Everyone wants to be original. Fact. And yet how hard do you strive towards being original? How can you tell if you are or aren’t? Who’s the judge of your work?
These are questions that bother me daily and cloud over my work. It’s not easy to get through. You can rationalize: my work is unique, because nobody else can do it exactly like I did. This is true, and yet so many books look like copies of one another, old-fashioned themes, clichéd choice of phrases and sentences.
Is it enough? I personally don’t think it is.
Don’t Ignore Your Demons
No matter that striving towards originality brings me panic-stricken anxiety, I still choose it. I don’t ignore my inner demons. Yes, the same ones telling you that you’re not good enough.
You shouldn’t ignore them, because guess what: sometimes you really are not good enough. I know it hurts. It’s meant to. You can’t get better if it doesn’t hurt. You can’t get better if you don’t admit that you are not there yet.
What does it mean to be original? Any number of things really, but these are my deliberations on it:
- to walk the path not yet taken
- to experiment with form, theme, genre, language, voice, point of view, characterization, setting, time ad infinitum
- to question established norms and standards
- to break rules
- to go with the crazy ideas, not safe choices
- to explore as far as you can
- to go with your guts
There’s no formula(s), but there are examples. Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a novel without using the letter “e”; Queneau wrote a story in 99 ways; Joyce wrote Ulysses after 15 years of work until reaching perfection.
The list goes on, and the point is that there are numerous examples, with models that don’t resemble each other (that’s why they’re original!). It requires the hardest imagined eagerness and infinite work.
How Do You Get There?
If only there was an answer. All you need to do is search: read obsessively, hear and overhear – truly listen to your surroundings, be curious and never stop experimenting. Learn the rules and then break them.
Differentiate between valuable and nonsense critique, dare yourself, and think. You can never overthink. Allow yourself to pour all that overthinking onto the page. Obsess. It’s worth it. You can never overdo it.
Originality Is Everywhere
Not everything has been done before. Only a portion has been revealed. All the rest awaits to be discovered. To be original you need to seek it. To find other original minds, be inspired, and then start your own journey towards it. Raise your standards as high as you can. Otherwise, you’ll end up being mediocre.
The agony of seeking originality is unbearable and inevitable in a writer’s journey. It shows you’re shooting high.
In the end, here’s an excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s In The Lighthouse, where one of the characters, Mr. Ramsay ruminates on his journey towards originality, and portrays the pain all artists and intellectual minds go through.
A good reminder that you’re not alone.
Are you seeking originality? What’s your story?
Today dare to write something crazy. A piece of writing that scares you and touches every atom in your body, and in a way that nobody, but yourself, understands. It can be a sentence if you like. Just dare to be daring today. And if you like, share it in the comments. Let’s be crazy together!