DJ. Interior designer. Doctor. Teacher. Chef. Lawyer. WRITER. This is just a brief list of people who take other people’s ideas or knowledge and put their own spin on it. DJs take music by other artists and make it their own by how they literally spin it. Doctors take the knowledge and research they’ve learned from others and apply it to each diagnosis. Chefs take spices and ingredients created by others and put them together in a new way. And writers, well, if you are one you know how they (we) take old ideas and spin them in to new stories.
The rapper Nas knew it: “No idea is original, there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s never what you do, but how it’s done.”
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison knew it: “There are no original ideas. Only original people.”
Abraham Lincoln knew it: “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t so very original after all.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson knew it: “All of my best ideas were stolen by the ancients.”
Don’t worry, though. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Not striving to be original with every theme or idea can help you to relax, and in turn, create something that is original in voice or presentation.
C.S. Lewis agrees: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before), you will, nine times out of 10, become original without ever having noticed it.”
The “What if…?” game is a great way to do this. It means observing and event or idea and asking yourself what would happen if it was done differently. It means putting your own spin on things to get new ideas.
So, when I see an idea that is eerily close to one of mine, I don’t fret. I know that, while the idea may be similar, my take on it will be very different.
Here’s a real writing example. My middle grade series TOMBOY RULES, uses rules as each chapter name and part of the theme. ALLIE FINKLE’S RULES FOR GIRLS also uses rules as the chapter names and part of the theme. But, this doesn’t mean they are the same thing. My main character, Mabel, uses unwritten, and oftentimes not even true, rules. Allie Finkle uses real rules and records them in her notebook as she learns them. The voices of the characters are very different. The audience for the books, while they may have some overlap, would be largely different. Plus, Allie is a girly girl and Mabel is a tomboy, so the rules they learn are very different. I like to think there is room enough in the industry for both of them. That doesn’t mean they have to go to the same publisher, but it does mean they can both exist.
No one else can tell my truth. My story. What makes it mine makes it original. Even if someone had the same idea before.