Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Post by Lauren Bailey

Something Borrowed:
A Few Words on Originality in Creative Writing

by Lauren Bailey

Even the Bible, written over 2,000 years ago, proclaims it: there is nothing new under the sun. As writers one of the greatest challenges we face is the fear that we are unoriginal. A library that contained all the projects abandoned when its author feels derivative of another work would be the largest on Earth, larger even than the historical library at Alexandria.

The fear is not an irrational one, especially when critics praise new literature for its novelty — and given that post-modern literature tends to become stylistically inventive and at times even obscure, there seems to be a lot of pressure to bring constant innovation not only to the content but also to the form of literature.

Still, too many new authors are too easily discouraged by this originality "requirement," which is mostly imaginary and almost always misinterpreted.

Granted, writing any work of literature, be it poetry, short stories, novels, biographies, or anything in between, does demand some degree of creativity — you can't write anything if you don't have an idea. But the "requirement" ends there, at least in terms of sweeping innovation.

If you have an idea, you are already innovated enough to be original.

Anything you write will ultimately be influenced by other sources you've encountered throughout your life. It's inescapable. But that doesn't make your work unoriginal. And that's what authors need to remember at all times.

How many romance or fantasy novels do you think have been published? More than you could keep in your house, or even all the houses on your block, probably. Wuthering Heights was a romance novel, among many others dating even farther back in time. Yet new romance novels are written and published every day.

Are each of these works totally inspired and absolutely new? Absolutely not.

Take a more "sophisticated" example: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Stripped of characterization and specific plot lines, The Corrections is a coming-of-age novel about families in the era of technology. Family plots and coming-of-age stories are as numerous as the stars.
The fact that someone else in history had written a story about families didn't stop Franzen, though, and critics are still praising it as one of the major works of American fiction in the last decade.

What distinguishes Franzen's novel from any other coming-of-age story? The answer is simple: Franzen. Ultimately the difference comes from the fact that Franzen and no one else wrote The Corrections. Only he could bring his particular insights, turns of phrase, dialects, plot twists, characters to the book in the way he did.

You aren't Jonathan Franzen, but when you write, you bring your own set of experiences to the table and tell stories differently than anyone else. Give the same writing prompt to 20 people and all of them will write a different story.

So the next time you are worried about your story being unoriginal or derivative, try to subdue the voice in your head that's saying that, and just write the story. You'll never know if it is original or not if you don't write it.

Bio: This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments via email: blauren99


James Garcia Jr. said...

Well-said, Lauren! Okay, well-written, but you get the idea. *grins*
I'm writing a ghost story at the moment and there have been hundreds, if not thousands of these since the dawn of time. Yet, I didn't write this for a long time because I wanted to do something original. Thankfully, I finally started it, but so many others have not written their stories for the very reasons you mentioned. I hope many get this message and do what you advised: write that story!
Thanks, Lauren. *waves to Dallas*


Unknown said...

Hi Lauren:
I really enjoyed your piece “Something Borrowed…”. Sometimes it’s hard to be fearless. It’s also nice to be reminded that we’re not alone in the doubts department.
Sincerely, Ken McAlpine