The more I read the more I realize that every idea – every idea at all – has already been taken. “There is nothing new under the sun”, the famous quote from King Solomon goes. And while I suspect this is a woefully misquoted verse, it seems to have veracity under most interpretations. And, gosh darn-it, he was saying that long before Christ!
As authors (or artists looking to bring something unique into the world), where does that leave us? Perhaps some of the greatest writers in history felt this inner demon attack on creativity, so maybe we’re not in bad company, but that doesn’t change the nagging suspicion.
A writer’s doubts cling to him or her like a shadow. Glance over your shoulder or into a mirror and you’ll find it. If you don’t, you haven’t done anything risky or creative or vulnerable enough to earn doubt. But perhaps this particular doubt should be cut down a little to a more manageable and realistic scale.
Yes, there are no new ideas. No new stories. No new plots. All writing is a conversation: the human experience. You can’t escape every trope or cliche because there would be nothing left but the blank page. Great writers engage with what’s been set down before them and funnel this millennia-conversation through their own perspectives. There’s a difference between new ideas and uniqueness.
The joy and mystery is that everyone is unique, and so when you ask yourself, “What do I have to bring to this table?” the answer is your own uniqueness. That may feel like a non-answer, but there it is. The best writers/artists wrestle with their own personal creativity and uniqueness in order to create something that feels worth the telling, even if it’s been said before a billion times. Repetition is a necessity of humanity.
So if reading lots of different things sometimes discourages you like it does me. If you feel like all your ideas spring from someone else’s head, look at your story and your own voice and life. No one else can write it quite like you can, and it would ring false if they did.
There’s only one story, and that amounts to the question, who am I? But that story has an infinite number of paths.