One of the things I struggled with over the first decade (give or take a few years) I was writing was how to come up with a unique story that was my own. I would pour over an idea for hours, days, sometimes months and wake up one day to realize it had already been done or I was unintentionally copying a plot from another novel.
So, of course, one of the more frequently asked questions by new authors (be it of a book or any other creation) is how do you come up with an original idea?
The thing is, you probably won’t.
Everything’s Been Done
That’s not necessarily true, but it certainly feels like everything’s been done. I felt that way when i smashed my fingers into a keyboard year after year only to be let down by myself when I realized what I’d been writing: a reimagination of A, a bit of fan-fiction set in the world of B, the story of C but from a new perspective. It was infuriating, and though it happens less, it still happens to this day.
The thing is, I think that may be the best way to learn to write. Referencing and emulating your favorite authors is a wonderful way to start because you already have a baseline, a place to grow off from. Starting a new story is hard because not only do you need to figure out the plot and characters but also the setting, distances between places, religion and culture and so much more. If I wanted to start a science fiction tale about a crime lord and set it in the world of 1984 I would already have the world that George Orwell created to work off of, so I could focus entirely on plot and characters. It also might be fun to see how the characters Orwell wrote would interact during a drug deal. It’s not likely to get published, but it would certainly be fun to play with, and it helps you learn about the craft.
But I want to Write Something New,
you say, and I understand it. You might, but the point is–don’t be ashamed of writing these reimaginations and fan-fictions. They can still be excellent stories, even if the content is not entirely of your making.
The trick is to write. Just write.
NaNoWriMo is the perfect example of this philosophy. National Novel Writing Month challenges its users to complete a novel containing 50,000 words during the month of November in an effort to encourage creativity and push those who want to write but don’t as often as they would like (I’m among the latter of the two). One of the major challenges during this event is to resist editing. To complete the 50,000 words you must write (on average) 1,666 words per day, which means that editing may often set you back. Thus, NaNoWriMo not only forces you to write regularly, but also to create a skeleton before you dig in and edit. Both are excellent habits for authors.
If All Else Fails
If you cannot get over your need to create something new, to avoid the trappings of the stories you love, just write. If you manage to create something new, write that too. Write what you enjoy, play with the norm or mix genres, do whatever it is you need to do. Create a space-fairing people and throw a dragon in their path. Take the single mother and make her miss the bus, just to see what she does to make it to work, or maybe she doesn’t. Make a dwarf a flight attendant instead of a miner for once! Sure, everything might already be done in some way, but that doesn’t mean whatever you’ve got in your head isn’t worth writing.
If you want to write, just write.