The tyranny of originality

November 3rd, 2011

It’s NaNoWriMo month and I’m using the opportunity it provides to complete the first draft of my WIP (work in progress). Only two days in and I discover a published book with the same name I was going to use for my latest – Zero Day. Not only that, but it’s in a similiar domain (cybercrime and zero day exploits) … and it has a forward by Bill Gates. Top that!

It got me thinking about originality. I inhabit the software industry with its endemic start-up culture. The water-cooler conversations are always about cool ideas for a new web site or business. It is almost a religion in this business – the cult of originality. It can become tyrannical. That same tyranny to be original seems to be a driver in “high-concept” thrillers too. It is said (I can’t remember who) that for every original idea you think you have, there are at least 3 people in the world having the same idea. Some will be in better position to pursue that idea, or further along with it than you. For example, tablet PCs have been around for years. The idea was in even Star Trek (and probably earlier than that). But it took the convergence of Steve Jobs to bring the idea to its time with the iPad. Now they are everywhere.

Then there is the school of thought that says there are no really original ideas in the world anyway – it’s all been done before. If we followed it to its logical conclusion, we would never do anything at all!

So does the discovery of a potentially similar book de-rail me?

No.

There is also the school of thought that you can do something others are doing, but you should do it in your own unique way. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Don’t let the tyranny of orginality topple you. As they often say on Litopia, you can’t protect ideas, only the expression of ideas. So I won’t be reading any cybercrime novels for a while, just in case!

I have always asserted that authors can only write the books they can write. Authors are the amalgam of all the ideas, philosophies, experiences, and people that have influenced them in their lives. There lies the originality and the uniqueness. It is a writer’s style, and the way he or she combines story elements and plots that makes the work unique. I want to complete my own draft this month. I want to write those scenes in my mind on the steps in Odessa, and that pivotal character piece in the Karelian forests, and that closing scene in the streets of Seattle (whose charms I first discovered last year).

I noticed the same thing even happened to Mr. Russinovich – a novel just published after his by David Baldacci with the same name Zero Day! At least I can change my title. (By the way guys – I have the domain zerodaynovel.com registered if you want it!)
Congratulations to them both. I know that writing and publishing a book is a major achievement.

In truth, we write because of our creative drive, our characters, our own imaginative worlds … and for the fun of it. There’s nothing like it!

Entry Filed under: Writing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cleargold  |  July 30th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I gather that there’s no copyright on titles. Just as well, as no sooner had I chosen a title for my novel than people were falling over themselves to tell me that there were at least 3 other novels of the same title!

    Hope your back op went well, I’ve just read Broken Evolution and really enjoyed it. It was really pacey and kept me reading all through it! My only criticism is that you could have done with a good beta – and my advice would be not to rely too heavily on the spellchecker, ‘cos it’s just a dumn machine and doesn’t know which word you need! But I really liked the story, especially the paralleling near the end between Josh and both Yukio and Kazuki. The irony worked well, throughout. Hope this is useful to you.

  • 2. Brendan Cody  |  July 30th, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks! All feedback is useful, and appreciated. It’ll help make the next work better. That said, I am glad you enjoyed reading this one.

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