I saw a comedian once talking about original sin (I think it was Eddie Izzard – ‘Father forgive me for I have sinned, I did an original sin. I poked a badger with a spoon,’). Obviously, that is not the meaning of ‘original’ in that sense of the word, but it got me thinking. Regrettably, I fell into the Webook trap- again. For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, a few months ago a writing website that I’m a member of began a new contest of sorts. You could upload the beginning of your story- the equivalent of a first page- and have people read and rate it, based on whether they wanted to keep reading it or not. Those who received many accolades would move onto the next round- writing a full chapter- and the judgement would continue. Well, I submitted a story, thinking it would shoot right to the top of the list of amazing stories… only to have it shot down instead. Approximately 33% of the people who read it thought it was worthy of moving on and, in Webook’s eyes, that wasn’t enough. During the whole process, I became more disillusioned and disappointed in my writing. I also lost interest in the characters and storyline. Several other writer friends said, “You shouldn’t have done it anyway,” and reluctantly, I agreed. I let the story die it’s slow and painful and somewhat embarrassing death and that was that.
Fast forward three or four months later. I got an email from Webook thanking me for being one of the first people to submit something to the contest and, as a thank you, they would let me submit another story for free. Well, you can’t beat that, can you? It’s normally $10 to submit a story (okay, $9.95, I exaggerated a bit) so free is much better than $10. And plus, I’d had this other story rolling around in my head for a few months and this was just the kick in the pants I needed to start writing it. Unfortunately, I had a deadline- I only had until the following Monday to submit it- three days. And I was doing something that weekend… I think it was the weekend we went to my BIL’s (brother-in-law) parents lake house. And while the amazing house with its’ fantastically gorgeous views of Lake Hartwell was an ideal setting for writing, we were busy- eating, drinking, playing in the water, riding in the boat. Plus, it was our first weekend home and I was enjoying catching up with my sister, my dad, and getting to know Kyle’s parents a little better.
Monday morning came too quickly and the submission was due by 10am. I woke up early enough, grabbed the computer and got to work. Like I said, the story had been rolling around in my head for a while, so it wasn’t hard to throw it down on the page. I read and re-read and it looked good. And I was confident- this one would make it to the next round. I waited a few days and then checked back to see how the ratings were going.
And, yet again, felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. Only this time, it’s a little worse. Since the first submission, the website has added some new features, including the ability to say why you don’t like the submission. Out of 63 ratings, nine people have said it’s not original enough. Nine.
Which got me thinking- what constitutes original? Are there any original stories out there? As writers, we all think that our story is original… but it’s not. If I want to tell you about moving overseas to teach, well, guess what? I work with about 150 people who have also done that right now. And have done so with about that many in the three other schools I’ve worked at. So is that original? Not exactly. Are there other people who were escaping bad relationships or dismal job prospects? Yep, I’m sure there are. What about people who met the love of their life because they left the US or Canada or wherever? Definitely- I know a lot of them. So truthfully, even MY story isn’t original. There are parts of it that are different and are specific only to me but that doesn’t even mean that those happenings are original.
Where do you find ‘original’ anymore? Poking a badger with a spoon- well, I’m sure not many people have done that, though probably far more have now that Eddie Izzard brought it up. I’m reading a hilarious book right now called “Sh*t my Dad Says.” It feels original- I doubt many people have heard a lot of the things this guy’s dad has said (and here’s a plug- if you want to pee yourself laughing, seriously go get this book). I just finished a book called “The Imperfectionists” which was told in an interesting way. I guess it could be classes as somewhat original. But all stories boil down to love, loss, growth, stagnation, and death.
After thinking about it long and hard, I don’t feel bad about what those people said. I mean really, if you think about it, how can anyone do anything original nowadays?