I've just been struggling recently with this doubt that I could never think of ideas I've seen written on my own. If that sounds confusing to you, you aren't the only one.

Of course, I could sit down and be inspired by something another author wrote and write something in the same vein. That's not the issue. It's that now I've seen them, I can never have the idea off my own back. And that bothers me because I cannot take that back. It's done, it's fixed. And I can never know if I would have thought of it myself or not. Anytime I think of anything similar, it's just going to be based on what I read and not from my own creativity.

I know it's neurotic but has anyone else been in this position? I need some clarity on this, an external viewpoint you might say.

  • No, you should not. Nov 22, 2016 at 6:30
  • I agree. Why get upset? Nov 22, 2016 at 16:01
  • I think you've basically asked a similar question 3 times now. I have no problem with this, and this is by no means a bad thing. However, I would like to summarise what almost all the answers from all 3 of the questions said. Just get over any doubts about creativity, inspiration, copying, and simply enjoy writing. Nov 22, 2016 at 17:04
  • I'd more like to say I've been asking different questions on a similar topic. Questions that have come to me as I've been working out exactly what has been bugging me. But I do take your point. That's what I'm trying to do, get my head out of this funk that I've been struggling with for a few years now. No easy task as you can imagine. But you guys have been a huge help. So that you for that.
    – White S.
    Nov 22, 2016 at 18:10

3 Answers 3


Inspiration is inspiration and it comes in many forms.

Let's say I go on holiday to a nice sunny place and see, first hand, the 'story' of poor local people trying to survive by competing for the tourist dollars that come each year. I may use that as inspiration for a story.

Instead of going away I could holiday at home and a read a book ( or watch a documentary) about poor local people trying to survive by competing for the tourist dollars that come each year. I may use that as inspiration for a story.

As long as I'm telling my story and it's interesting enough for people to want to read it does it matter which of the two scenarios above were the inspiration?

  • well, that's not quite my problem unfortunately. It's not really a question of where I got inspiration, it's that I needed it to write what I wanted. But you have helped me see that I am just worrying too much. So thank you.
    – White S.
    Nov 22, 2016 at 18:14

Absolute originality is a myth. Everything that can be written has its roots in something that was written before. Unless you have spent your entire life isolated from the works of every writer who ever lived, your works will parallel and build upon everything you have read.

Absolute originality is also unavoidable. No idea is so simple or obvious that it can't become original and unique just by being spoken in your voice or written in your style. You couldn't exactly clone the writing of another if you tried, so stop worrying about doing it by accident.

Original ideas are in limited supply. The big, story sized ones have each been beaten into the ground by thousands of authors who chose them before you came along. Choose any one of them and then add originality through your characters, their thoughts and through the perspective of your POV character or narrator.

Tell an old story in new way and the story is no longer old.

  • So..it's actually the way it's meant to work? That all writers get ideas from what they read from other writers? Because I know I could write my own stuff inspired by what I see. It just bugged me I couldn't come up with the idea without being inspired by something first.
    – White S.
    Nov 22, 2016 at 7:54
  • Yes. @WhiteS, that is exactly how it is meant to work. Taking inspiration from the works you love isn't plagiarism, If anything, it is tribute. Read a biography of any great writer and one of the first things you will learn is the list of earlier writers, who influenced their work. In the same way as modern scientists start from the fundamental knowledge of previous generations of scientists, we writers have the whole of human literature as our starting point. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Nov 22, 2016 at 13:00
  • Plagiarism isn't really my worry here. But I take your point anyway. Funny how it often takes someone else saying something you have tried to convince yourself of for it to sink in. I'm going to try to keep thinking that way.
    – White S.
    Nov 22, 2016 at 13:02

Fiction is based on observation, not invention. The same stories are told over and over again because the same stories are lived over and over again. If new writers repeat the stories of old writers it is not because they copied them from the old writers, but because both the old writer and the new observed the same stories playing out in the lives of the people around them.

The writer's job is to refine and highlight the key points of story. If a story works for you it works through recall. A good writer makes you see the world more vividly. Having seen the world more vividly, you are better prepared to write yourself. Your debt to the writers you have read is not that you steal their invention but that their observation has sharpened your own.

We endlessly retell the old stories because those are the stories there are, and because there is apparently an endless appetite for the old stories told in new ways. What we prize is not the great inventors of stories (for there are none). What we prize is the great tellers of stories. Take the oldest, most trite, most obvious story in the world and tell it with extraordinary verve, sympathy, and insight, and the world will beat a path to your door.

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