There was a great article that was shared around a few weeks ago, titled “Stop trying to ‘be original’ and strive to be prolific instead,” which discusses the importance of being prolific as a writer, making the point that contrary to what some literary circles say, being prolific does not mean a lower quality of work. Quite the contrary, Chris Smith points out in the article: many great creators, being they writers, inventors, or innovators were extremely prolific, often including many ideas or inventions that went nowhere.
The article primarily focuses on the importance of productivity, which is extremely important advice for both beginner and established authors, I want to take a minute to talk about the difference between originality and creativity.
Very often in the past, I’ve seen a major emphasis placed on “originality,” both by writers and readers. It’s very common to see a story’s setting, plot, characters, criticized for being “too derivative,” which is basically a synonym for unoriginal. As an emerging writer, this was something I struggled with for quite some time. I would wonder if my setting was too similar to others that I had seen before, whether my plot was too close to that of more well-known stories.
Over time, however, I came to realize that what truly matters is creativity. Back to the worry about drawing too much on other stories or sources, the fact of the matter is that there are enough stories that exist at this point for someone to find things that appear “derivative” in your work no matter how much you try and be unique and original. The same with story plots; surely you’ve seen some of those charts that show how you can boil down the plots of numerous beloved stories to the same basic synopsis. It isn’t those specific plot elements, character types, or even general settings that make great, memorable stories. It is really how an individual author takes all of these elements and combines them into a story all their own that makes a great, unique tale. That isn’t to say that one cannot be too derivative of another story, but that is fairly easy to avoid.
After all, originality derives from the word original, which in turn builds on the word origin, which means beginning. Striving to back to the beginning, whatever that is in this context, almost seems anti-creative. Rather, let ideas manifest as you build on what came before you, whether from something great you wish to draw upon, or on something disappointing that you think could have been improved. The possibilities are endless.
So where does that leave us? Creativity. Creativity is the key to fun, engaging, and memorable stories. Striving for originality, or at least the originality that so many people put up on a pedestal. Creativity is what leads to stories and characters people remember, and if you purely strive to be creative, you’ll be amazed at how many “original” things you can bring to life.
This, I think, is probably the most important piece of advice I can give to new and aspiring writers (apart from basic technical advice such as writing as much as you can and always finishing your first book, no matter how poor quality you think it is.) You’ll always have more ideas than you can work with at a given time, which allows for productivity, and, hopefully, a successful writing career.
Just get out there and do it.
(And while we’re here, be sure to check out my debut novel, A Greater Duty, one of the most creative space operas of recent times. In my humble opinion, of course.) https://www.amazon.com/Greater-Duty-Yakov-Merkin-ebook/dp/B071LD7LL8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1496810357&sr=1-1