“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The wisest man on earth said that.
Others have gotten more specific: There are no new stories, just the same five or six or ten told in an infinite variety of ways. If you read often and closely enough, you start to believe it’s true.
Assuming that no idea or story arc is original, it’s still possible to do genuinely creative work. It’s possible to think deeply about things and come to authentic conclusions. Of course, there’s some sense in which we all retread worn paths. Still, you are the X factor in the stories you write, the life you live. No one can be you.
Why, then, do so many people seem to produce thinly disguised copies of other people’s work or parrot an “expert’s” talking points instead of doing their own work? There’s a point at which derivation becomes hollow. Most of us can sense when someone has phoned in a tired plot or spouted a canned answer.
I wonder how much shallow thinking, predictable plotting, and/or unexamined living is due to the kind of information we take in on a daily basis. How much do we consume other people’s opinions and re-think them as if we’d made them up? How much to we allow ourselves to go on autopilot, listening to the news or radio or scrolling social media to save our brain the trouble of wrestling through conundrums?
How often do we artists see some commercial trend and think, I guess I need to produce that if everyone else is?
My suspicion is that it’s…often. I’m no exception. I find myself binging, binging, binging on words that don’t enlighten or challenge me–ideas that don’t contribute to the quality of my thought life. If I’m honest, I do this because I’m lazy. I’m addicted to expedience.
It takes tremendous energy to think, and life tires me out.
But something deeper whispers, There’s a way to do this hard work. I might not like the way, but I’m going to find it.