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14 July 2008 @ 02:27 pm
The Originality of Writing  
I'm asking this in general instead of just on my writing filter or my writing journal since I feel like it can apply to both fanfic writers and original fic writers.

Have you ever started to write only to get stuck, afraid that what you're writing is empty and the most unoriginal thing ever? I bet most of you have. It could be a piece of fanfic that you're afraid is littered with the same old fandom/fanon cliches or some original project you fear is just Buffy the Vampire Slayer all over again.

What do you do? How do you fight that self-damning urge?


As a writer, one of the things I struggle with is the wonderful concept of originality. I'm always terrified that my characters and plots are just some subpar ripoff of something else that came before it. I freeze with that kind of unfounded fear which prevents me from completing works. I don't want to be known as someone that just rips off stories and publishes her own.

That said, I'm acutely aware that the whole process of creation is rooted in the inspiration of other works. We are inspired by other creations that have come before us. Whether you find inspiration in nature, in science, in history, or in a tv show, a book you read, a song you've heard - it's all been done before. It's been done before that and before that. Creativity is a force that keeps creating.

Some of the greatest literary or entertainment works have been rooted in inspiration from other works. Most of us like to tap into those lovely universal archetypes. In the end, we'll each put our own spin on the story. That will make it unique. That will make it essentially our work.

I'm trying my very best to acknolwedge this and just keep going. It's hard. That critical voice in the back of my mind is always nagging me. But I figure what we should do as writers is just let that fear go and just create. If there are simialrities in the story, so be it. Most of the time, it won't be a rip off. The characters will evolve and take on their own distinct personalities and histories. The plots will twist and turn in spontenous unexpected ways.

I know I am inspired by everything. I am inspired by TV, film, video games, music, nature, science, history, or a random magazine article. Often, my ideas mirror something I've seen. They are rooted in the "what if?" What if character X did this instead? They are rooted in dissatifaction of missed opportunities. It sparks creation. This is what I would have done with said plot. This is what direction I would have taken.

It's a starting point. From there, the characters and plots will blosson. Maybe at first it will seem like you're copying. I'm arguing that you aren't. I'm trying to make myself realize this. I'm not out to copy other people's work. I'm out to explore questions and possibilties within my own plots and my own characters. At the end of the day, I know they'll be my own special creations. And if I love them, it will show.

I hope the same for you as well.

(Btw, anyone who wants to be on the writing filter I can put you on if you want. I rarely use it though. If you've asked in the past, you're already on it so don't worry. But like I said, I don't use it very often. Not because I don't want to, it's just half the time I don't think my ramblings are too exciting. Heh.)


ETA: Um, did that come off as whiny? It wasn't meant to be. This is sort of part discussion and part rant. I think I failed in what I set out to do whih was just to set up place for people to talk about what works for them, if they feel the same, and to find some solace. Hmm.
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aelfgyfu_mead: helmetaelfgyfu_mead on July 14th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
As a medievalist, I know that we always draw on pre-existing works, ideas--nothing new under the sun. As a fanfic writer, I occasionally worry that I'm taking something I've read somewhere before and forgotten that I read it before, and so I'm forgetting to credit it. Mostly, though, I trust someone will tell me if I've done that, and that I have enough new stuff to make it worthwhile even if I do have to add a credit or two.

My real anxiety comes in my professional work. By the time I'm ready to deliver a conference paper, I've been over it so much I'm sure there's nothing new in it and it's really stupid and obvious. I think part of the problem I'm having right now with my monograph is that I keep thinking, "Well, that's already been done, so I'll have to find a new angle" and reading more, partly to make sure my new angle hasn't been done already, and partly to be sure I haven't missed anything contradicting (or helping) my new angle. Then I wonder if I've got an argument at all, or if, again, it's just obvious.

It really hits me with the papers, because I deliver those in front of an audience, so I'm afraid the first question will be, "Didn't you read X, which already covered the whole matter better than you did?" It hasn't happened yet, though!

My concern may seem remote from yours, but I think identifying your writing as "missed opportunities" really works for both: I write episode tags because I felt something wasn't treated enough in an episode. I write my academic articles and papers because I feel something has been overlooked: not treated, or not treated with a particularly useful approach, or sometimes just plain done wrong.

I still have the anxiety, but I now get it mostly in a fairly narrow window before giving the paper (it goes away with the excitement of the session starting so that I'm not too petrified to deliver the paper!); it doesn't bother me that much with fic. Now if I can just get rid of it with my scholarly book-to-be....

You're not alone, and I think it's normal and does get better with age.
Working for the Mandroid: Runmoonshayde on July 14th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
You know, I honestly hadn't thought of it from an academic perspective, but that might be because I'm still sore about not getting into a doctorate program.

