post from November 18, 2014, which concludes with this statement:

“Sure, it’s been done before. But not by you. And not for us.” — Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a marketer-cum-philosopher-king for the 21st century. Author of wonderful books and the father of permission marketing, his daily blog posts deliver short doses of inspiration.

This particular post, and its closing statement above, contains great wisdom for writers and potential authors.

Let’s decode it bit by bit and see what we can learn from it.

There is no completely original topic left. If we insisted on absolute originality — well, the world would have fallen silent by now.

What poet could ever compose an ode to a beautiful morning or wintry day? Why, indeed, pen any sonnets of love after Shakespeare?

The fact that a story had already been told never stopped Shakespeare. Artists borrow and reshape.

Even in nonfiction, creativity lies in the telling, not the facts.

This idea that everything is already written is not a product of the Internet Era.

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” — André Gide

Too recent? How about this one:

“There is no thing new under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9

Ideas don’t abide by the rules of scarcity. They don’t get used up and depleted once they’re out in the world. Instead, they multiply and transmute as they are shared and explored.

If you still feel the need to do something completely original, keep reading.

If you find your unique voice and perspective, if you think deeply and explore your thoughts or accumulated knowledge and experience, then the product of your efforts will be unique.

There’s a catch. You may not discover your angle on a topic until you start actively working with it. You have to struggle and immerse yourself in the subject first. For many of us, that struggle takes place while writing.

Recently I encountered an online giver-of-advice who recommended that people who want to publish a book simply go through public domain works, pick and choose some topics, and put it out there as an ebook.

That doesn’t count.

But if you write for discovery, if you explore a topic deeply and creatively, then I have faith that you’ll come up with something worth contributing to the world.

Earlier this year, I published a book about writing, adding yet another to the mountains of books about the topic. Why would I bother?

I wanted to write a book that spoke to a specific set of people — writers who are interested in applying lessons of cognitive science to their craft and practice.

Your writing will resonate with some people, and leave others unmoved. It’s all a matter of finding your audience.

Who do you write for?

You may find your resonant audience by targeting a specific group — people in certain industries or roles, or with shared interests. You can provide value by tailoring a general message to their needs.

Have an ideal reader in mind, then serve their interests.

You just read an entire blog post riffing on one short statement by Seth Godin.

He’d already written it, so why did I post this?

  • You may not have seen the original post, which is definitely worth reading.
  • I applied his broader focus on innovation to authors and writing, tailoring the topic for a specific audience.
  • Perhaps, because I’ve filtered the idea through my own experience, it may resonate differently with you now.

So yes, it had been written before — but not by me, and not to you. Was it worth revisiting?

You decide.

* * * *

Check out these related posts:

Visit the original post from Seth Godin, Of Course It’s Been Done Before. Better yet, subscribe to his blog.

Check out The Writer’s Process for ideas on overcoming barriers to writing and making the most of your writing time.

Image: Redd Angelo on

Originally published at on November 22, 2016.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).