Stop trying to be original.
True originality doesn’t exist. Even your most original ideas have been had before, and probably even executed on several times already. The only thing that makes your work unique is how well you execute on modifying existing ideas into your own voice.
Imagine if we couldn’t use anything that had been created, thought of, or acted on before us. There would be nothing left to use or to borrow from, and our art would become meaningless or stop all together. When we aim for originality, novelty is placed above our message. We no longer focus our efforts on communicating, which is the main function of our art.
The book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is one of my favorite books on creativity. Throughout the book, he speaks to the fact that ideas are continually reused and recycled.
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.” -Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
How to Modify Ideas to Create Your Own Meaningful Work
You might agree that there’s no such thing as complete originality, but you’re left wondering how to make existing ideas your own. Well, the key starts with having a broad base of inspiration. You need to borrow ideas from many people and sources. If you’re borrowing from one or few people, you are bordering on bad copying and even plagiarism. This is because the fewer sources of inspiration you have, the fewer ideas you have to modify and combine.
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.” -Voltaire
Though Voltaire is correct with saying that writers borrow from one another, they do so indirectly. The emphasis in this quote should be on the word “judicious.” The greatest artists borrow and modify carefully, and as indirectly as possible. Great artists gather inspiration from many peers, at all times. They’re constantly cataloging interesting ideas, turning them over in their subconscious mind, and recreating without reference when producing their own work.
This is how these people seem to produce original content. In reality, these artists are just great researchers of ideas and inspiration. They allow these ideas to marinate together with other ideas and inspiration. Since they’re gathering from multiple sources, and merging ideas together in their subconscious mind, the idea comes out in their own voice.
Focus on the People You’re Serving
I’ve recently learned that being original stems from us wanting to be different. We feel the need to be different among so many people who do the same things as us. However, this is caused by comparing ourselves to others. In reality, your audience doesn’t see everything you see. Lettering artist, Sean McCabe, perfectly sums up this phenomenon as your Bubble of Awesomeness. Rather than comparing yourself to the 0.0000028% of people you see doing amazing things, focus on being the best version of yourself and serving your audience.
Not too long ago, I created some Snapchat geofilters for my hometown and college which both received a lot of attention. Not too long after, I was receiving tons of requests from people asking for help with their own geofilters. However, I just ignored them. I didn’t have time, didn’t have resources to point them to, and I didn’t feel qualified to help them.
For a moment, I had an idea to create a guide and course on it, but I didn’t feel like it was an original idea. With all the articles available within a single Google search, I felt like it has already been done before. So, I dropped the idea, meanwhile people were continuing to tweet, email, and message me for help. The problem was I was too focused on being original rather than helping my audience.
I learned that your audience doesn’t care about originality. Your audience wants your unique spin on existing ideas, along with your level of execution that they’ve come to trust. It was then when I decided I would create a guide and video course on Snapchat geofilter design. After I realized this, I created the landing page at snapchatfilterdesign.com and started planning for the guide and video course.
The More Sources of Inspiration, The Better
Always be open for opportunities to help your audience by diversifying your sources of inspiration. Idea generation is similar to a stew. The more ingredients you add to the pot, the more unique it becomes. If you only use chicken broth, it is not very interesting, and it’s apparent where the original source came from. However, the more ingredients you add, the harder it is to pick out any specific ingredient. Eventually the stew is no longer a combination of separate ingredients, but rather a single, unique food.
Once you realize this, you’ll be ahead of the game; it will free you up to focus on doing more meaningful work.
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