This is a guest post from Hannah, one of the students who attends my creative writing lectures at Christendom College, and who now heads the club that hosts that workshop. — Matthew Bowman
I can honestly say that I would be shocked if no one reading this has at least thought about the concept of being an author. In my admittedly limited experiences with people (I am only a college sophomore, after all), just about everyone I have met who is a lover of books has also dreamed about writing something of their own, and I have at least heard about some sort of writing project from most of my close friends. The more time I spend in school, the more I read and write and talk about reading and writing, the harder I find it to try to be a writer.
I have been writing since I was ten years old when I had to write a short story for my fourth grade reading class. I have started and abandoned novels, finished drafts, and submitted short stories and poems for publication. In ten years, I have only managed to get one poem published, and that was one my seventh grade teacher forced me to write and eventually submit (for “extra credit”) as a school assignment. To this day I detest that poem as a mediocre piece of work just as much as when I wrote it.
Something I’ve come to notice over the past decade is that the more I read, the less original my ideas seem. Several years ago, I created a magic system only to read a series that used “my” system. Not long after that, a short story using a world and ideas that I had never seen in books before was rejected for being unoriginal. And I recently found out that part of a creature mythology I developed for my current project had been done before in a series my mother enjoyed. Unfortunately, I am not the only one I know who has had these struggles. We seem to live in a world where just about every conceivable idea has been done before and the only thing “new” comes in finding different ways to present things.
Looking through history, there were times when writers would unabashedly borrow from one another, and now we have copyright laws. However, at the same time we live in an age where pornographic fan fiction can be published as popular literature purely by changing the names of the main characters and removing vampires. The more time I spend reading, the more ideas I get, and the more hesitant I become to put them on paper
If nothing is “truly original” anymore, then why do authors keep churning out stories? There are only a limited number of genres and plot devices at the disposal of authors, and they can only be mixed and matched in so many different ways. As much as a surprise as it was in 1980 when (*spoilers*) Darth Vader declared, “Luke, I am your father,” I’m pretty sure that that particular plot device had been used before at some point in history, and now it’s just an overdone cliché. Even if an individual writer thinks up something that they haven’t seen before, chances are it’s out there somewhere.
But if this is the case, then what is the point of reading, and why in the world do people still write? I think that reading, truly taking the time to read, is a very personal thing. When someone writes just about anything, that work is very personal to them. It takes courage for an author to put themselves out there and bare that part of themselves, however small, to whoever reads their work. Whether or not it’s intended, a lot can be learned about an author from the works of fiction they publish. They put a little of their own lives into their settings and characters in a very similar way to how artists express themselves through their paintings or photographs.
In a world where emphasis seems to be placed on originality and technical skill (which are very important), a lot of meaning is lost. I’m reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for school right now, and although I’m not a fan of the book, I’ve been given an interesting insight to what she held dear in life. That same depth was nowhere to be found when I read the Twilight Saga as a teenager. When I read, I look to learn something new about the world that I live in through the eyes of someone else, and when I write I try to leave a piece of myself in my work for someone else to find.
That is why I read, and that is why I find it so incredibly hard to write. I believe that in a world where so much has been “done before,” the originality that is so very sought after is not to be found in plot devices or fantastic worlds, but it is found in what the author leaves in their work. It is found in the undertones of the words, the philosophies that motivate the characters, and especially in the desires of the author to show the world who they truly are and what they have to say.