“There is nothing new.”
Anyone who has ever attempted to create something new has come across some version of this lie.
How can I write a book or a song, paint a picture, or start a business that is completely original? “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Well, guess what? You’re right.
That is not the lie.
The lie is the subtext of this thought. The lie is that we we think this means:
“There is nothing new, and therefore it is pointless to try.”
“I can’t say it better than it’s been said before, so why bother?”
“It’s been done before.”
People have been creating stories, images, ideas, and more for thousands of years. Why do we do that? Is it because we have all of these brand-new-never-been-seen-before inventions that pop into our skulls like a bolt out of the blue? No. It’s because ideas evolve. One thing sparks a slightly different thing, which goes on to spark a few more.
Human beings are especially primed to understand and love stories. We love stories because they follow recognizable patterns, but surprise us with their details. We see the same archetypes represented throughout literary and art history. They get little makeovers to suit the current generations, but the tropes have been around for a long time.
This is why books that follow a traditional structure become so much more successful than the experimental ones. This is why popular music follows particular trends. Why art can be categorized by the period it was created in. It’s even why we can pass five different sandwich joints on our way to work.
No one likes new ideas.
New ideas are scary. It takes people a really long time to warm up to new things. If you think you are going to become a successful writer/musician/artist/entrepreneur by doing something completely new and original…
It’s not going to happen.
Or at least, it’s very unlikely to happen that way. First of all, coming up with something truly new and original is extremely difficult to do. Second of all, even if you could do that, people would be too afraid to give you a chance.
If you want to pursue your passion for the sheer joy of doing what you love, go ahead and try for those new ideas. But if you really want to build an audience or a customer base, it’s best to stick to what people know.
But I don’t want to be like everybody else!
You aren’t. And that’s what makes this whole crazy thing work. Listen up.
Whatever you are working on right now, you have been inspired by those who came before you. Your book could be inspired by an artist, your song could be inspired by a sandwich joint. It doesn’t matter. The point is, creativity does not happen in a void.
Are there any completely original ideas left? Not many. Can you still make your project original?
You are unique.
Whatever it is you want to do has been done before. But it hasn’t been done by you. The way you do it will be just a little bit different from the way the next person does it, and this is how you find your audience.
You are the secret sauce, my friend. The way that you take all of those little bits and pieces of inspiration and mash them together is your brand. No one can do it like you can. Even with the exact same set of inspirations, with the exact same creative prompts, with the exact same business proposal, you will execute it differently.
Because there is no one exactly like you out there.
If everybody is special, then no one is special.
Okay, now you’re just being a downer.
Let’s take a moment to think about why we like the things we like. What do you like best about the bloggers you follow, the restaurants you eat at, the music shows you go to?
Would you rather go to a crowded chain restaurant where the server barely makes eye contact and you have to jump on your chair, waving your arms in the air just to place a drink order? Or would you like a small, family run business where the owner comes out and tells you how much your patronage means to them?
Would you rather go to a massive, sold-out stadium concert where you can barely see your favourite band? Or would you rather see them in a smaller venue, meet them with a VIP pass, and get your T-shirt signed?
Would you rather browse endless, sterile how-to blogs that read like an instruction manual? Or do you want to hear personal anecdotes, have your questions answered in the comments section, and provide feedback that affects future articles?
I can probably guess your answers.
So what makes you special?
The bits of yourself that you share, along with your process, that help people get to know you. To care about you. Essentially, it’s intimacy.
In an increasingly digital world, intimacy has become more important than ever. We lack basic human connection in almost every facet of our daily lives. Even our relationships with our friends and family are filtered through screens most of the time.
Your project is a reflection of you. Even if you are doing a cover of your favourite song. If you’re writing fan fiction. If you’re duping recipes from Krispy Kreme donuts. There is a piece of you going into the final product (hopefully not literally into the donuts, though.)
Big famous writers, musicians, actors, and business people don’t have time for all of their fans. They might pay someone to answer fan mail and have scheduled meet-and-greets or do select interviews. But it is impossible for someone to keep up with thousands, if not millions of fans.
That’s good news for us little guys. That’s what gives us the edge. We don’t have to have a completely new and original idea. What is original these days is our ability to connect with our fans, followers, and customers. Intimacy is our edge.
Quit worrying about being original, and start being yourself.
What do you have to offer that no one else does?
Yourself. You must show people who you are, engage with your followers, fans, and customers. Give them a little piece of you beyond the “product.”
I’m a speculative fiction writer. My first book came out in 2014, The Timekeepers’ War. Is it the best book ever written? No. Is it completely original? Again, no.
Why should anyone buy my book? It’s pretty fun, for one thing, if I do say so myself. But this is the biggest reason I hope readers find my books:
I want to connect with them.
And I always, always, always respond to emails, comments, and DMs from my readers. I love it. That is my true passion. Connecting with people.
Connection is a win win. I get feedback on my published work and then apply that to my next book or short story. My fans make a difference to me, to my work, and I hope I make a difference to them.
And that is something no big-name block buster writer can offer them.
There is nothing new. So What?
Get out there. Share your work. Find your people. Start that business. Meet your fans and customers and start letting people in on who you are.
You never know. Your next super-fan might be watching.