RECENTLY, Elena Ferrante, bestselling novelist and columnist for The Guardian wrote: “There was a phase — fortunately long past — when I was convinced that a story either had to be absolutely new, comparable to nothing but itself, or it must be discarded. This was a very presumptuous and at the same time naïve attitude.”
In an age of consumption, when most content is labelled as the next best thing, well, this was a revelation to hear. Because of what we consume and the levels at which we do, there is a tendency to feel a degree of sameness as people strive to brand their content as ‘fresh’ and ‘new’. Yet, sometimes, it does not feel like that which inevitably leads the consumer to indulge in a bit of head scratching as to when and how they have seen similar ideas prior?
Time was when people were lauded for taking inspiration from their mentors, who they duly referenced and accredited. Now, in an age where information is accessible instantaneously, it appears that in our race to create what we deem ‘new’ content, we knowingly — or sometimes unknowingly — piggyback on the ideas of other creators. Thus, the volume of such begins to take on that sameness which leads to said head scratching.
As Ferrante discusses, we are ‘…immersed in what has preceded us’. How freeing to know that words can be influenced by the storytellers before us and interpreted into our own version to therefore create something new. Does that invalidate the idea because we have derived inspiration or does it allow for a new perspective?
I am not creative. I cannot begin to imagine the intensity of labour involved for true artists and the frustrations at hours upon hours spent honing their craft only to have someone instantly plagiarise their ideas. But, I have known the torture of investing yourself and time into a project only to see a similar one being touted as ‘new and innovative’. So, what do you do? Throw in the towel or press on?
I have previously shared my thoughts on the curious modern-day affliction of ‘Impostor Syndrome’, where an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. I cannot help but feel that this is exasperated even more in today’s society. I struggle to believe that Beeadopt thoven binned an entire symphony as he felt Mozart was just knocking the hits out of the park. So, why today, do we feel that the worth of our work has to be defined as ‘unique’ or ‘new’ to warrant recognition or praise.
As Ferrante says, in relation to writing: ‘No author produces texts without debts. There are no works that make a clean break with the past, works that exclude it...’ This, could in fact be applied to most disciplines however, in a digital age it becomes all the more poignant. We can edit, delete, bend, twist and mould everything we create. In essence, we can obliterate our mistakes; our past. Therefore, is it indeed arrogance to deny the influence of others upon our work simply because we now have the luxury of amending same at our very fingertips? Yet, given the fact that we have the luxury of instantaneous editing, how has it resulted in that dreaded ‘sameness’ amongst creators?
I have several notebooks filled with beginnings. Those same pages are never privy to a middle or an end. Just beginnings. Because try as I might, I am influenced, sometimes subconsciously, by other work around me. I frequently
‘In our race to create what we deem ‘new’ content, we knowingly — or sometimes unknowingly — piggyback on the ideas of other creators
elements of a character which I have read so wholeheartedly, it infiltrates my own writing.
Case in point, a recent column, who the wonderful (and infinitely patient) editor of this very publication was subject to as a submission on my part. I had created two characters which I had worked into my piece. As I wrote, I read the lines in a thick, rural accent. At that time, I had been reading, Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling, and had been applying a similar accent to the character in my head. As a result, this spilled over into my own piece which quickly took on all the ferocity and oblique tangents of the Leaving Cert examiner announcing the 30 minutes remaining as the blank page stared back at you.
Yet, I had the luxury (which was afforded me by the aforementioned patient editor) of editing and re-submitting. I am very grateful for that luxury; the same one which those before me may not have had. But I also intend to pay more attention to those very creators and allow myself to draw inspiration from their work whilst acknowledging their influence. Because, if I cannot say, ‘thank you’ for that, then surely it is the very definition of arrogance?