Original

My post last week was actually a re-post, and truth be told, it was a re-re-post.  I originally wrote that piece in April of 2010, and then I used it again for one of my Déjà vu Blogfest entries, and the third time was last week.  I’m not sure why it bothers me when I do that because most of my current readers weren’t following me back then, so the piece is actually new to them, but it feels a bit like cheating anyway. So today I resolved myself to making sure I wrote something original…and guess where that leads me for a topic.  Talk about putting pressure on myself.  How can I write something original…about being original?

Originality is... a by-product of sincerity. ~Marianne Moore
 

It’s a common notion – original ideas are a thing of the past – everything we see now are simply masterfully conceived derivatives of a unique (at the time) concept. Fine. Let’s deal with that head-on.  Who cares? I have one word for you – Vampires.  Here’s another – Zombies.  Shall I go on?  Lost love.  Unfulfilled prophecies.  Revenge.  These are all stories that revolve around the same idea…but handled very differently…and more importantly…successfully.

I may not be different, but I'm definitely not the same. ~William J. Dybus

I’m a 5’9” tall Caucasian with hazel eyes, a shaven head and a pudgy nose.  How many guys (and maybe a few women) do you think there are in this world who look like me? I’m also right-handed, have a gap in my two front teeth and a lazy eye when I’m tired.  That probably narrows it down some more, but the truth is there are still thousands of guys who look just like me – but you know what, I’m still unique. My education, life experiences, and moral values help others to put me in categories with people who are similar, but still -- I’m unique.  Why? Because what sets me apart from the 7.2 billion others…is my mind…and the way I express what’s in it.

 It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. ~Herman Melville
 

As a writer I see aspects of my work that bear a resemblance to other authors, especially those I’ve read and admire.  Does that mean I’m imitating them?  Was Hank Aaron imitating Babe Ruth when he broke the all-time home run hitting record? They both used a bat…and swung at a ball to try and send it off as far as they could. Was that imitation? Heck no. In the writing world an author’s distinctive voice typically comes from a myriad of influences that have pooled over time into personalized expression.  Sure some elements may stand out more than others, but it’s still as unique as a fingerprint.

The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you're playing by other people's rules, while quietly playing by your own. ~Michael Korda

Ever heard of a game called Telephone (or Chinese whispers)? It’s a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Teachers and instructors use the game to demonstrate how errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. What are usually emphasized by these exercises are the reasons for the breakdown like anxiousness or impatience, leading to erroneous corrections. But what about the other reason, the one that’s overlooked?  Some players deliberately alter what is being said because they are reinterpreting the information and passing it along in their own unique fashion. Are they to blame because the message came out of the chain different then it started…or should they be celebrated?

In a society that rewards originality…but depends on conformity…isn’t it nice to know that we can do both? :)

10 comments

  1. Love those quotes - especially the Melville one. we definitely are all unique - and that's part of what makes life and living such a pleasure :)

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  2. "I'm unique -- just like everyone else." (anon)

    First off -- at least one person has been your reader since 2010 and DID recognize the fact that your last post was a re-post. Guess that makes me unique. But I still enjoyed (re-enjoyed?) the post -- it IS a good one. Having a lifetime in the land of lake-effect snow and cold winters, I'm quite familiar with black ice and thought it was a great analogy.

    "How do you capture an original idea? -- Unique up on it from behind." (anon)

    Second -- EVERYTHING is original to each of us at some point. Somewhere in the world, there are probably thousands of people (mostly young'ins) getting their very first exposure EVER to a vampire story today. Others are learning what a zombie is for the first time. Yay for them!

    “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all.” (A. Lincoln)

    Thirdly -- I love your reference to the "telephone" game. ANOTHER great analogy!!! This shows that it's almost impossible for us to NOT be original in some way, even when we're trying to repeat verbatim what we were just told.

    It's natural to want to try and be unique, but also to fit in and be accepted. I could randomly type letters and fill up page after page of "unique" material never-before seen, but if no-one wants to read it, who cares? It's a balance, I think -- the best stories are those that seem fresh and new, even when touching on some of the oldest, most familiar material.

    Be yourself -- create what you enjoy. Do it long enough and you'll reach a point where someone other than you will like it too. That's all it takes.

    Great post as always, Bone!

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  3. Unique up on them - funny, Chris!
    There may not be original ideas, but it's our take on them, with all of our life's influences, that make them original.

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  4. Okay, I've got to admit I loved "Unique up on them"

    Isn't it strange, we spend half our time wanting to fit in, be the same as everyone else, and half trying to stand out, be an original.

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  5. You are an original Don - even if lately your posts are reposts. Well, busy busy, right? My grandkids are teaching me that there is a lot of originality in the same-old same old. I don't always like how some of todays author's "unique it up" with vampires, zombies, lost love and dating stories; but it does fit into their view of the world.

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  6. I like how you've described author's unique voice--you nailed it.

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  7. The baseball analogy is what struck home with me (get it!). But really that was a great way to put it -- they're doing essentially the same things yet they each have their own game.

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  8. An excellent post about originality, D! I read somewhere that there are only, like, seven story ideas in the whole world and everything is a variation of those ideas. So I think it's the definition of "original" that needs to be specified here... meaning each writer's own unique twist/spin that they put on their story! And I think you and your books certainly fit right into that category!

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  9. Wonderful quotes and post about originality. My parents "made up" my name based on a character in a John Wayne movie. I went for 18 years thinking that I had a corner on uniqueness (at least as far as my name was concerned), until I found out that Tyrean is actually an Irish name - same spelling, maybe not the same pronunciation. Then, I found out that it gets used in America so much that when I joined a larger County library system - there were two other "Tyrean" names in the database and they even had my same maiden name and middle initial which caused the librarian to eye me with prejudice and ask if I was changing my middle name to avoid fines . . . what?! That last was my reaction. Thankfully, we got it sorted out. And, I asked my parents if they really made up my name and they both innocently reassured me that they thought they had never heard it before. So, at least in their eyes, I am unique. And, I think we are each unique in God's eyes. He knows us to the depths of our souls and I think that each of us has something original inside us. But, we have to be similar enough to communicate. :)

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  10. Great quotes! Our own uniqueness and experiences is what allows us to put a new and interesting spin on any and all ideas out there. Love this post!

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