Please welcome Riley Redgate to the blog today! Riley is currently both a university student and a debut author — her first book, SEVEN WAYS WE LIE, hi shelves yesterday! Today, Riley has a thoughtful post on the pressure of originality, and how every writer contributes something new.
You are New by Riley Redgate"Nothing is new under the sun," people sometimes tell me, when I worry about using elements that have featured in other stories before. The phrase always strikes me as something of a letdown, rather than a reassurance. Really? "Nothing" is new? In a way, it sounds like an open condemnation of the act of making art. After all, if everything’s been done before, why bother trying to create anything at all?
And to be fair, even that pessimistic reading of the aphorism seems true, to a degree. These days, it can feel like every movie that comes out is a sequel, threequel, or entry in a franchise; properties get recycled and rebooted; fairy tale concepts get retold a thousand times, and I keep seeing commenters on internet forums decrying this trend as some sort of herald of the Inevitable Destruction of Creative Energy, or something.
To which I would say a few things. Firstly, the feeling of needing to “be original” can feel stifling, amplifying the pressure of the blank page into something insurmountable. Secondly, storytelling is now and has always been a cultural dialogue, and there’s nothing inherently evil about recycled elements. Thirdly, “nothing is new under the sun” can also be seen as an opportunity to twist a story we’ve all seen before, to subvert expectations, to reinvent or rejuvenate it with modern energy.
In honesty, though, I fundamentally disagree with the statement that nothing is new. The most helpful thing I’ve learned through the writing process is this: we are not each other. Everyone’s lens is different, making everyone’s voice different. When you’re in the drafting process, you get a lot of skeptical questions along the lines of “So, are you going to be the next J.K. Rowling?” To which—unless you are J.K. Rowling, and if so, I’m a huge fan of your work!—the answer must be no, because there will never be a next J.K. Rowling. Nobody can write like Rowling except Rowling herself. Nobody can write like Laini Taylor or Neil Gaiman or Rainbow Rowell or your barmy next-door neighbor except them. And nobody can write like me except me, which sounds strangely narcissistic on paper, even though it’s just blunt fact.
Anyway, at heart, the idea of aspiring to be the next anyone else is not one that interests me, and moreover, I feel like it’s one that’s inherently self-defeating. Personally, I’d much rather read a sloppy version of something entirely unique to a writer than read their attempt at imitating another. Besides, writing with the express aim of replicating somebody else’s success is probably one way to practice, but it seems like a roundabout way to self-actualization, because you’ve still got to find your unique voice somewhere along that road.
I imagine writing culture as a crowd of mountains. Each person has their own mountain. Each writer has their own peak to summit, with its own unique obstacles, pitfalls, flora, fauna, smooth paths, and views from the top. To focus on somebody else’s journey is unproductive—and this goes for everything, from the writing itself to the publishing aspect. So someone else got half a dozen agents to fight over them in one weekend? That’s cool. Someone got a million-dollar advance? Also cool—but not relevant to your journey. One thing I love about this business is that one person’s success does not preclude another’s. There will always be room for wonderful books, no matter how crowded the market
I love the publishing industry, and I love the community of writers, bloggers, reviewers, and industry folk on the internet. Mostly, though, I find the actual process of writing to be almost entirely separate from all this connection. When I’m locked in a room with only myself, rewriting the same scene for the fourth or sixth or dozenth time, I can’t motivate myself with anything related to publication, because that’s external. I can’t motivate myself with anything related to other writers, other people—even my friends or family. I can only motivate myself with the concept of improvement. For me, writing is a vastly internal struggle.
So I find it a little comforting to set aside the idea that nothing is new under the sun. If you find yourself struggling for That Great Idea, or for something that’s going to stun the world with pure, unadulterated Originality, I encourage you to give yourself a little space from that pressure. It’s already new because you’re writing it. That’s enough.
ABOUT THE BOOKPaloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—whether it’s Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.
When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.
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