Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gold Car Syndrome

Yesterday I walked up to one of my writer friends and bounced a story idea off her. She cut me off before I could get two sentences in. "Don't write something that's already been done."
That made me pause. Sure, I've read a lot of stories like the one I'm planning, but does that mean the idea is taken?
I drive a Toyota Camry. The day I got it, I was so excited because it had everything I'd ever wanted in a car. It had wheels! It had an engine! It moved! The radio worked!  So did the air conditioner! And, as an added bonus, the car was gold. Everyone else in the world had white or black or grey. I'd never lose it in a parking lot.
Then I actually took that car onto the road. I realized my next door neighbors had a gold car the same size. So did my other neighbors, two doors down in the other direction. And so did a girl who lived across the street from them.
Four gold cars on one street. I guess I wasn't so unique after all. I never paid attention to it before. If you'd asked me to count all the gold cars on my way home from school, I'd say, "There's only eight. Gold isn't a popular color." Now I'd say, "Eight? EIGHT? Why does everyone have to drive a gold car?"
They're not copying me. These people bought their cars years before me and didn't bother to ask what I was doing. They're different brands, makes, and models. And even if someone did try to copy me-a gold 2000 Toyota Camry Solara-it wouldn't be mine.
We see what we look for. The same thing happens all the time with books. People track down a book with a magic school or a world portal in Kings Cross Station and accuse J. K. Rowling of cheating. No, she just lives in the same world we do. She's gone to school. She's been to Kings Cross Station. And she took her imagination with her.
You want a unique car? Then you can't buy it from a car company, they all copy off each other. You'll have to build your own. It can't look anything like mine. It can't be gold. It can't have a radio. It can't have an air condition. It can't have wheels. It can't have an engine. I'll sit here while you go and build it.
Done yet? Okay. Does it move? Nope. Congratulations. Your car is nothing like mine.
Don't cry. I know you want a good car. You want the best car. You want a car like no one's seen before. But don't be afraid to copy. You can have wheels, an engine, and even an air conditioner. It will still be yours in the way the brakes screech when you put it in reverse. You personalize it when you pull too far into the garage and scratch up the front. If it's not so unique, so what? It's your car.
There is nothing new under the sun. Including that last sentence and the book it comes from.  Everything's been done before, and everything can be done again.There are eighty keys on the piano, how many songs can you write? There are seven colors in the rainbow, how many pictures can you paint? Soon enough they'll start looking and sounding like each other, and of course they do, because you're playing favorites with certain notes and shades. But when you get bored with that you can go on. There probably is a limit to the number of patterns and hues. But you'll never reach it.


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