Had a great conversation this week with a once and future coworker who compared my writing style to Seth Godin. This was awesome for two reasons:
- To even be mentioned in the same breath as a legend like Godin is hugely flattering, and
- That I was succeeding in my conscious effort to bite Godin’s direct, conversational style.
A more cynical person might see that second point as half-assed self-deprecation, but people who create things for a living (or just to live) are nodding their heads right now. Art, ideas, connections – these things aren’t created in a vacuum. Everything we make is indebted to the things that have come before and if you think that’s even an original idea, let me disabuse you of that notion.
The return of the new
But then, there’s the literal definition of the word create:
To make or produce something. To cause something new to exist.
This tension between the desire to break new ground and the embrace of influence as the foundation of the creative process is as old as art itself. And if you’re anything like me, the fear of being considered derivative is a major obstacle to accomplishing anything. In my case, the solution has been not to avoid influence, but to surrender to it completely. If you want to write, you need to read a lot, and widely. If you want to paint, you need to visit a museum or ten. Being well-versed in the history and practice of your chosen craft is the only way to produce work that is not naïve.
Give it a try. And if after all that you’re still struggling with getting from zero to one, take solace in the fact that even your current existential crisis is unoriginal.