“Today you are you and that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you.” -Dr. Seuss
One of the most common excuses I hear from people for not starting to write is the same one that almost stopped me from ever starting. It’s repeated in different forms, but can be boiled down to a little voice inside that screams:
“I don’t have anything original to say. It’s all been done, it’s all been said.”
At some point, it was declared onto the 10 commandments of creativity that we all must be completely unique, original, and our true authentic selves.
Well, no pressure there…
This is actually great advice. The problem, however, is that we usually hear it at the worst possible time: When we are just getting started.
It’s true that we must add NEW value to the world. The only way to ultimately succeed as a creator is by filling a void through new and unique work.
But originality isn’t something you start with, it’s something to be mined for. It’s something to dig up. And in order to start digging, we need to borrow other people’s shovels.
This isn’t going to turn into a motivational seminar where I convince you how special you are. The message here is that we each have our own set of fingerprints.
We each have our own unique set of hopes, dreams, baggage, and fears. We all connect the dots of life in our own way see things through a slightly different lens.
New Fingerprints, Old Ideas
The road to originality begins by taking old ideas and reinventing them with our own set of fresh fingerprints.
Take a look at the diagram below, based on Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey:
Go around the circle and think about your favorite movie. Now think about the last five movies you watched and your favorite fiction books. Star Wars, Goodfellas, every Disney movie ever — each one follows this outline.
We have a hero who starts at home and then, POW! Something happens, a problem occurs. The hero goes on a search and meets characters along the way. The hero pays a price and learns a lesson.
Eventually, the hero returns home having changed.
On the surface, every story is the same. “It’s all been done.”
But what makes new stories original are the characters, the obstacles, and the larger themes that create a new feeling. It’s new fingerprints on old ideas.
What does this mean for us?
“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.” — Wilson Mizner
The battle for originality never ends. But the last thing you want to do when trying to find your voice, style, or authentic self is to sit around and wait for it to show up.
Chances are you’ll have to be many different people before you ever get to be yourself.
If you sit around waiting for a jolt of genius to appear, you might be waiting your whole life.
On the other hand, if you take the time to develop your style, ideas, and do the work, you’ll likely wake up one day with your own voice and ideas that are 100% truly authentically, youer than you.