Original Formula Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-06-26 12:00:00 No comments

One of the standard rites of passage for any creator seems to be to have a moment where you realize something you stumbled across on your own isn't in fact unique to you — that other people have been doing it forever, and you're just late to the party.

Most folks cope well with this revelation. In fact, most of them seem to benefit from it. Oh, they say, so other people do this too? Great! I'll learn something from how they've been doing it. Oh, wait, this is actually something that has an official field of study behind it? Even better! Etc.

Some people, let's call them Originalists, don't cope with it well. When they find out their "original" invention isn't in fact original, they get bummed out, and they sometimes even get alienated from the thing they were doing because it isn't really "theirs" anymore. If it's not mine, the thinking seems to go, then it isn't worth bothering with, period. So they scrap it.

Hi, my name is Serdar, and I'm a recovering Originalist.

My first (and I hope last) encounter with Originalism came by way of something many authors today not only do but learn very quickly that other authors also do: playlists for their works. When I wrote my first book back in, oh god, 1993 or something like that, it was keyed directly to a specific album that spent a lot of time in my ears just then. That was the "playlist". This being the pre-internet era, and with no real way to know that other authors were independently discovering such a thing all the time, I assumed it was some hallmark of native genius. Later, when I found out pretty much every other author I met did almost exactly the same thing, I felt stung, like I'd had some prize possession swiped from my shelf when I wasn't looking.

Fortunately, I got over it. Unfortunately, it took a while to get over it, and during that time I walked around seething with the kind of sullen resentment that didn't do me any favors.

Creative people are hung up on the idea that they need to be original, and for good reason: they think it's the original thing that people will most cherish. This isn't wrong, it's just only half the story. It's important to deliver original things in the way that matter; it's not important to be original in every breath and step, since that's impossible anyway.

What kind of original stuff matters? Point of view, I guess; it's the thing I keep coming back to. Point of view, worldview, philosophy — all the things about someone that are irreducible anyway. If that's all stuff you've picked up second-hand, though, then it won't matter how you end up embodying it or calling attention to it.

I'm still not there myself either. Kurosawa once said that across his entire body of work there were maybe two or three minutes of truly good cinema. I have in all that I've written maybe about three or four sentences that express a truly original outlook. The problem is I have no idea which three or four sentences they are. Determining that is a job I have to leave to others.

Tags: creativity originality psychology writers