Where do ideas germinate from? Other ideas.
As a writer, it’s impossible to be original, but it’s crucial to be unique. What’s the difference? Being original means attempting something which has never been attempted. Under this definition, it’s difficult to find writing that is completely original because there have been thousands of writers and hundreds of thousands of stories and story-types which have proliferated over the years. There’s more out there today than there ever has been. A true original – someone who pushes undiscovered boundaries – is rare. But the key to writing is to find your own uniqueness. What is it about your perspective which brings a unique twist to that cozy murder mystery? What historical angle are you using to highlight an aspect of a historical event in a new way?
There are endless ways that a writer can be unique because no one has had your particular experiences. The key is to use what you have, use your own voice, and tell the story in an interesting way. Then you can stand out – even amongst the myriad great writers out there today.
Recently, I’ve been reminded that one of the most important aspects of writing which will help you stand out and show your uniqueness is receiving input from other sources. Whether through reading other books, listening to music, chatting with friends, or reading the news, input is crucial in building ideas and taking our writing to unique places we otherwise would not have gone if we hadn’t been actively listening to what’s feeding our mind.
Here’s my example. I’m currently reading MLB historian John Thorn’s fantastic book on the origins of baseball entitled Baseball in the Garden of Eden. I just so happen to be reading this as I’m also working on the sequel to my baseball novel which comes out March 23. Twice this week my novel has taken wonderfully unexpected turns because of something I read in the baseball history. I learned about a young ballplayer named James Creighton, who was baseball’s first martyr. He died at the young age of 21 after swinging too hard. As soon as I read his story, it coupled perfectly with a story strand in my novel and I was off, and amazed, at where the idea took me. I was also a little scared. What if I hadn’t been reading this history at the time? My novel would not have been as rich!
A few pages later in the same history, I came across the tragic story of a black ballplayer named Octavius Cotta, who was murdered for trying to vote in 1871 Philadelphia. It’s such a heart-breaking story and it spoke to me deeply. Within one day of first reading about him, I have already finished a one-act play based on the events surrounding his death. It is, in my opinion, one of the best plays I’ve written in a long time. I would not have written it without reading that book. In addition, this same tragic story will have great implications on my novel as well. There’s a terrific way to bring his story into mine and I’m thrilled.
Two days worth of reading netted me one new play and two new crucial story strands for the novel I’m working on. If I hadn’t been getting this input, my writing output would not have been as good.
Unique and engaging writing is a combination of using your unique experiences and knowledge and coupling them with a continual stream of new input. The mix of ideas will provide lots of fodder for many different writing projects. What kind of active input are you using for your writing?