What’s Original Anyway?

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is this:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

(from quotationspage.com, originally from An Experiment in Criticism)

The great thing about this quote is that it lets me off the hook. As a writer, originality and the value of your work are often closely tied together...in your head. When I sit down to write, I have the completely unrealistic expectation that I will writer something that no one has ever heard or thought of before.That’s pretty much impossible. There are stories on just about everything on the planet, and stories on many things that aren’t.

What Lewis is saying, though, is that as long as the story I tell is true as I experience it, then it will be original. Yes, there are people who mimic the style of great literary authors, and few ideas are really, really original, but as long as I tell the story in my way, it will be original.

But there’s more to that. I have trouble because there are parts of me I don’t want to share with the world. Furthermore, I have parts of me I feel the world does not want to see. And this is not without reason. I have been told that works of mine were not appropriate. I have shown deeply personal works to family members and hurt them because of their semi-autobiographical nature (ie characters resembled them).

So, I have learned that some parts of me may not be appreciated in my work. Either I must show my work to only literary audiences with no connection to me or I must only write about stuff that seems to have come out of nothing, completely unrelated to my life as it is. These are both impossible. Especially if I want to become rich and famous, eventually my family will have to read my writing, and I will have to give all of myself to become great at writing.

More on this later, I guess. I love CS Lewis.


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