Ideas Versus Originality – Why the Fight?

With the planning for the upcoming Nano my mind continues to circle back to the basics of writing. At Forward Motion we have several newbies in chat who are working their way through the process of deciding what they want to write.

And every year I hear the same line, over and over again from a lot of new writers:

“I can’t write this idea. It’s been done before! I have to find something else that is original.”

I sigh every time I hear this and then have to patiently explain the below:

Newsflash: There are no new ideas out there.

Which is okay, because the idea itself isn’t what is important. How can I say that?

Boy meets girl.
Loner saves planet/universe.
A desperate fight for survival.
Escape from abuse.
Mystery must be solved to save the innocent accused.

All of the above ideas have been written a thousand times or more. Does that mean none of them should be done again because the idea isn’t original?

A prompt can be given to a room full of writers. For the main character one writer may use a different gender for their MC than another writer. Another a different species. Others, different personalities, traits, or quirks.

This also applies to art. I’ve set out reference material to use for inspiration and composition in front of a group of painters. By the time the paintings are finished one who hadn’t been a part of the challenge would never know they were inspired by the same things (other than perhaps they all had a mountain or a river in them).

What Is Important

It is not the idea that is unique.

It is the execution of the idea that is unique.

This is why no one can copyright an idea. Only the exact execution of an idea can have a copyright. This is why any writer who hears from another person, “I have this great idea. I’ll give you the idea, you write it, and we’ll split the royalties.” laughs their heads off. Because the idea isn’t the part of the equation that is truly valuable. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It is what the writer does with them that makes them valuable.

This is a good thing in another way. If ideas could come under copyright imagine how fast the window of legal ideas, characters, concepts, and so on would shrink down until no one could write anything.

So, stop worrying about the idea. If an idea sings to you, grab it and write it. Worry about what is important: the execution of the idea.

Bring out your unique vision of the idea. Your history, viewpoints, and experiences will come out in the writing. Your unique insight, characters, settings, wording and phrasing, pacing, viewpoint, and dialogue.

No other writer has your writing voice. It is the ‘you’ in your writing. This is what will make your version of the ‘idea’ unique, original, special, and different from what anyone else has written.

This is why I did not worry about the originality behind the idea for the Salmon Run series. It wasn’t important. What I did with it was important and that is where I threw all my creative energy. The same with all my other writing. The ideas behind my stories are hardly original, but what I do with them is.

So, have an idea that has been lurking around your head but you don’t think it’s ‘original’ enough?

Then remember it’s not the idea, but what you personally do with it. The moment you start writing it, it will be all yours. Enjoy the ride!

J.A. Marlow
“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!
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Ideas Versus Originality - Why the Fight?

4 thoughts on “Ideas Versus Originality – Why the Fight?”

  1. Glad to see the move is over. I hope everything went smoothly. Also, I agree, it’s teh execution of an idea that’s different. At Rachael Harrie’s “Platform Building Campaign Challenges” we get very specific prompts to write 250 word stories. For the first challenge there were nearly 400 entries — and they couldn’t have been more different.

    • I survived the move. That’s all I’m saying about it. 😛

      Those kind of prompts can be so much fun. It’s how “Coffee Cup Dreams” came about. 🙂


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