Writers: Inventors or Copycats?

In his book Digitized Lives, T. V. Reed states the following about education and the Web:

Lack of obvious connection to the real world can be a major block for students, while using the Web to connect to . . . a writer who can discuss the joys of crafting a sentence no one has imagined before, can vividly awaken students. (167)

As a writer, I resent that. This quote shows that the author fosters a deep misunderstanding of the relationship between writers and originality.

First of all, there’s no such thing as a sentence no one has imagined before. Practically speaking, enough living has happened in human history that every thought that can be thought has already been thought. Originality is a chimera.

Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.
-W.H. Auden

Second, no one cares about originality. As long as you haven’t blatantly plagiarized someone else’s work (which isn’t recommended), what matters is whether readers feel a connection to your story, something they can relate to. All the reader wants is a good ride, and filling your writing with new ideas can actually hamper a reader’s ability to relate.

There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.
-Frank Capra

Writers take joy in putting pictures in people’s heads, not in being original. Not in crafting sentences, ideas, or words that no one has imagined before (unless you happen to be Lewis Carroll). At the core of all writing is the desire to make a connection with the reader, not to create something new.


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