Writers stress endlessly over being original enough. Beyond the fact that plagiarization is a crime (and a very expensive crime, at that), we all suffer from this idea that if we aren’t 1000% original at all times, our ideas aren’t good enough. We think that if someone else thought of it first, they’ve essentially called permanent dibs.
That’s true to a certain extent; blatantly ripping off someone else’s hard work is lazy, not to mention a jerk move. But being 1000% original at all times is a pretty unrealistic goal. Plus, it’s not worth all the worry that we give it.
Here’s a little secret: Orignality is overrated. And I’m going to prove it—right here, right now, with something that my mom told me like ten years ago but that is still truthful af.
There’s this comic strip. It’s really funny, it’s been around for decades, it circulates in hundreds of newspapers, and it’s loved by millions of people. There are three main characters: a geeky single guy who’s not great with women, a dumb dog who’s usually the butt of the joke, and a mean, snarky cat who likes to torment the guy and the dog. The stories always revolve around watching the three personalities bounce off each other, and there’s a small cast of recurring characters that helps keep things fresh.
Now, am I talking about Garfield or Get Fuzzy? Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.
They’ve got the same basic characters and the same basic premise, but Garfield and Get Fuzzy are nothing alike. The tones, art styles, sense of humor, types of side characters, and even number of words per panel are wildly different.
It’s easy to think that if your work isn’t 1000% original, it’s no good. But think about what that actually means. You’re asking yourself to come up with something that has literally never been written by anyone, ever. Thousands of years of writing. Billions and billions of people who’ve written things. Are you really ever going to come up with something that’s 1000% original?
Probably not. But that is 1000% okay. Even Shakespeare wasn’t 1000% original; he relied on popular stories and re-used the same basic plots when writing new works. If Shakespeare could get away with not being totally original, then the rest of us can, too.If Shakespeare could get away with not being totally original, then the rest of us can, too. Click To Tweet
Everyone uses formulas and tropes at some point. The three-act play, the five-act storyline, the dumb sidekick, the mysterious love interest—there’s a reason you see them everywhere. They work. No matter how many times they’re used, and no matter how many ways they’re used, they’ll continue to work. You can take basic templates and make them their own without going anywhere near the vicinity of ripping someone else’s idea off.
Yes, it’s been written before. But it hasn’t been written by you. You’re the unpredictable element that takes an idea that’s probably been thought of before and combines it with other ideas in new and unexpected ways. You’re the wild card. And you’re the reason that whatever you write will be great—even if it’s not 1000% original.