Originality is dead
And other things to remember when writing creatively
Many creative writers, myself included, started off believing that the only way to become a best-selling author was to come up with a brand new, never been seen before idea that would blow the minds of every young adult browsing the shelves of their local Barnes & Noble. We would sit, rack our brains for hours, and then finally think of a cool, fun, and interesting idea only to realize that it was basically the same plot line as The Hunger Games. Then the whole process would start all over, only to end with the same result. The only difference would be that as time went on, our confidence in our ability to be creative and original would continually plummet. How could we possibly come up with something new and unique when everything’s already been done before?
Well, answering that simple, frustrating question is really the first step to becoming a great writer, and really, it’s got a simple answer too. You can’t. The truth is, everything already has been done before and nothing is truly original anymore. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
People have been writing for millennia, since 3200 BCE, so even if there were a few totally original ideas left, you’d have a heck of a hard time finding them. I, along with many other creative writers and creative people in general, believe that originality and creativity isn’t about finding that one totally unique idea, and in order to become a truly great creative writer, we need to redefine what those words really mean.
Originality and creativity technically aren’t the same thing, but they work hand in hand with one another. Being original really means taking inspiration from others works and turning it into your own, and you do that by using your own intrinsic creativity. Great ideas have to come from somewhere, and it’s totally okay if your ideas form because you drew inspiration from the results of other people’s creativity.
However, some people believe this could be considered plagiarism, but if you keep in mind the idea that nothing is truly original anymore, by those standards, literally every idea can be plagiarized from somewhere. It’s important to keep the dangers of genuine plagiarism in mind when forming your ideas, but it should not hinder your ability to do so.
The most important thing about drawing influence from different places is connecting them all using your own personal voice. That’s really what’ll make your writing not just original, but also unique because you’re unique, and there’s no one else in the world that’s like you. Use that to your advantage.
Another common misconception between originality and creativity is that many believe that “productive and talented writers [must or usually begin] their careers at a young age” because being creative has always come naturally to them.
However, according to an experiment recorded in the scholarly journal High Ability Studies, when comparing creative writers who started publishing at younger ages as compared to older, there was no correlation between the age and the amount of success they’ve achieved from their writing. The only pattern they noticed was that the younger writers tended to be more productive and efficient with their works.
So, what can we get from this? Although everyone is born with creativity, it’s actually a skill that, like many other things, has to be developed through constant practice. With this reasoning, it’s also clear to see why the younger writers were more productive. They’ve had more time to practice being creative, so it’s only natural that they know how to make efficient use of it and create more works.
It’s actually very rare for a person to truly be naturally creative, just like it is for any other skill, but it’s pretty fascinating to see that just because it’s mental, people don’t seem to think it’s a skill at all.
So, how do we develop this skill? Now that we know that originality comes from influence and creativity needs to be practiced, how can we become better writers?
Ironically, probably one of the most important parts of becoming a great creative writer doesn’t involve actual writing at all. Passion, drive, and ideas have to come from somewhere, and for many writers, including myself, those things came from reading, like, all the time. Like all the time. Reading is absolutely essential to writing, and you should most definitely dedicate as much time as possible to doing it.
But reading goes way beyond just a means of coming up with your own ideas to develop. If that was the only thing you were looking for, then I’d say watching movies and tv shows could help you just as much, probably at a much quicker pace too. The thing about reading is that can improve your writing in general, which I think is universally known and proven. Exposing yourself to various different kinds of sentence structures, correct grammar, and new vocabulary can make a huge difference in your own writing, sometimes even without conscious effort. Reading a variety mediums (pun intended), such as books, articles, magazines, newspapers, plays, etc., and a variety of genres exposes you to different kinds of writing styles which will most definitely aid you in developing your own unique voice, whether it be traditional like more classic books, or modern and witty like a lot of teen novel writers.
This is pretty much where the “practice” part of becoming a great creative writer comes in. From reading or watching TV, you get all these great ideas, or maybe just one you can’t stop thinking about, floating around in your head, so the next step is to write it all down. But don’t think that means starting at the prologue and moving directly to chapter one, then two, and so forth. You don’t have to start writing perfect chronological chapters right away. Start with smaller structures. Create your basic, skeletal plot line, develop characters, picture a setting, write the small vivid scenes you see in your head. As long as you write something down everyday, you’re on your way to becoming a great creative writer.
But what if you don’t have any ideas yet? What if you’re still working on the creativity and originality part? Or maybe you’ve had writer’s block for years now? (Trust me, I know the feeling.) Well, in that case, write about literally anything. The first thing that comes to your head, the first thing you see, even what you did today. Just write something down. Getting into the habit of writing everyday can help eliminate writer’s block and also stimulate your thought process. The idea is in there somewhere, you just have to search for it, even if that means writing about what you ate for dinner that. Don’t think about it too much. Just write.
Be Sure You Actually Want To Do This
Writing to some may seem like a fun little pastime, but good writing takes time and dedication. Like I said before, writing is a skill. It must be practiced as often as possible and you must always have the desire to improve and do better. To be a really great creative writer, you need to have the drive to become one, but if you don’t, that’s okay too.
But with that being said, you also need to have confidence in yourself that you can do this. Don’t let the thought of constantly having to working hard scare you. First off, you’re allowed to take breaks, and second, studies have shown that self-efficacy, or basically confidence in one’s abilities, plays an important role in motivation and in learning. Giving your all into something that might not turn out perfect is a scary thought, but it’s necessary for improvement. Your writing isn’t going to be perfect when you first start. To be honest, it may never be perfect, but practice and motivation will get you as close as you’re going to get, and if you truly aren’t willing to do or have both those things, then maybe you should look for a different hobby or career.
Write For Yourself
I feel like this could be the hardest step for a lot of people to overcome, especially those who are highly affected by criticism or those who genuinely want to make a career out of writing creatively, whether it be novels or plays or movie scripts.
Writing isn’t easy. I mean, jeez, just look at all the advice I gave you! Like I said before, writing takes time, effort, drive, and passion. So what’s the point of giving something your all if the subject matter isn’t something you’re truly passionate about, or you’re not 100% satisfied with the way it turned out because adjustments had to be made?
Criticism is not a bad thing, not at all, especially if you’re criticized on something technical, but if you let yourself be consumed by all of it, if you start writing to try and please everybody, then that’s when creative writing stops being creative writing; that’s when you start to lose your own creativity and originality.
Write about the things you want to write about. I’ve found that some of the best writing comes out when someone writes about something they love or something they’re truly passionate about because naturally, that’s what they want to put the most effort in. Also, when you write, don’t force yourself to write in a way you’re not comfortable with. Don’t try to be serious or funny if it doesn’t feel natural to you. For example, there are many naturally comedic writers out there, many of which are liked by potential writers. You can take inspiration from different styles, but you shouldn’t force yourself to imitate it if it doesn’t feel right to you or if it takes a lot of effort to uphold that kind of voice.
People might not like the things you write about or the way you write about them, but don’t let them get to you. In the end, what really matters is that you’re proud of your work and you’re happy to say that it is a reflection of you and your best.