Is there anything new under the sun? A friend of mine once worried that she had nothing to contribute to the ever-growing body of words. “How can my story be worth reading?” she asked. “It’s not original. This story has been done over and over again.”
True, I told her. The events in the story may have happened in another story. And maybe I had even read that story, or imagined it myself.
But it doesn’t matter.
Because she had never told that story. And that’s what makes it worthwhile. No one could tell it like she could. No one else would tell it like she would. I don’t care how many monkeys you put in the room, even if they can eventually recreate Shakespearean plays, no one else will put those words together in quite that way. No one will focus on the things she will focus on. No one will emphasize the features that she thinks deserve emphasis.
And so I told her that her story was worthwhile, was valuable, was worth sharing, and it was worth doing all of that as only she could do it.
I think this is a valuable lesson for those of us writing now, in a world flooded with words, flooded with stories and versions and retellings about anything we have thought about. Harold Bloom wrote about the anxiety of influence, the idea that because all authors unconsciously absorb the patterns, tendencies, styles, etc. from the books they read, they also unconsciously repeat those motifs in their own writing–thus making their own writing an amalgamation of the ideas they have collected over a lifetime of reading and listening and watching and learning. All current writing is influenced by the writers and thinkers of the past. You can’t escape the influence. And so, there is nothing new under the sun, and it’s all been said before. Maybe, but you’ve never said it before.
You can hate on Stephenie Meyer and her vampires all you want, but she definitely struck a chord with her readers. And what did she write about? Vampires plus high school romance. Both of which have been done before, and done again and again and again, and yet, Meyer’s story captivated millions of readers. Some of them may have read their Stoker, or maybe they had only heard of vampires from tv or movies, but it didn’t matter. Readers drink it in anyway because this was a new story, a slightly different tale with small changes (sparkle anyone?). I write cheesy romances with vampires–done and done and done again! But my vampires are MY vampires, and no one else would write about them the way that I do. And that’s why I should write about them.
So don’t worry if your story isn’t brand spanking new original. Don’t worry if it’s been done in ancient times or in a movie last year. You haven’t done it yet.
Give it a try–who knows what chords you may strike?