Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2020 Day 1: Derivative

By Robin de Voh on 2020-10-05

"I haven't written in months," Liam said with a hint of annoyance in his voice. "And it's starting to really make me uncomfortable."

He sat up and sighed. He leaned over, putting his elbows on his knees and looked down.

"Why not?" Sienna asked, emptying a beer bottle into a glass. "Did you run out of ideas?"
"To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever been full of ideas. I feel like everything I write is..." he paused as he seemed to disappear into thought.
"Yes...?" Sienna asked, walking over to Liam, handing him the beer.
"I don't know, you know. Where do writers get their ideas? Am I just copying things I've read that I think are cool? Am I writing versions of stories I've read that go differently because I think I have a better idea? A cooler idea? Am I just deriving from existing works and that's it?"

Sienna sat down opposite from him and put her own beer down.

"So, obviously you've done those things, at least in your mind. So let me ask you, do you think some of those stories you wrote came out better than the story you 'derived' from?"

Liam looked up and raised an eyebrow. He'd never really discussed his writing with anyone before, not in this sense. He just put his stories out there and didn't let his imposter syndrome shine through. Or, at least, he tried not to.

"I think I did, yeah. Some, at least. Not all. But I think you sometimes read a thing, watch a thing, or hear a thing, and an idea pops up, and you kinda just work that out into a story. And it'll either work, or it won't."
"And when it doesn't, are you sure that it didn't? Could there be someone out there who thought differently but either didn't find a way to tell you or just didn't?"
"I... How am I supposed to know that?" he said, taking an angry gulp of his beer.

He coughed and some beer went down his chin. Sienna laughed and threw him a napkin.

"Look, I get what you're saying, you feel like you're faking it, right? Like, you're writing stuff, and it's a story, and it works in that sense, but you feel like it's not good enough?"
"Yeah, exactly. I do it, stuff comes out that I read back and think is decent enough, but there's always a feeling in the back of my head that it's not original. It's nothing new. With this, I've added nothing new to the world."
"So, you do it, you feel it's derivative, not original. Do you think you shouldn't have tried?"
"No..."

Liam sat back and thought for a second. Not talking about his fears had allowed him to mostly ignore them, but they would always pop back up. Every second or third story, he'd look at it and go 'does this need to exist?' It didn't stop him from from releasing it anyway, however. He knew well enough that fear existed, but he always chose to ignore it. The story existed now. It would be a shame not to at least put it out there. To waste the effort. The one thing he knew he actually put into it.

But that fear -- that incessant whine in the back of his head that he was wasting not just his own time but also that of the people who were reading his unoriginal drivel -- that was killing him slowly. And it reached a point where he finally had to say something about it. Sienna was the logical choice, because she was one of the more level-headed, zen people he knew, and they had known each other for over 10 years. She knew him. She'd be able to make connections he wouldn't even see.

"No," he said clearly and with more belief than he had expected. "I think the stuff I write exists for a reason, I guess, even if maybe it doesn't always feel that way."
"So, another question, then. Do you think every writer out there, published or not, believes completely that everything they write or release is fantastic?"
"Well, probably not... Statistically that feels unlikely."
"I don't think so either," Sienna said with a bit of a smug smile.
"But I still think I should be more original."
"Then that's what you focus on, and that's what you try to do, right? You can't expect to suddenly be the most original person out there. It'll take effort."

He talked to her because she was right a lot. He also hated that she was right a lot. It was confusing but in a good way.

"Fine," he said, faking annoyance.
"Good," she said, completely smug.

She finished her beer.

"Besides, the most objectively original writer out there ever would likely not write things worth reading, would they? Complete originality usually scares people off. That stuff's hard to connect to. It's comfortable, recognizable situations and themes and stuff that gets people to connect."
"I get it, okay? Just get me another beer, please."
"Only if you put me in a story."
"Fine, but I'll change the names."
"Works for me."

Yup. Starting this year with 'write what you know', I guess. I do often feel this way. But like Liam, I don't let it stop me and I just see that as a challenge I need to work at. One day I'll write that 100% objective story and confuse everyone who reads it. One day.