How important is originality, really?

I reject originality as a primary basis of merit. That’s right, copy away.

When there were a few million people, originality WAS something special. When there were just a few million people, every new idea had a lot of impact. Like fire. Wheels. Writing. Gunpowder. You get the idea.

In fact, in my country, the USA, we particularly put creative thinking on a pedestal–probably because we’re a NEW culture and founded as an outpost. Here, you had to do things a bit differently to survive in the first hundred years, and there weren’t that many of us on this side of the pond.

But while it’s typical American psyche to put a lot of emphasis on originality, most of the world, most of time–as far as we can tell–has not. Michelangelo and painters of his day considered copying ancient works an act of artistic creation. Shakespeare believed retelling stories for modern audiences was a perfect path. Thousands of years of Chinese art give no importance to original works, but lots of importance to small, elegant improvements on older works.

So it is very human to do it over–but by doing it, make it your own.

In fact, the act of doing it combines you with the expression, so that you are a different person BEFORE you did the creative act than you are after.

This transformation is where the value lies.

Would you choose not to fall in love, ever, because “everyone has done that” OR…is it a little bit special when you, yourself, fall in love?

Most authors will tell you their books are a byproduct of a creative process that includes MANY outputs–only one of which is publishable. Ernest Hemmingway put it well when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

The critical part is not the book you wrote, the business you built, the painting, or the movie–it’s the making the book, writing the words of the poem, building the business, and directing the movie–all acts of powerful self creation and organization. That’s the bleeding Hemingway is talking about—unique personal “expression.” The  wordd “expression” actually does mean to push out, just like “expeller pressed” olive oil.

By organizing our own mind in a form where we can give expression, we become more of who we are and share some of our own platform for living with the rest of the world.

If you want to organize and express a world, you can see why I would say the truth is, you’re ruling it. You made it. And much of it, some may tell you, is  not original, not profound–not “special.” Ignore that point of view. It’s not about how your thoughts stack up to the world.

It’s how they change you on their journey from your heart to your hand.