I know an aspiring author who told me that she can’t get past her big brick wall — she’s got a novel in her soul and she needs to birth it, but she can’t get the words into motion. Now, I’m in no position to judge if she’s a good writer or a bad writer, but until she actually writes a thing, there’s no telling what she could be. There’s no way to know.
I asked her one simple question, “What’s holding you back?” Her answer was one of the saddest things I hear from potential writers: “I can’t come up with a new idea. Everything I think is new turns out to be an idea I didn’t know I stole from somewhere else.” Ah. Now this is a problem I can solve!
There Are No New Ideas
If you have a formal education in writing or in English literature, what I’m about to say will come as no surprise, since we had this crap beaten into us in college. But for the rest of you, you may be incredibly shocked to realize that there are only a limited number of plots, though that number differs based on who you ask. That’s it. There are no new plots, there aren’t likely to be new plots, they all fall into one of the main categories.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to experimental and artsy fartsy bullshit, but for real, true fiction, you’re limited to a certain number of stories. At the end of the day, it’s not even the plot that matters — it’s what you do with it. If you’re looking for something unique to happen in your story, you have to put yourself into it. Pour yourself in, like hot molten steel and watch how the cracks and holes fill in.
Plotlines aren’t unique, plot elements are constantly recycled, but the world you create with these building blocks is what makes a story. There are seventy bajillion love stories, but we keep reading them, watching them, consuming them — and why? Because each and every story someone writes is different because they make it different.
For you, for Erica, it’s all the same. That story you’re worried about — just write it. Just write it, baby. I’m not good at positive posts, but in this particular vein, I’m drunk on fantasy. I’m addicted to the inside of your little special brain. Give me more of that, of whatever you see at night when you fall asleep. Give me your knights and your space pilots and your underdogs and your sinners seeking salvation.
We tell ourselves stories not to understand the world, but to understand ourselves. We can’t be more intimate with anyone than to show them our soul — and there’s no way to turn a plotline into a new and unique story without being completely and wholly intimate with our audience.
So birth that story, Erica. Birth it with all your might. All the Ericas out there — it’s not about what’s new, it’s about you making something old young again. It’s all about you breathing life into a thing that’s just a humble framework. It’s what you do with it that makes it real.
So do. Go. Write.
And don’t forget to hire a fucking editor before you try to sell that shit.