Reality Check #3: You’re STILL Not Original

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"Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it."Laurence J. Peter
"Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats."Howard Aiken
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."C. S. Lewis
"Genius might well be defined as the ability to makes a platitude sound as though it were an original remark."L. B. Walton
"About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."Josh Billings
"Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes."Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Why do we resist the thought that we might be unoriginal? Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. Does that not apply to people? I understand the emotional distress it might cause to consider, but remember the deadliest of sins is pride and diverting attention away from the original source and onto self. Can I still feel good about myself and be dead to self? Of course! All cynical and argumentative tendencies aside, the common definition of originality is not only an impediment to true confidence, it’s fundamentally opposed to the truest characteristic of Christian writers, that of being like Christ. Dying to self, getting out of the way of God’s work, pointing others to the One who originated everything that is, this is the goal. Our semantics and perspectives get in the way here, but we can’t be precise because we’re not original. We’re all gummed up by our personalities, opinions, and experiences, none of which are chosen by us.

I suppose I could have said YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT and have been just as accurate. But that’s no less offensive to some. I’m simply trying to point out that if the choice for Christian writers is either to write what comes from you or what comes from God, why do we attempt to be seen as original or important? I’d rather see that you’re merely a vessel for what is greater than you and that your perspective is appropriately focused on what is greater.

Self vs. God. Where’s your drive derive? When it’s not about you, the pressure’s off. You can be yourself, confident in the gift God’s given you to write from your heart. It’s a paradox, to be sure: how we can all be so particular and unique, and yet still nothing new to God. Having his perspective on things can be revolutionary, and frequently paradoxical. I hope you’ll consider the idea that if you’ll get out of the way, you’ll see a greater view of what’s really important.

So, yes. Moving on. Next time I’ll have Susan Meissner’s response to a little comment she made about writing fast, in response to Athol’s great post on the pace of publishing. Come on back.

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8 thoughts on “Reality Check #3: You’re STILL Not Original”

  1. now mick, come on. this issue of originality does not make one feel bigger than or better than God. you know this.
    please tell me you know this.
    or i shall have to blog about it.

  2. Suz, you’ll be my undoing. You’re special, you are unique among men. An original piece of the original source. AND there is no one original but God.
    Dying to self is painful. Depending on God requires dependence. I’m not sure we can admit concessions for independence, for self. They’re not just words.

  3. Yeah, but I agree with Lewis, that if you tell the truth as rigorously as you can, as seen through the unique vision God has given you, as spoken through the unique voice he has given you, then you will be original, without ever shooting for originality itself.

  4. I read Athol’s post on the pace of publishing, he was the encouragement God knew I needed that day. I had been getting down on myself for not doing what everyone else was doing; spending long hours trying to finish up things it seems they’ve procrastinated about. They’re in a frenzy because they’ve got to get it done before the conference in September. When Athol posted, I had a good six weeks and I knew that I could get enough out in six weeks–but should I? Just because I’m meeting with an editor (maybe) who has never heard of me. Are the words I’m throwing on the page going to impress anyone?
    Or should I listen to God? Should be an easy choice, but I had myself (and my guts) all tied up. When I posted my analogy of David’s annointing with my writing in the comments of Athol’s post, God’s peace settled over me and I knew what the best choice was.
    Then Athol complimented my analogy and I felt pretty good about myself. Who wouldn’t? When a respected, award-winning author notices something you wrote and tells you…I was walking on clouds! Unchecked, that can become pride.
    I’ve become aware of the fine line between discouragement and pride. Step too far in either direction and you’re groceries for the enemy.
    Saturday, I wrote a blog entry about laying down my pride. It doesn’t tackle the idea of originality. This is the first time I’ve thought about it this way. But I can see how it fits. I cannot begin to be more like Christ if I constantly lie to myself and tell myself that I’m original. While I may be unique, original is out of the question.
    If I’m deceived into believing that there is something about me that’s original the enemy has achieved his goal and just won this battle. He’s got me wrapped up in a beautiful idea of originality and if I’d only look at what God sees, I’d notice the ugly chains that I chose to wear.
    I’m sorry I’ve rambled on for so long. This just fits with everything that’s been running ’round this little head o’mine. ;)

  5. St. Terese of Lisieux called herself “the little flower of Jesus” who gave God glory just by being her beautiful little self in God’s Garden. St. Francis de Sales admonished us to “Be who we are, and be that perfectly well.”
    Yes, we are to die to self and become Christ, but I’m not going to be the 33 year old God/Man who went to the cross for me. I’m going to be Claudia Mair Burney as Christ. God is not going to turn me into Jesus Christ. He’s going to use me. He’ll use all of me, my body, my personality, my experiences, my way of seeing the world and He’ll create a story that’s not your story. It’ll be Claudia Mair’s story. You’ll give the world God in a different story.
    Why are you resisting the idea that we can be original? Is that proud, too? Leave a little room for mystery, for the possibility that God actually likes us being original, fresh, authentic.
    Imagine incarnation. Imagine being made, irrevokably, in the image and likeness of God. What does it all mean? It really is mystery, isn’t it?
    In light of that incarnation and being icons, “original” human just don’t seem like a stretch to me.
    Still original as per the will of God,

  6. We’re told we have this treasure in earthen vessels. Jars of clay. Each jar is unique, and if yielded, filled with the treasure of the Potter’s choosing.
    Works for me.
    Now, if I’d just yield a little more.
    Otherwise, that potter’s wheel can be hard on the equilibrium.

  7. I can see two things going on here. Ontological originality: the uniqueness of each human person. As every snowflake is unique, every cloud, so are we. More so, as we are imagebearers and co-creators. I don’t think Mick is denying this in the least.
    He’s talking about Epistemological originality: thinking of ourselves, *defining* ourselves, as unique and letting that uniqueness become a form of idolatry. This idolatry is seen first in our work – an author’s belief that her vision is novel, truly new. Georges Polti proved otherwise a long, long while ago (and he wasn’t original in that – Aristotle had his own thoughts on the issue). And secondly it is seen in ourselves. Where we so stridently seek individuality that our pride swells and we forget the author of our identity. What I hear Mick saying is this: In the words of John Michael Talbot (see, even Mick is unoriginal), we are to put the eye of God betwixt us and every eye, the purpose of God between us and every purpose.
    Personally, I’m glad for the reminder.

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