Originality or the Lack Thereof

“About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgement.” – Josh Billings

I found a great post about the (lack of originality in) blogging here at The Rest Is Still Unwritten and I would hate to belittle it by paraphrasing, so i hope you take the time to go there and read it.

But I didn’t really want to wax so philosophic here. I was more concerned with the old idea that everything there is to write has already been written. I would like to credit this quote, but I can’t. I think it is too widespread and suspect it is derivative of the Biblical “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Some people actually believe there is nothing new to write, and it stifles their creativity. Everything seems to come back to the story of the Crucifixion, or Romeo and Juliet, or Beowulf, you get the idea.  It’s all been done before… ho hum. Might as well go die of boredom now.

Bah! It is all about the human experience! In Universal Truths or Universal Fears and in Comedic Timing, Timeliness or Timelessness? I mentioned finding common ground for readers to relate to, and that is important, but the whole reason you have to find common ground is that everyone is different. Maybe there is nothing new under the sun, but neither you nor your reader has had a chance to even pretend to have seen it, done it all.  And no one has ever heard it from your point of view before.

So approach writing like a pile of LEGO ® bricks. (No that is not a paid plug, but if the LEGO Group is interested…just kidding.) A pile of bricks on the table is nothing new. Every kid who has ever played with them ends up with a pile sooner or later. It’s what you do with them that counts. Ever seen what can be done with them? Amazing! Check out what Nathan Sawaya has done! He started out with a pile of bricks.

When you write, you start out with a pile too. And you don’t even have to go buy those special ones to finish. A recent example of people mixing ‘bricks’ (okay, ideas. I’ll let go of the analogy now) are the new ‘classics’ such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,  Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Little Vampire Women. Now, I have to admit I have read none of these, so I cannot attest to the contents, but I also have to point out the mixture of ideas was genius! Take old public domain works and make them new again!

Look what the Coen Brothers did with Homer’s Odyssey when they turned it into O Brother, Where Art Thou? It felt like a whole new story! Unless you had just read, or were a huge fan of, the Odyssey. Even so!

Of course there are only so many things to write about, but there are so many things to write about! And giving them your own personal unique spin makes it a unique story, even if it is similar in some ways to others. If you and I both get the same writing assignment, say something that relates to the title ‘a moth to the flame’, we will write very different stories. Mine could be about a zombie that can’t stop following the smell of the Red Cross truck, while yours could be about a flower turning to face the sun. Neither of us even got around to a literal moth.

The point is, even if you feel like the story you want to write was done before, so what? Do it your way. Make it yours.

Imagine words are like atoms. They are the building blocks of the world you want to build. There are only 118 known elements, and only 91 show up in our world, yet look around you. Look at all the amazing things that are made by combining them in different ways. Imagine what can can be accomplished with different combinations of the 750,000 words in the English language.

You can do it.