There’s no question that it’s all been said before. Every story has been told. Each archetype has been trotted out thousands of times to play out another tale of boy-meets-girl or impossible quest or journey of self-discovery. Rare to the point of being mythical is the story that can’t be defined through comparison – it’s a modern day Emma; Eat,Pray,Love from a man’s perspective; Harry Potter for grown-ups. The redundancy is enough to make you want to pack up your pens and keyboard for good.
Yes, it’s all been said before; but there’s a reason we keep saying it: people still want to hear it, need to hear it. The human hunger for story will never be sated. Story is how we make sense of the world. It’s how we define ourselves. Your life is an intricate web made of thousands of intersecting stories. You play different roles in different stories – hero, villain, sidekick, buddy, narrator, incidental character. As your roles change, so does your perspective. You see the world through the story and the story through new eyes. Where once you thought only the hero could be right, you now see where the villain was coming from.
When you write, you bring that experience into your creation. Though you may start with the same story core as countless other writers, your story will be your own. It will be written in your voice, grounded in your perspective, and embellished with details drawn from your life and imagination. No one else has lived your life or stepped inside your imagination. This is your exclusive domain – your private wellspring of original twists on the age-old themes. When you bring these things to bear on the story you tell, the result will not be a tired retelling of the same old story, but your unique interpretation of a universal piece of humanity.
That’s what art is – a personal interpretation made visible to others. It is the manifestation of your experience. Though every artist starts with the same canvas, brushes, and colors, no two paintings are exactly alike. It is the same with stories. Every writer starts with the same set of basic premises, character archetypes, themes, and genres, and yet no two stories are exactly alike. Writers borrow from each other as even the most celebrated painters borrow from the masters, but what they borrow is transmuted as it passes through the filter of their lives and imagination.
So, why should you write? Why add your interpretation to the endless archive of variations on a theme? What is it that we hope to achieve by sharing our version of the human experience? I cannot speak for all writers, but those I know (myself included) write to effect change – not sweeping change, but small and subtle changes. Words have immense power to open eyes, hearts, and minds. Our stories carry the potential of change like seeds waiting to germinate. When we invite a reader to step inside our stories, we invite her to see the world through our eyes. We invite her to consider new possibilities.
Those possibilities may be clearly stated, or may only coalesce into clarity after repeated appearances in a series of thematically related stories. Either way, they work their way into the reader’s mind and heart as agents of change. Your story, told in your voice, rooted in your unique experience may be the story that tips the scales and activates that sleeper agent. Just as there are patterns within the vast collection of stories, so there are patterns within the diverse human population. Different groups of people need to hear different stories, and within those groups are subgroups of people who need to hear each story in a certain way. Your interpretation may be their missing piece. Your story might be the one that makes a connection and ignites new understanding, resolve, compassion, or insight.
So, when you feel discouraged, like it’s all been said, like you have nothing new to add, remember that for each writer there is a reader. There is someone who needs to hear the story told your way. There is someone who will be changed when she accepts your invitation to step inside the world of your words. Trust in the intrinsic value of those words. Lean into the truth of your experience. Know that if you put yourself fully and lovingly into your story, it will be as unique as you are and it might change the world a little.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: L. Whittaker (Make sure you visit the full-size version of this image for some inspiring quotes about originality.)