No one wants to be a copy. No one wants you to be a copy.
But It's so easy to rip off someone else's idea with Pinterest at your fingertips.
I, for one, feel very strongly about intellectual property rights, about crediting artists for their work, about putting forth creative effort and not stealing from other people.
But I'll also be the first to tell you:
Originality is overrated.
In the 1950s, a professor of journalism named William Foster-Harris was writing about how there are no new stories. He proposed that, since humans had been telling stories for a long, long, time, we'd exhausted all basic plot structures, and now every story we tell can be reduced to one of just a few types. That's a bit of depressing news if you're an aspiring young writer working on an original novel. Why go on, then? Why keep writing if there is nothing new to say?
*languishes in despair on a velvet chaise-lounge*
Because we are artists, that's why.
Have an idea? Great! Has it "already been done"? Probably. But-
It hasn't been done by YOU.
Picasso famously said that "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." We constantly borrow inspiration from the people around us. We often derive ideas from the same things: nature, love, sex, death, food. And that's fine.
What matters isn't that an idea is completely new. What matters is that it's authentic. It matters that it comes from a place that is completely yours. When Picasso talks about "stealing" an idea. I think he means that you've not borrowed something belonging to someone else, but made something your own. You've taken it to your house, given it a new name, and put it on the mantle in your living room with no intention of giving it back.
The worst thing about the pursuit of creative originality is that it can keep us from getting started in the first place. Much like the hunt for Perfection (another elusive white whale) if we only work on projects that we feel are completely and totally original, we will stop before we start. We won't make anything.
And that's a travesty.
What's more, is that sometimes, we do need to copy someone.
Hold your horses. Let me explain:
When we're creatively stuck, frustrated, and feel like we'll never have another idea again, the best thing we can do is to get started making something. What do you make when you have no ideas? You work on someone else's idea. You make some fan art. You copy a Georgia O'Keefe painting. You take that catchy image off of Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter and you wholesale copy it.
You tuck it away in your desk drawer and use that maker-momentum to work on something authentic. Think of it as lighter fuel. You need it to get started, but you can't build your fire with it.
We can work on the same projects without plagiarizing each other. We can work from the same subjects and produce works that are unique and authentic. There are no "original" ideas. And that is completely fine.
The faculties of creative genius lie in seeing what everyone sees... and thinking what no one thinks.
The True Originality we talk about is necessarily the result of an act of creative destruction. We take other people's ideas, and tear them apart, and put them back together in a collage that is unique to us.
Now go forth and make stuff, you beautiful snowflake, you.