Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

It’s Time to Give Up on Originality

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Being creative has been difficult for me as of late. Every time I sit down to try and write a short story or add a chapter to my book, I’m struck with an overwhelming feeling of mediocrity. My characters feel too familiar despite being brand new, and the story progression sounds like a movie I’ve seen a thousand times. I try to write through this feeling by recognizing tropes and archetypes are common and more than alright to use. However, I can’t help but feel like my work isn’t really my own. It lacks originality — whatever that means. 

The word ‘originality’ has two basic definitions. There’s, of course, the usual definition of being able to think creatively. This is more of a thing people can do rather than a general concept. The other definition, the quality of being unusual or new, is an aspect things either have or don’t. For many creatives, the latter meaning holds more weight. We strive to make something no one’s ever seen before, something that will set us apart from our peers and predecessors. 

Illustration Brainstorming GIF by Jef Caine - Find & Share on GIPHY

I think we also tend to be concerned with plagiarism-like accusations or criticisms. Since plagiarism is a more prevalent issue nowadays, the mere thought of someone saying a creative’s work reminds them of someone else’s is daunting. We seem to equate similarity and stealing in a way that makes originality seem much more important than it really is. This false equivalence makes it difficult for some people to be creative without straining themselves to make something brand new. 

Also, it seems like we attribute originality to the individual parts of a creative work instead of the work as a whole. For example, if a song sounds a bit similar to another, we use its “lack of originality” as a way of downplaying the song. We lock in on minute details like chord progression without taking the whole project into account. Recently, I found myself doing this with two book series. They’re both fantasy, and their main conflicts come from power hierarchies based on supernatural abilities. Their main characters also have some crazy, never-before-seen power that unwillingly shoves them into the spotlight. 

For whatever reason, I started to feel differently about the later release of the two. It felt like the second author just ripped off the first a few years later. However, after some thinking, I realized this thought process was flawed. So many more things make a creative work than a basic plot structure. In this case, the character’s personalities were different, the physiological factors that contributed to their power structures were different, and the progression of each series differed, too. Focusing on the smaller, similar details prevented me from seeing the differences that made me enjoy both series. 

Magnify Tv Land GIF by #Impastor - Find & Share on GIPHY

Despite our desires, it’s incredibly difficult to create something that’s completely original. In fact, it’s arguably impossible. Everything we create is the culmination of other people’s ideas and creations, just put together in different ways. If we follow this line of thinking, nothing is wholly new but rather a new culmination of the same ideas and concepts. This is why I think we should give up on our current idea of originality. Aspects of our works — whether it’s music, books, movies, or just an article — will always sound familiar to us or others. We inevitably rely on what we’ve picked up throughout life, and most of it doesn’t come from us in isolation. So, we can’t reasonably be expected to come up with something that doesn’t draw directly from the influence of other creative works and experiences. 

This is by no means a bad thing, though. I think of ‘originality’ like mismatched puzzle pieces. We are given a pile of random pieces and have to make a new picture out of them. In that way, our works are, of course, still our own despite being a hodgepodge of other things. We have to remember these are just pieces; our focus should instead be on how the pieces fit together in an interesting way. To reframe our concept of originality, we should acknowledge that we’re all drawing from the same or similar sources, so certain parts of our works will continue to sound like one another’s. ‘Originality’ can be found in the new picture we make with the pieces we’re given. 

Samantha is an Editorial Assistant and Contributing Writer for CU Boulder's chapter of Her Campus. In her editorial position, she edits articles for clarity and provides guidance to other writers so they can improve their skills. As a contributing writer, she submits two articles per month, often writing in depth about social phenomena. Aside from Her Campus, Samantha is a senior at CU Boulder, double majoring in philosophy and sociology. She's currently working on an Honors Thesis in philosophy and hopes to go to law school after graduating in May 2024. She is involved in campus organizations like the Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program, the CU LA Program, and the Honors Program. This semester, she’s a mentor for learning assistants as an LA Mentor. Outside of a school setting, Samantha enjoys crocheting, reading, and writing. Overall, she’s very quiet, and her hobbies reflect that. She can usually be found with heaps of yarn or her nose buried in a book, silently enjoying her time alone. In addition to writing as a member of Her Campus, she enjoys writing short stories and pieces about her life. One of her biggest goals is to publish a book of stories and pieces that almost act as a memoir.