There, I said it. This is a thought I’ve had for a while now, though it’s been difficult to find the right words to express it. I hope I’ve found them here.
As writers, the works of other writers are equal parts inspiration and limitation. Stephen King might inspire you to become a horror writer, yet you might avoid writing a novel set in a haunted hotel. That would be too much like The Shining, right? It wouldn’t be original.
You know what? Screw originality. Write what you want!
So many writers decide not to pursue ideas simply because they believe it’s already been done. But so what? If your idea’s been done before, do it differently. Do it better. Do it with that personal touch only you can provide.
I’ll give you an example. One of my best friends told me he always had this idea for a story. You know the theory that humans only use a small percentage of their brain power? In my friend’s story, he imagined a character who takes experimental drugs which grant him access to the rest of his brain. This character develops hyper intelligence and extrasensory perception.
However, my friend told me he’d never write this story. Why? Because of the film Limitless. If you haven’t seen it, it’s almost exactly the same idea my friend had.
Hearing this really bummed me out. My friend was so excited about this story, yet the film killed his dream of writing it. I’m sure you’ve observed (or even personally experienced) a similar phenomenon.
Want my opinion (even though it’s not entirely original)? A similar existing work should never, ever stop you from working on a great idea.
The film Limitless, by the way, is based on a novel called The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. But did you know that Ted Chiang published a similar story a decade earlier entitled Understand? His was also about a normal guy who took a drug that granted supernatural intelligence. And if we go back even further to 1959, we’ll find Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, yet another story about a scientifically sharpened intellect.
Though the methods and general mechanics might vary from story to story, each bears a core similarity to the others. I don’t necessarily agree with those who claim there are no original ideas. I just think writers can always find ways to take existing ideas and make them their own.
We see this all the time in fiction. People say dragons are overdone in fantasy, yet George R.R. Martin writes A Song of Ice and Fire and suddenly they’re resurrected. People say you can’t do anything original with zombies anymore, and then The Girl with All the Gifts becomes a hit.
Don’t let an existing story preclude you from writing something amazing. If your idea is similar to another, make it your own. Put your personal spin on it. Most important of all, write it.
Originality is overrated. But individual creativity—now that’s something to strive for.
Kyle A. Massa is a speculative fiction author living somewhere in upstate New York with his fiancee and their two cats. His stories have appeared in numerous online magazines, including Allegory, Chantwood, and Dark Fire Fiction. To stay current with Kyle’s work, subscribe to his email newsletter. He promises not to spam you.