The title of this post comes from the Bible (an under-appreciated source of some very interesting stories), in the book of Ecclesiastes, which was written about… oh… two millennia ago. While I think perhaps the writer was using a bit of hyperbole to make a point, the attempt to do something completely unique can seem pretty daunting. We’re faced now with four thousand years of world literature, and the number of stories being told every year is not going down.
Don’t worry about it.
You can spend all your life wracking your brain to create something wholly new and not at all derivative of anything else ever done since the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BCE)… or you can just tell the story you want to tell, with the characters you like.
Guess which will let you get more done?
Sometimes you won’t realize how much you’ve drawn from some source or another until you’re all done and can see the big picture. Don’t despair! Try to resist the urge to go back and redo the parts you feel aren’t new or different enough, because chances are (1) you’re the only one who notices and (2) whatever you change it to is also inspired by stories you already know. (There’s probably a neat creative exercise we could do about exchanging one inspiration for another, but let’s save that idea for later.)
How about a personal example of what I mean? I spent months writing this week’s Open Doors column and it wasn’t until my third read-through that I realized how Arthurian it is. The King Arthur stories never consciously entered my mind the entire time I was writing that piece, and yet the inspiration is clear to me now. (The blatant call-out to Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods, though, was completely intentional from the beginning.)
I could go back and rewrite it all again, of course, taking out all the bits I feel are too derivative, but in so doing I’d likely just put in something inspired by some other story I might or might not remember, and then I’d be right back to where I am now (minus the self-awareness, most likely). That would be a waste of my time; I have other stories to tell now! Were I not writing this post shortly after scheduling that column I probably never would have mentioned the perceived link to anyone, but it happens to be a pretty good example of what I’m talking about here.
So, in short (too late!): go tell your stories. Write. Draw. Film. Whatever. Enjoy the stories you are telling. Enjoy the act of creating them. Because even if they are “just like” something else out there, whether you’re aware of it or not, they are still your stories–your take on something that you and others clearly enjoy.
Story Papers is not the first blog about telling stories, but it is for us! We hope you enjoy our insights from our own processes of creation and that you join us when we challenge you (and each other) to try new creative techniques and new ways of telling stories. We’d love to hear back from you, so please always feel free to leave a comment or email us! Thanks for reading!