I've done some academic work myself and I understand the pressure of having something new and finding that angle that was never done before. I think that was the most stressful part of my graduate career so far - all of my classes were fashioned with this mind set to help train us towards higher disseration research graduate work. So every class we had to come up with topics that would have a new angle. My research thesis had to have a new angle. My women studies research needed an entirely new angle and it drove me mad. I recall ranting about it quite often on my LJ at the time.

It's true of any writer, I suppose, but with different variations. Reporters/journalists need a new angle on news and stories. Fiction writers need to make old themes seem new and fresh. Fanfic writers often worry about cliches in fanon. Acamdeic writers need to make sure their research is adding something new and valuable to the field, especially since it reflects on them and the university.

I'm starting to realize that the beauty of creativity is often in the "missed opportunities." if you think about it, this is where research is born. You read an article and you feel that the author missed an aspect on Mayan life, for example. Then you read another and another and find they are all missing this angle. Why? What is missing? And then suddenly you have a topic. Fiction is no different. You find something lacking in a story and start thinking about it and suddenly your idea has morphed into its own thing.

And that feeling of seeing an idea blossom, no matter the medium, really is one of the best feelings there is.
Spiletta42spiletta42 on July 14th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Go to the library and fetch 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias. Reading that will soothe your fears quite nicely. Or, choose a basic sci-fi or fantasy idea that you are currently not using, and make a list of all of the works that have used that idea. Once you see that 50 different books/tv shows/movies have all covered the alien symbiote idea and yet 40 of them were fantastic and all of them were very different in the end, it might help you realize that your robot love story is unlikely to resemble Battlestar Galactica only in superficial ways. For example.
Working for the Mandroid: Look Beyondmoonshayde on July 14th, 2008 10:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm just thinking aloud. I tend to do this a lot. I slam myself for my unoriginality. It's a manifestation of my fears of failure. So if I sit down and think about it and then express it in words here, I think it can be helpful for me to reframe the issue and maybe help other people as well.

It's still an ongoing internal struggle though. Yet, despite the little nagging voice, I'm damn proud of my ideas no matter what inspired them.
Spiletta42spiletta42 on July 14th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
Yep, I get that.

My nagging voice has recently decided to hover around the issue of whether my stuff is deep enough, or whether the depth is too subtle or if I'm beating people over the head if I try to be clearer, and I know darn well that there will always be some who miss the point regardless but I have trouble letting that go.



(Deleted comment)
Nervous, Messed-Up Marionette: are you theresuperbadgirl on July 14th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
She says the if we start comparing our work to the work of other writers who have gone before, if we start thinking, there's already so much of this kind of fiction out there, what's the use of me writing mine?, that pretty much guarantees we'll quit. Thinking, what does a world that has Shakespeare need with MY love story is just fatal.

Yes. This. My younger brother once kvetched to me about giving up writing because he could never be as good as Proust. It made me want to reach through the internets and shake him, because he shouldn't be trying to be anything other than who he is. He could be a damned good writer if he'd stop naval-gazing.

I get into fits myself sometimes, down here on the fanfic-only level. But ultimately? My creative expression, while different than those writers who cause me envy, is no less valid or original just because it's my voice. :)
Working for the Mandroid: badassmoonshayde on July 14th, 2008 11:05 pm (UTC)
Maybe some of the writing fear stems from this disconnect in who we really are? If so many people have a hard time figuring themselves out and who they are, it's even more difficult to find your own voice in writing.

But trying to be someone else is a huge huge part of it, I think. I know I often stop and think: "If only I could be as good as..." And then I have to stop myself before I fall too deeply into that kind of thinking. It's counter-productive.

I do tend to obsess on the concept of originality, though. I get nervous that my character is just Jack or Daniel or Dean or Sam or Luke or Leia or "insert character here." I don't like it when peopel grab characters and just file the names off.

But I also think if I obsess over this too much, the character will become static. I should just let the story and characters devlop how they want to develop. Eventually, any fears should ease up because they will be unique. The story will make them unique.

But I have OCD tendencies and it's obviously showing in my writing LOL

And OMG, am in love with your icon. Memories!
Nervous, Messed-Up Marionette: are you theresuperbadgirl on July 15th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)
The thing is, your voice can change - sometimes it takes lots of time, but other times it seems overnight. I am not now the person I was when I started writing, as I will not be this person I am now forever. At the core, maybe, but there should be refinement over the years.

I do tend to obsess on the concept of originality, though. I get nervous that my character is just Jack or Daniel or Dean or Sam or Luke or Leia or "insert character here." I don't like it when peopel grab characters and just file the names off.

I don't think you have to worry about this, unlike stories I can predict the plot just based on the author. I know Author X will build things up wonderfully and then end the story without proper balance/resolution. 60 pages of plotting and build up. Two page wrap-up. Author X fools me into thinking she might do something different every time. ;)


Hee. I saw the icon and had to snag it.
Working for the Mandroid: Daniel and Jack To Do Listmoonshayde on July 14th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
That's a nice way for her to put it - thinking of originality in terns of origin.

