While writing on Wednesday morning, I was momentarily depressed as I thought about how I had somehow in the current manuscript circled into some “too familiar” story territory. It was entirely subconscious… until it hit my conscious mind. I realized I was doing too close to a “remake” (with new characters and a new setting, of course) of something I had written in an earlier book.
centre center of Hitchin that same afternoon, while walking I also found myself considering our constant quest for the new. Even if you write something you think is original, as a writer your experiences and your style will always force its way into what is written. Even if we THINK we are doing something different than we have before, chances are there are numerous touchpoints of similarity with your previous writings.
Yesterday I also noticed – to my personal embarrassment and minor horror – that I had unintentionally written pretty much the same couple of lines of dialogue to make a similar point within two different novels that I had composed nearly five years apart. That second writing is obviously where I had, I guess, uh, inadvertently “plagiarized” myself. However, I have currently no plans yet to sue. 😉
I have as of now published around 1,700 pages of fiction in four novels. The soon to be fifth will take that to some 2,200. So perhaps that accidentally “repeating” myself briefly should not be a huge shock?
Re-reading yesterday as well parts of an excellent biography of Hollywood superstar and now cultural icon, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)…
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…this sentence (you see I boxed it) jumped out at me:
From 1941 Bogart moved into playing essentially the same sort of character repeatedly. I was struck by that observation also given what I had just also recalled about “plagiarizing” myself, as well as earlier having realized I was writing something that was far too much like what I had already written. The coincidence was eerie.
We are truly UNIQUE as an author, really, only with our first published work. After that, while naturally we hope to grow and to improve, we will unavoidably always include aspects of the same again and again. That is as inevitable as us having brown eyes or being right-handed, because YOU are YOU.
Consider some familiar authors you may know well
who are more famous and successful than myself. No matter how versatile and original they may appear to be, in reality after years their output is about pretty much “the same thing”: Austen, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald… to the authors of the present… the list is endless. Yes, their books vary geographically in locations and have different characters, but they are of fundamentally an identifiably similar style, tone, and themes: their personal fingerprints are essentially all over them.
My first three books are written in a modern, present-day “voice.” My most recent and its soon to be follow up, are written, even in the narrator, deliberately with a more restrained, 1700s-1800s, “olde world” feel. Yet I also know that “I” filter into the writing regardless. It is unavoidable; after all, they are ALL my writing:
If you don’t know (this coincidentally being Women’s History Month), British Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) is considered one of the first modern “feminist” writers. Her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) book is available for free on the Kindle. She wrote the book in reply especially to the French politician Talleyrand, who had argued women should not be educated above the level demanded by the necessities of domestic life.
Interestingly, in the mid-1790s, while living in France, she also found herself involved with an American “businessman”/”diplomat”/adventurer – from, uh, New Jersey. After France and Britain went to war in early 1793, they pretended to be married so she could avoid detention as an enemy citizen. In 1794, she had an “out of wedlock” child by him 😱 – cue the fainting spell. (Sound a tad familiar? However, this real-life episode was not “romantic.” He abandoned her and their infant. While he had likely saved her from an horrific imprisonment, ultimately he was a nobody and a slug – and frankly makes me sick – and would have been forgotten by history the day he died in 1828 were it not for his association with her.)
That extended excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace is I think useful to share here as an example of this reality. I have thought: I could try to write, say, “sci-fi” instead; but I suspect it would also read a lot like that. (Once readers stopped laughing, that is.😂) Indeed my uncle NEVER published ANYTHING like that above. So if we are destined to be somewhat “unoriginal” at times compared to, well, ourselves, remember also that there is no one else out there who writes exactly as you do and who possesses the same experiences you bring to the keyboard; and that by definition makes your writing original overall. For as there was (and is) only one Humphrey Bogart – regardless of how many “wounded, cynical, romantic, and incorrodible as a zinc bar” characters he portrayed on screen – and as there was (and is) only one Austen or Fitzgerald, there is also only one you as an author. 🙂
Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