Writing Essays – The Simple Solution to the Newness Problem in Writing

Truth is, the idea of new has always been a problem in talking about writing and in doing actual writing. Why? Because it’s so very vague and, at the same time, it’s such a monstrously large idea.

New has simply been a HUGE, black, mysterious box that could hold just about anything and everything in it-and did!-because, up to now, we’ve never had a reliable, helpful, across-the-board method for telling one kind of newness from another.

One thing we do know is that something wouldn’t be new unless there was something old to compare it to. But old is just as vague as new, isn’t it?

What’s missing? Answer: Two insightful sets of categories to fit EVERYthing.

For something to be new, we must be able to compare it to a former version or type that is accepted as old. You know the old saying, “You can’t explain color to a blind man.”

What that means is this:

If there’s nothing shared to compare something to, you can’t talk about it to someone who hasn’t seen or experienced anything that is “like” it. All you can really say is, “Like wow, man!”-and doesn’t that just blow your mind with universe-boggling insight!

Five Kinds of Oldness

Here’s the full list of what I call the old view categories:

  • Values
  • Expectations
  • Experiences
  • Reasoning
  • Language

A mighty small list-but mighty powerful!

We can’t say anything without using these in basic, everyday communication-especially in essays. Let’s look at some examples of these five oldies that are worth their weight in gold:

VALUESinvolve positive and negative feelings, likes and dislikes, approval/disapproval, and acceptance/rejection of things that you share with others in different groups you belong to.


  • really disliking that German teacher
  • agreeing/disagreeing about politics
  • discussing favorite foods, movies, music, & books

EXPECTATIONShave to do with anticipations, hopes, and plans you have about some future event, goal, or desire that you have in common with groups you belong to.


  • working hard & hoping to get a part in the school play
  • looking forward to being there when the family cat gives birth to her kittens
  • saving your money to go to that fantastic rock concert with your friends in three months

EXPERIENCESinclude events or conditions or places you share with others at school, in your family, or with friends.


  • reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at school and how patriotic it makes you feel
  • scrumptious Thanksgiving dinners at Grandma’s house
  • sharing iTunes and great music with friends

REASONINGconcerns how you and your groups make sense of the world through understanding causes and effects.


  • why the same paper you wrote for History class got an A, but got only a C when you handed it in to your English teacher
  • why your mother puts up with her obnoxious aunt Frieda
  • exactly what makes your friend John think a particular movie is so much more interesting than a very similar boring movie

LANGUAGEinvolves the special words, terms, and ideas you share with others in your groups.


  • cheerleaders, foxy, the hunk, pop quiz, finals
  • family reunion, leftovers, garbage day, chores, allowance
  • double date, hang out with, steady, stoked, iTunes, tweet

Just as “you can’t explain color to a blind man,” you can’t communicate well with anyone you don’t already share a lot with in these old view categories, especially in essays. The most important of these old view categories is Values – if your intended readers don’t already feel positively or negatively about your topic to some significant degree, why write about it?

Five Kinds of Newness

Through years of study and research, I’ve found that you can change an old view in one or more, or some combination, of the following five major ways to make it “new:”

  • Reverse
  • Add
  • Subtract
  • Substitute
  • Rearrange

I call these five very basic and indispensable processes the new view options.

Let’s look at some everyday examples for each new view option so you can see them in action and get more familiar with them:

REVERSE – usually involves obvious old view values and expectations, and then finding out or discovering or demonstrating that the opposite or reverse is true, instead.


  • you looked forward to Junior Prom, thinking it would be very romantic, but it was a yawner because your date was so shy
  • you expected dad to be strict about getting home early after dates, but he’s actually been very lenient about it
  • expecting your rich new friend will be generous with money, you find, instead, that he’s always trying to bum some money off of you

ADDmeans something has been combined or joined with an old view idea or quality or quantity, so the additional information or experience or understanding makes something more than the old, making it new.


  • your weakness in math got even worse when the handsome new guy walked into class on his first day at your school
  • you thought it would be fun to have your very own dog, but she became more than that-she became your very best friend
  • you knew your best friend was a bit jealous of your boyfriend, but she became a fiendish, nasty devil after he bought you an expensive, simply gorgeous cashmere sweater

SUBTRACTlessens an old view in some way in quantity, quality, or importance.


  • you came to realize that being the best friend of your school’s Mr. Popular is way less fun than most people think
  • as you came to know the families of your friends, you saw, by comparison, that your own family was a whole lot less selfish and stupid than you had thought
  • your best friend became much less important to you after you started going out with Todd

SUBSTITUTEis when something is taken out of a structure that’s familiar to you and is replaced with something else, making an interesting difference or change, and that means new.


  • our student body president, Chuck, got mononucleosis and was absent from school for two months, so the Vice President filled in for him, and she really made him look bad with all her accomplishments
  • your dad started a new system: giving allowance for not doing certain things instead of for doing certain things each week
  • your best friend Tom’s younger brother, Larry, was smarter than Tom about computers, so he replaced Tom as your go-to guy whenever you had computer problems

REARRANGEshuffles the order in an old view, which often ends up being a reversal of order; it’s all a matter of when or at what point something happens in the new sequence, as compared to when it used to happen in the old sequence.


  • last year, a week before classes began instead of at the end of the semester, your school had the parents meet with teachers so they could tell teachers about their children’s learning styles, personalities, and personal needs; the teachers took notes to help focus their lesson plans for the year
  • as an incentive, your parents have begun paying allowance at the beginning of the week instead of at the end of the week
  • you and your group of girlfriends decided to group date by asking a group of guys out, not letting them know which girl they’d be paired up with, and not telling them what they’d all be doing on the date until you drove them to the point of the activity-and it was hilariously fun

NOTE: I’ve put the items in the lists of the new view options and the old view categories in their present order based on what I have observed as their frequency of use in essays, short stories, and novels. Old view Values and new view Reverses are at the top of their separate lists because they occur more frequently than the rest of the items in their lists, and the rest are in descending order of frequency, so the least frequent is last in each list.

Through my discussion of the new view options, above, you’ve now been shown 15 examples of ways to make some old idea new. Simple, isn’t it?

Okay, smarty pants–now go and do likewise.

Betcha can do it!

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