I think some of the fears stem from the sheer volume of bad knockoffs I see published. There is some bad writing out there and I want something that will be captivating. I'm not gifted with the most perfect prose, but I feel strongly about my characters and my plot. That dedication and love should translate even if my prose is a little clunky. There's always editing.

I just wanted to kind of vocalize some of my concerns because I figure other people must have them from time to time, too. It's a struggle with me. But creation and creativity really do come out of the questions we ask overselves. They come out of our desire to see what we want to see or write what we want to write, and I feel that is where good writing develops. You can tell when a writer doesn't love their work.

I'm rambling. Heh. But there are universal themes that will never end as long as we are alive. And when we tap into those themes, we can sure to bring a good story to the table :)
Gategrrlgategrrl on July 15th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)
She says the if we start comparing our work to the work of other writers who have gone before, if we start thinking, there's already so much of this kind of fiction out there, what's the use of me writing mine?, that pretty much guarantees we'll quit. Thinking, what does a world that has Shakespeare need with MY love story is just fatal.

It is, and thank you for expressing what I was going to say, only with less elegant language (or Julia Cameron). It's easy to worry yourself to death, thinking you have NOTHING new to say, or that no one will be interested in hearing/reading it. It's a paralysis of creativity.
Larien Elengasse: reading fanficlarienelengasse on July 14th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
This is a much bigger concern for me with academic writing than it is with fanfic. With fanfic, I just trust my instincts - if I write something similar to someone else, I'm not happy about it, but I'm also not going to beat myself up either. With academic writing, it's a lot more pressure, but then I tend to choose strange and obscure topics on purpose, since I'm an early modernist and there's a boat load of work already done in the field on just about everything you can imagine.
Working for the Mandroid: Boredmoonshayde on July 14th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
As I commented above, I forgot all about acamdeic writing, even though I've had a taste of that myself. I think that is what made me the most uncomfortable. There was always this pressure to have a new angle or discover something new and fresh for the field. That pressure is immense.

So, I would think it's true of all kinds of writters, just in various forms and degrees.
twasadarktwasadark on July 15th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)

What do you do? How do you fight that self-damning urge?


In no particular order, my coping mechanisms include: crying, whining, yowling, angsting, complaining, and wallowing in doubt/depression/despair.

I think such doubt is part of the creative personality. Over time, though, I have learned to trust my instincts as a writer more and more, and the above mentioned coping mechanisms have lessened. :-)
Autumn Dandelion: Lennon - No One Knowsautumndandelion on July 15th, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
That's why I don't really write stories anymore when I used to write them nonstop. Nothing I write anymore feels totally original.
mehhhhhh: [Janet] comfortcnidarian on July 15th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
I suppose something that could help is going back and reading something of yours that lots of people liked. Or your favourite story of your own. Something to renew the faith in your ability. Or just read comments/feedback.

For what it's worth, I think you're an awesome writer.
maychorianmaychorian on July 15th, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
I know exactly where you're coming from. These concerns are pretty much exactly why I can never seem to finish it. Because it starts out all fun and good and I love the characters and whatever, and then 'long about twenty thousand words into I start to realize that this has all been done before.

I really have to change my attitude to being more like, yes, this story might not be exactly the amazingwonderfulomgLITERATURE I really want to write, to justify all the time and tears I've put into writing since I was so young, to fulfill all the expectations people have on me and I have on myself. But it's a stepping stone. Every little bit gets me closer. And someday, I hope, my writing will be what I really want it to be. For now though, I just have to work with what I have. Stopping won't help me move on. It's a journey, just like anything else.

So, of course, I struggled with my love of fanfiction, too, and how so many people think it's worthless, and maybe I kinda think that too, but I enjoy it so much! It's not wrong to do what you enjoy. Even if it isn't amazingwonderfulomgLITERATURE. And I do think that some pieces of fanfiction can approach the level of literature, though they'll never be acknowledged as such. The point is, do you like it? Does it enrich your life? Does it give you joy? Then you grab it, because joy is hard to find. I'm all about grabbing joy where you find it, and fuck the rest. (Excuse my Klingon.)
help, i'm alive ;;: daniel - coffeeodakota_rose on July 15th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
I suppose it's a bit of everything, personally whenever I start writing there's the initial burst, usually when I have a particular idea or scene that pops up fully formed. After I write about a page or so rapid fire style, I end up deciding that I either a) hate any and everything I write, b) think it's similar to something I've once read, or c) [rarely] decide it's not completely terrible and keep working on it.
That process kinda explains why I have dozens of half written fics on my hard drive that may or may not see the light of day *facepalm*

I'm trying to be less critical of myself, I think that's my worst enemy..