# of literary mags submitted to: 0
# of agents queried: 1
The other day my friend Bernard sent me twelve emails, each with an attachment of a quirky-awesome watercolor he’d done. When I gushed to him about how great they were, he was nonchalant*. “They’re just some things I did last night,” he said.
“Wait. You did all of them in one night?”
I then tried, for the umpteenth* time, to convince Bernard that he is an amazing artist. As usual, he wasn’t convinced. We’ve had conversations before on this topic.
“I don’t know,” he’ll say, “Sometimes I feel like I’m ripping off* Quentin Blake. Maybe I’m not very original.”
“So?” I always say. “Who is?”
When I was in ninth grade, I used to attempt* to bond with my father over music. This seemed like a good plan since he was a musician, and I was a teenager obsessed with music.
“So, what are kids today listening to?” he’d ask me, already a hint of aggression in his voice as if he’d actually said, “what kind of crap is being passed off as music these days?”
“Well,” I’d say, happy to babble about my favorite bands, “I like Nirvana, Radiohead, Beck, Veruca Salt, Silverchair…” I’d start listing bands on my fingers. “Maybe I should just make you a mix tape.”
I did make my dad mix tapes, and I was excited for him to listen to them. But as soon as the first song would come on, he’d start getting grumpy* and saying things like, “this sounds just like so-and-so” or “they just ripped off such-in-such.”
“So?” I always said. “Who cares? I like it anyway.”
It really frustrated me that here I was trying to share something with my dad, and instead of enjoying it, he was busy trying to prove it wasn’t original.
The other night I watched the movie 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Yeah, it’s a recycled idea stolen from the 80’s TV show with Johnny Depp. But you know what? It was really funny and I enjoyed it.
* * *
Today I sent this blog post by Nathan Bradford to Bernard. It basically says that originality isn’t all that important. What’s important is how (and if) you execute your idea.
This is a good thing for Bernard to keep in mind*, and also a good thing for me to think about in regards to my writing. Sometimes I worry that someone else might have already come up with the same idea as me, or that my ideas aren’t original enough.
But I shouldn’t worry so much. People like to hear the same stories over and over again. That’s why we love movie versions of fairy tales and old TV shows. That’s why there are approximately five thousand vampire romance books on the Barnes and Noble shelves right now.
In fact, you’ve probably heard it said that there are only seven basic plots:
This list from 9th grade English Class:
1 – [wo]man vs. nature
2 – [wo]man vs. man
3 – [wo]man vs. the environment
4 – [wo]man vs. machines/technology
5 – [wo]man vs. the supernatural
6 – [wo]man vs. self
7 – [wo]man vs. god/religion
This list from Christopher Booker:
1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches:
3. The Quest:
4. Voyage and Return:
So any story you tell has probably been told already. So what? If you like it, tell it anyway. Tell your version, and tell it the best you can. And Bernard, the same goes for your art! Don’t worry about whether or not it’s been done before. It’s never been done by YOU. And that’s what matters.
Don’t get so caught up on originality that you can’t enjoy the music.
*These are all words or phrases that I taught Sergiy this week