“There’s nothing new here,” so why do we write it? – a blog post my dear friend E. Catherine Tobler wrote, and you should read.
And now I’m going to have some feelings that are too big and too angry to have on Twitter.
I have basically been told at various times since I started writing professionally, about almost every goddamn thing I’ve written, that “it’s nice, but it’s nothing new.” I’ve heard it in writing groups. I’ve seen it in reviews. It’s not new, it’s not that creative, it doesn’t add anything, it’s derivative, etc.
And as an aside, I have a particular feeling about being told that something I’ve written has been done before, almost always by a cis male writer fifty years ago, whose story I haven’t read.
It’s frustrating. It’s hurtful. It’s almost killed my ability to write, multiple times. It’s certainly killed my ability to read certain things, because being constantly told you aren’t that creative because your thing is like a thing you’ve literally never even read makes you not want to read things that might be similar to your next project. Because then at least when you get the sounds-accusatory-even-when-it’s-not verdict that “Person X already did this,” you can say, “Funny, because I haven’t read them.”
It happened within the last week, where I got recommended a book that’s in the same sort of sub-subgenre as what I want to write, and now I can’t bring myself to read it because then it’ll be like proof that I’m a pathetic piece of shit who can’t have my own ideas.
And what makes me even angrier is that it’s all subjective bullshit and it still takes up so much space in my head.
Your verdict on if something is new and groundbreaking has everything to do with what you’ve read before. So what’s new to you may not be new to someone else. And frankly, if you’ve read so much that you’re feeling jaded, why feel the need to pass that on to other people?
The idea that a work is somehow derivative because it explores similar ideas to something you’ve read before presumes that only one person can generate an idea from their experiences, and everyone else is riding their coattails. There are a lot of fucking people in the world, and it shouldn’t be a goddamn surprise that we overlap sometimes, even across decades.
I write because I’ve got something to say, because there’s a conversation I want to have, and telling me it’s not worth it because it’s not novel sounds a lot like “shut up and let other people I find more personally interesting talk.”
Something doesn’t have to be completely new or novel to have merit. I like reading things that are different, but I also like reading or watching things that are comfortingly similar to other things I’ve liked before. There’s a reason I love shows like Criminal Minds, and it’s not because they’re unique and challenging; in fact, part of their appeal is the formulaic nature, because it gives me something I know I’ll enjoy. That doesn’t mean the people involved in its production are any less artists, because they know what they’re making and they’re damn good at it.
I don’t see the benefit in novelty for novelty’s sake. I don’t believe there exists a holy Story That Has Never Ever Been Told Before By Anyone. There’s only iterations and changed details and twists and new takes, and that’s perfectly fucking fine, because sometimes the little twist will really just work for someone like it’s a light from heaven. I think the reason we tell the same stories is because they’re in our blood and bones and we’re constantly remaking them into what we need in the moment, and that is also beautiful.
And I think everything I just said is true, but it’s also defensive. These are things I tell myself when I’m feeling down so I can keep writing words. Because there’s nothing like being a “creator” when you’re constantly being told you lack the creative spark that’s supposed to animate your work. Well, I guess I’ll struggle through on sheer bloody-mindedness.
But none of that actually matters, and I’m going to go on the offensive for moment.
We stand at the nexus of countless, profound improbabilities on a planet that’s been around 4.5 billion years, and we are as different in character as grains of sand once you humble yourself enough to peer into a microscope. Unless I’ve literally typed, verbatim, what someone else wrote because I’m actually a skin bag containing infinite monkeys sitting at their typewriters, what I’ve written is a thing only I could have written, even if it’s down in the smallest of details. And I’m writing it because it’s exactly what I want to read, and if what I wanted to read was already out there, I’ve got an Xbox I could be playing instead of beating my head against a fucking keyboard so people can tell me I’m insufficiently unique.
You think what I’ve done isn’t creative enough? Fuck you, asshole. I am the only one of me that has ever existed in the history of humanity, and so is every fucking one of my writer friends.