Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Do We Keep Repeating Everything?

I recently went through every single Literary Lab post and made sure they were all labeled correctly. I deleted unnecessary labels and added new labels to our list of helpful posts in the column off to the side. This took me all day - about 12 hours. I had to skim through every single post to see what it was about. The most interesting thing, although not surprising, was how much we repeat ourselves on here. I noticed that in three or four of my posts I say the same thing, just in different ways. Some of these posts had more comments than others, but that could be a combination of many different factors. They are spread out over the course of the two years we've been blogging here as a team.

This has raised concern that we're not being extremely helpful over here, but I also realize we get new readers every day, so maybe it's shouldn't be a huge concern. Still, wouldn't it be better to simply re-post the things we've already said? Or do we say them better the second or third or fourth time around?

In this frame of mind, I started thinking about the stories we tell as writers. Aren't we repeating the same things? I've struggled with this issue for a long time. I recently put up a post on my private writing blog about it, and I'm happy I did because a lot of my friends there explained (in very nice ways) that running themes in our writing are important and that I'm the same person writing my stories, so why would every single story be drastically different? It's a good thing if I shine through on every single one. I can tell the same story Davin tells, and it will be completely different. We did something to show this when we took on a short story challenge a few weeks ago. You can read those stories here.

Let me get to my point before I bore you to tears. What I really want to say here today is that even though we repeat things here at the Literary Lab, I don't think it's a bad thing. I repeat myself on my other blog, too. I read hundreds of blogs and see the same things being said over and over and over and over again. It's frustrating sometimes, but I'm also beginning to see that as humans, we need things pounded into our heads before we truly understand something.Writing is complicated and messy and intense. I don't have to read the posts I don't think will help me because I've already read about the same subject five billion times. I can skip those posts, but someone else might need to read them.

I'm going to stop complaining about the blogosphere and how everything is repeated. In a way, it's nice to look at it as a celebration of the writing process. It's something we never seem to get tired of exploring and talking about, and that's exciting to me. However, I do need to step back and take a break every once in a while since it is so intense. I'll be doing that soon, and perhaps that might be a good time to re-post some of my favorite posts I've done here on the Literary Lab.

What do you think? Are you annoyed by the amount of repetition that goes on in writing circles? In your own writing? Or do you think it's fun - even necessary - to see the same thing through different lenses?


  1. Repetition doesn't bother me in the least. Not just out of concern for people who've not been there before, but because it's good to remind myself about something.

    If our memories were that good, we wouldn't be repeating ourselves in the first place, or re-reading things.

    Keep on repeating.

  2. Sometimes I can read about a topic from multiple sources, and still not get it until I come across someone who explains it differently, and WHAMMO, suddenly I get it.

    Like you said, anyone who doesn't care to see if they can learn something new may just skip onto the next blog in their reader (or scroll down to old posts), but as long as one person out there gets something out of it, it's a good thing.

    Thought-provoking post!

  3. Martin: I agree with you about the memory thing, for sure! I have a goldfish memory. I often need things repeated. :)

    Tere: Thanks for your thoughts! I've been in a similar position before where I haven't understood something even though I've read about it a billion times. Sometimes it just takes that certain tweaking of the POV for me to see it right.

  4. Different viewpoints of the same topic can be helpful.

  5. Michelle, I've never given it much thought until now. I would think we all repeat ourselves now and then.
    I wouldn't sweat it.

    I think the craft is an ongoing process mastered (if possible)only through writing and writing. Like any art form, you can only improve by doing. Unless a particular mold-breaking style emerges, the rules remain the same.

  6. Often for me the same issues with my writing come up multiple times, and each time I may understand it in a different way. That warrants repeating myself, and I hope possibly that it is useful to other people.

    When I was in college, I had an art instructor that I really admired. I took multiple classes with him, even though I never really understood why. For whatever reason, he engaged me, which was odd because I always felt like he was saying the same thing over and over again in every single class. Finally, one day in my third class with him, his message got through to me in a way it never did before. I understood him for the first time. My mind was prepared for the message. I think that combination of the the right message at the right time is important.

  7. Just to be mildly contrarian, I'll admit to getting tired of repetition, possibly because I'm ancient as dirt with the attention span of a magpie and a mad hankering for Shiny New Stuff. However, you folks don't bore me here, so no worries.

    When I guest-posted here, I first went through your archives to make sure my topic hadn't been covered. I was frankly amazed at the variety of posts you've had here and the entertainingly difference perspectives I found. I've been to other writing/book/creative blogs and not stuck around long, but I've stuck around here because even when you repeat things, you do it in witty new ways.

