Most writers at least flirt with the idea of originality: of coming up with some story line that’s never been done before.
In one sense, an original story idea is – as Shakespeare might have said – the ultimate feather in a writer’s cap. It’s the utterly egotripping idea of boldly going where no other author has gone before.
Well, newsflash, my fellow creative writers. Even Shakespeare is widely known for being a story line thief. Back in college, during a Shakespearean literature class, I was even told that he never came up with a single “original” idea in his life; and that, today, he’d probably be considered a plagiarist – of the extremely talented variety, of course.
So if Shakespeare himself couldn’t be original, then that’s gotta mean the Bible’s King Solomon was right: There really is nothing new under the sun. (In fact, even Solomon probably adapted that lovely little catchphrase from somebody else.)
That’s the reason why I’m expounding further on Writing Rule #12, which goes like this:
There are very few, if any, new plots out there. It’s all fairy princesses and unexpected heroes and killers caught to some degree or another.
And you know what? That’s okay. Those stories can still be thrilling.
So don’t worry too much about being original. Instead, focus on taking something “old” and making it yours.
Despite how Writing Rule #12 might have just smashed your hopes and dreams into itty bitty pieces, accepting it can actually help you out in the long run.
It’s amazing how freeing it can be to acknowledge that you’re actually not that special. No, really, my little snowflake. You’re not. And that’s a good thing.
Think about it this way…
Imagine you’re a Hollywood star. You have the fabulously padded bank account and the swanky cars and the megamansion and half a million followers on Twitter. Everyone knows your name, and you’re already being considered for an Oscar even though you’re just 27 years old.
Does that sound amazing? Or is it really an inhuman amount of pressure to look perfect and act perfect and get perfect movie ratings because you accepted perfect parts at the perfect periods and delivered perfect presentations… all… the… time?
Why do you think most Hollywood stars end up with drug problems, suicidal tendencies and divorces?
That’s essentially the kind of overwhelming pressure writers put on themselves when they strive for complete originality. And for what? Is it actually going to make you happy if you manage to achieve what no other author has?
I can’t say I would know the definitive answer to that since I’ve never come up with a completely original work before. But I’m going to say probably not.
It’s perfectly okay to accept the fact that you’re one single piece of the fabric of humanity. You share the same basic biology as everyone else; you make an appearance in this world and then leave it like everyone else; and you have the same basic desire to be fulfilled as everyone else.
Again, you’re not that special.
Yet you are still somewhat special. So you get to take your piece of humanity and fashion it to the best of your abilities, taking the same old mortal story – Shakespeare’s “mortal coil” – and making it your own.
In other words, your job as a creative writer isn’t so much to create as to repurpose.
You can take the classic struggle between good and evil, and add in your own narrative style. Or look at the traditional understanding of some historical event from a different angle. Or write a love story from your imagination and in your own voice.
The possibilities are endless when you shrug off the burden of originality.
And hey, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for you… just without the plagiarism.