What if Originality Does not pay?

Why is there so much formulaic content online?

Instead of showcasing original thinking, all it does is rehash the same old tropes with more or less phony enthusiasm.

The quickest shortcut to clicks and bucks is to cater to our endless appetite for self-improvement and inspirational tips. Listicles that can be consumed in the time it takes to evacuate one’s bowels work well, as does word popcorn.

The latter is pieces that contain more air and blank space than substance or words for easy, guilt-free bingeing that won’t clog up your brain.

Or lead you to reflection. Instead of encouraging critical and independent thinking, such content promotes groupthink and strengthens echo chambers.

As a result, the internet is awash with copywriting disguised as creative writing or personal essays, many of which sound the same. Despite being written by different people, those pieces have no distinctive qualities and are interchangeable.

This is not writing, this is copywriting designed to sell something.

More often than not, that something is a human who has turned themselves into both a product and a brand.

How can you tell the difference between a genuine narrative and one that is hyped up to milk clicks?

Anything dripping with pathos and exaggeration tends to make me feel uncomfortable as it seems to beg for validation.

Getting personal to humanize a universal issue makes for relatable copy but preserving your privacy is contingent on knowing what and when to hold back.

Assuming privacy matters to you, which it may not.

But even if you’re committed to full disclosure and transparency, you can always continue the conversation off the page. I occasionally do. I also try to be mindful of what I put on permanent record in published essays that will live on the internet forever.

When a piece seems to exist purely as a nod to exhibitionism in the race to disclose as much as possible, I can’t help but recoil. To me, shock value and sensationalism will always remain the sworn enemies of informative, thought-provoking content.

And yet, choosing to address humans’ innate voyeuristic tendencies is a business strategy like any other. Because it’s lucrative, it’s seen as successful and worth emulating.

Even though it invariably lowers platform quality, many choose to write it because it pays.

And it’s easy and quick to put together.

Unless you work in the industry, marketing copy isn’t always easy to identify.

Storytelling is the new marketing buzzword. Personal narratives are so powerful many brands co-opt them to sell their products. Thankfully, professionals abide by strict editorial standards and are duty-bound to disclose affiliate links and sponsorships.

And no, marketing and advertising are never about bad writing, quite the opposite. Practitioners are invariably seasoned storytellers who know how to capture attention, spin a yarn, and sell dreams.

Alas, this isn’t the case with amateur internet typists who pepper their copy with brand names and leave readers in the dark. How can you know what you’re reading when there’s no disclaimer about affiliate links? Are we reading a puff piece for a product? Does the writer have an undisclosed sponsorship deal with a brand? Are they trying to wrangle freebies from well-know companies by leveraging their reach?

If their social media activity engages the brand, chances are there’s something going on readers aren’t being told.

Kicking the hornets’ nest and exposing bad practice is counter-intuitive. It isn’t the road to riches nor is it a way to endear oneself to those with questionable editorial standards.

Then again, manipulating readers is unconscionable and makes a mockery of writing as a profession.

Writing is a hard and demanding job that calls for the willingness to further our shared understanding of what it means to be a human in the world. It is service, not self-serving.

There are no writers without readers.

And without honesty, discerning readers are unlikely to stick around once they realize they’ve been played for fools.

I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

What if Originality Does not pay?

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