Who could have predicted that one very rational alien, a fussy Scottish mechanic, a dramatic doctor nicknamed Bones, a Russian you can barely understand, a genius with great legs and a cocky, starry-eyed captain would still be entertaining us almost 50 years after Gene Roddenberry first dreamed them up? And, yet, I think they’ve never been better than in the current Star Trek, and such a familiar story has never felt fresher. It’s remarkable, isn’t it? How some stories just capture our imaginations again and again, no matter how many times we watch them play out. Take Spiderman and Superman—better yet, Batman. Each time they are reinvented, we seem to love them more. And in case you think this post is just for sci-fi nerds, think again. We could also talk about the way James Bond just gets better (nearly) every time, and whether or not any novel has had more literary and big-screen adaptations than Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (No really, I’m asking you. Help me think of one that has.)
We love these stories and so many, many others that I could list here—stories that just never seem to get old no matter how many times we read them re-written into a fresh era or see them played out on screen with different faces. These stories are so familiar, we almost know them by heart, and yet we can be taken with them all over again every time with just the slightest creative twist, which gives me a lot of hope, frankly. As a writer it is easy to walk through a bookstore and feel quite heavily that every good idea I have ever had has already been somehow brought to life by someone else. If you think you have an idea that is truly, truly groundbreaking, I challenge you to research it, as all writers should, before the proposal ships off to an agent’s desk. Very few writers will find that there is no one remotely like them, no story that resembles theirs, already out there stocked on shelves and popping up on Amazon. Maybe you’ve been influenced by them, maybe you’ve never touched them, still they are there. Even some of the greatest bestsellers of our time might seem at a glance to be unique and original, but are not in fact totally without the influence of other works. (But what about Hunger Games—EEEEH! Sorry. Thanks for playing. Not as original as you might think. It draws from all kind of sources.)
There is just nothing new under the sun.
And this can get you down if you let it. Thinking of writing a blog post on how your iPhone is your best friend? Sorry. Taken.
Thinking of writing a ground-breaking article that mines Doctor Who for its subtle and not-so-subtle messages about race? Oh, boy. Yeah. Sorry, you. You have no idea how so totally done that is.
But here’s the thing, friends: It’s okay. No, really. It is. You write that post about your iPhone. You write an entire book on the Doctor and race. Because the reality is, what you have to say will have its own unique spin and tone and brilliance because it’s coming from you. And who’s to say your work won’t be the one we all remember? The one that outshines the rest? The one that sells a million copies or gets 40,000 Facebook shares. My husband has read a book called Steal Like an Artist that talks about this very thing. (See? Even this blog post. Not very original—and, yes, that was the first thing the witty man I’m married to said upon reading it.)
Don’t let the familiarity of your story stop you from telling it, whether it’s fiction, opinion, memoir, etc. A little familiarity never hurt anyone. Your story is still yours. Go tell it.