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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Re-Thinking Originality (In My Voice)

"Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before."  - Mark Twain

For about fifteen years I've given credit to my therapist from the early 2000's for a stunning insight  - "Don't waste time comparing your insides to other's outsides." When I came across exactly the same insight in Anne Lamott's 1994 book "Bird By Bird: Instructions On Writing And Life" - gleaned from her therapist - at first I naively wondered: Did we share therapists? Since Lamott has lived in the Bay Area all her life, I decided that was unlikely and concluded the insight is possibly something mental health professionals pick up in their training.

And in the end, it doesn't matter at all where the insight originated. It helped me and it helped Lamott. A bit later in her terrific book Lamott kicks off a riff about originality in writing and the near impossibility of saying something completely new. I returned to our shared therapeutic insight and reflected. Is originality - in writing, in general - perhaps a bit over-valued? If it's true that adults learn best through spaced repetition, doesn't it logically follow that if a similar idea is re-formulated by a different author (or a different therapist) , the likelihood of that idea (or that insight) being retained increases?

As someone who works diligently at not claiming the ideas of others as my own this is no idle matter. Whenever I begin a blog post, a song, an essay, and it feels at all derivative, I quickly abandon it. It may be time to re-think that a bit. I'm not Adam but I do have my own voice.  

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