    So please keep up the good work, and keep tossing Shiny New Things in my direction. Thank you.

    -Alex MacKenzie

  8. Lois: Absolutely! I'm glad I realized this. Sometimes I'm not too bright.

    Charlie: Repetition is important for development. Since having a child, I've seen this over and over. Oh, look, more repetition!

    Davin: That's really interesting about your teacher! I took multiple classes from the same teachers in college and had some similar experiences. I just never saw it that way. I think every person here has something important to tell at certain points in their lives and repetition can be an important part of that.

    Alex: Haha, well, that's good to know we're not boring you to tears. We're an interesting lot over here, that's for sure. I think it's a lot better to hang out somewhere when you're familiar with each other, too. That probably helps.

    Thanks again for guest posting with us!

  9. Not only do you repeat yourself a lot, but you're often repetitious over and over and over. On top of that, time and time again, you're redundant.


  10. I'm old. Repetition is good. Hell, most of the time I don't realize that people (myself included) are being repetitious. Keep up the good work. Did I say that already?

  11. I'm paranoid about repeating myself too closely. I have written lengthy blog posts only to remember at the last minute that I'd already said almost the exact thing, and then I delete it.

    There's still some repetition, but I try to keep it minimal and make it interesting.

    You do the same thing with your blogging, I think.

    You can ask me off-line about repetition in the writing blogosphere as a whole. :)

  12. I have no idea if I repeat things or not.

    On the other hand, I do get a feeling of familiarity sometimes when I start a post.

    Still, I think rewriting the same topic might serve well as measure of growth.


  13. Yeah, I repeat myself a lot. But we learn by repetition, right? And there are always new people coming along who are reading the stuff for the first time.

    And how many times have we heard stuff like, "believe in yourself and don't give up" --trite, right? But we all need to be reminded of that at periodic intervals.

  14. I think repetition is a good thing! Not only do we humans need things pounded into our heads multiple times, but often, the act of repeating something gives us a fresh perspective. I think it was some literary genius who once said something like: "There's no such thing as a new story, just a new take on an old story." I think there's something to that.

    Repetition or not, I love popping into the Lab and getting my literary fix. Keep up the awesome work!

  15. I think repetition is fine, and like you say, a GOOD thing. Sometimes we read stuff, and we're not ready for it. Or someone says it in a diff way, and it just suddenly clicks. We as writers can only absorb so much before the ol' sponge is full. So go ahead, repeat yourself!

  16. Charlie: I know. I know.

    Chuck: I have a goldfish brain. This makes repetition necessary in every aspect of my life, haha.

    Nevets: Aww, don't be too paranoid. As you can see here, people don't think too badly of it. Yeah, sure, send me offline stuff. :)

    Misha: That's a good way to put it about a measure of growth!

    Anne: Hah, I will admit there are some things I NEVER get tired of hearing, hehe.

    Gabriela: Yay! We're like a drug people keep coming back to try, haha. That's a good quote you provide. I'll put that one in my list of favorites.

  17. I don't mind the repetition. In fact it helps me. Depending on what I'm looking for at the time, is what I'll get out of a post. I can read the same post later on and get something completely different out of it. Repetition helps us learn. I've learned from teaching my son. You can say the same thing a hundred different ways until something sparks and he gets it. So you are reaching so many different people at different times. And like Tere said. Sometimes I just don't get until someone else explains it in a different way. I'm probably repeating myself, I do that alot. :)

  18. What are you talking about? I'm never redundant, I don't repeat myself, and I never say the same thing twice.


  19. Now that you mention it...
    actually, I don't mind at all. You mention new readers of the Lit Lab, but don't forget about those (like me) who have grown along the way, and writing concepts that you guys blogged about that seemed beyond me at first, I can now better absorb and process, and sometime even comment on. :)

  20. The question of repeating ourselves is one that Domey, Michelle and I have been asking a lot lately. To be quite honest about it, we've been wondering if the Literary Lab is still something that provides value to our readers. These days I feel like I'm not being particularly helpful with my posts and all three of us struggle at times to come up with new topics for your pleasure and edification. So, you know, we worry because we don't want to bore you guys and we want to keep having fun ourselves.

  21. I think Tere said it best. And I won't repeat it.

    It's the WHAMMO moment.

    And don't stop what you're doing. It's great just the way it is.


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