The Myth of Originality


Let’s stick with Robert Kroetsch again this week, as he’s one of the greatest inspirations in my life. He was a wonderful mentor, friend, and writer, and I miss him all the time. Thankfully, he left us a shelf full of books to turn to when we need writing advice (or life advice, or just a damn good story).

In A Likely Story: the writing life, Kroetsch gives us page after page of down-to-earth, no-bullshit advice about writing and publishing. I’d rank these words top of the heap:

To announce one’s intention to write a novel is to announce one’s intention to write what is already written […] The chances of being original are less than slim. They don’t exist. It is because they don’t exist that one can be original.

I once had a writing teacher who insisted that there were two and only two stories on earth: Go away, learn something, come home (Star Wars), and Go away, learn something, die (Thelma and Louise). I’ve always liked that as it certainly brings home the idea that we can’t really create anything new in terms of story. We can fit our own stories into these models, but we can’t create new models.

Others claim that the two stories are: Someone goes on a journey (Star Wars), and A stranger comes to town (High Noon).

I’m personally drawn to this third model of storytelling, as it seems the most practical, and it features Godzilla. I’m not sure Tolstoy would approve, but I love that we live in an era where comedy like this is produced all over the internet.

Instead of trying to be original, try being you. It’s far easier.