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You’re not unique enough! An Unoriginal Guide on How to be Original

Updated on February 10, 2009

Note, I didn't create these photos


I believe Hubpages is, under the surface, about making money, but above it, I think, its about providing a service to the internet that doesn’t already exist. ie. Creating original, useful content. Doing that sounds easy, but I’ve found originality to be one of the hardest tasks you can set yourself.

I define originality as something that’s never been done before. To me, its the paramount quality a human can have. Kindness is great. Being pretty doesn’t hurt. A sense of humour can get you places, but originality, that’s something rare there. Its like diamonds.

When I was young, the other boys wanted to be cops, astronauts and archaeologists, me, I just wanted to be original. I wanted to be someone that creates something new to world culture or intelligence. It didn’t matter what I did, I just wanted to innovative.

But then I grew older. I wanted to invent; yet I found my science wasn’t good enough. I wanted to be funny; yet my wit wasn’t really up to it. I wanted create, to add something to swirling mass of culture engulfing our minds every day from every corner; yet I read more and I found my ideas to be tripe and overused. I wanted to create a meme, write for TV, make that bestselling novel. One by one, my original dreams evaporated until nothing was left

Unfortunately being original is the hardest thing a human can do. It goes against our programming. Humans are designed to follow others, to learn from them, to pick the best traits and evolve with them. Being original is unnatural, its akin to mutation. Abberation. Some mutations are good, but the vast majority are very bad and we are bred to resist them. It’s the same with originality and it’s the reason why its so hard for us to do it. Originality scares us. We just want to fit in.

Me, I’ve always wanted it, but I’ve always done the opposite of what everyone else is doing, (just for spite) so it makes sense. Unfortunately, I found it isn’t as easy as rejecting cultural programming to be original.

So how does one write an article or story that doesn’t already exist in print on the web? Life experiences? What if you’re an internet baby and most of your life has been spent on the internet. Thus, by nature, nothing is original about you. Okay, so you need REAL life experiences? You want to write about firemen, be firemen. But even then, someone has probably already beat you to the punch. There is so much out there already. So maybe we need original life experiences? Still, where does that leave me? I’m a blackjackdealer/creative writing student/stablehand/amateur local tech support guy. Do I have anything original to say? No.

Not a damn thing. Not yet, at least.

How about an article on the love life of a blackjackdealing stablehand? It’s pretty stable, luckily. That's about all I can say really. I can tell you how to go about being me, but I don’t think there’s a big market out there for that. So I sit and I think. What do I know and what can I write about? Hhmm…I know! How about: “The most overused songs in movies?” No. Already found an article about that on digg. How about “the history of obscure European 80’s disco.” Nope. Again, a fellow by name of Ishkur beat me to it (And did it better, too). Obscure Asian television? This guy’s already on the job.

I could talk about anime. I could talk about obscure music. I could talk about horses or cards or virus protection. But it’s all been done. I could probably say those things a little bit funnier than your average internet writer. But that would take me longer to write, taking me away from writing other things.

So I talk about internet culture here because I feel it’s LESS unoriginal to do that. But I still don't feel 100% about it. I'm just compiling from other sources, which would technically be called research, I guess, but I'm still not satisfied

Sidenote: in those writings, the imageboard 4chan gets mentioned a lot due to their meme-creationist tendencies. However, they too are suffering from unoriginality disease. Most people there are in agreement that 4chan has cancer. It suffers from the repetition of old, unfunny things by people that don’t know any better. Staleness is cancer?

And do you know what the worst of it is?

Not even lamenting today’s lack of originality is original. I’ve read it before when I was young. In a book whose name I can’t recall, but it was a really bad science fiction retelling of that Greek statue that came to life story, Pygmalion. But the passage on the futility of originality stuck with me. I stubbornly said to myself, NO! That’s stupid. You’re just stupid or you’re not trying hard enough. Try harder! As if originality could be worked for. I still don’t know how I feel about it. In my spare time I write what I believe to be original fiction, but (despite being over-educated in terms of books/stories read), I’m still constantly finding new stories which make my own seem cliché and tried.

So I’m whining a lot, do I have anything original to say about originality? The short answer, maybe.

Muppet's Christmas Carol

First of all, let me define it better.

I see originality as having two tiers. Horizontal and vertical. Everything new that is created by man falls into one or another of those two tiers. Horizontal vastly outweighs the other and is, simply put, building sideways. It’s taking two ideas already around and combining them together to create something new. So combine steam power with the wheel, you get a train. But who came up with the wheel?

Vertical originality is a completely new or malleable idea. It’s made when new cultural rungs are created for the horizontal to build upon. It could be argued that all originality is just the combining of two more older ideas, but I see vertical as being a harder to see combination that is more than the sum of parts. Vertical creates new rungs on the ladder for us to build horizontally upon. The definition is loose, and subject to subjectivity, but I still stand by it.

Things I consider to be vertical originality: The Dickens classic, “A Christmas carol.” The format, the content, the message, everything about that book was revolutionary. It invented the Christmas novel and the ghost story. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, all became part of our cultural consciousness. They are mimicked, filmed, and retold the world over (horizontal originality). So in a sense, vertical originality allows for horizontal to exist. The Lord of the Rings is a combination of welsh, norse and old English myth stories, but was something so much more and completely new. It spawned decades of epic fantasy imitators. See more original novels here

And now, enough talk. Here’s what you’re here for, the goods.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one

How to be original

1) One of my favourite tricks is Fruedian word association. If humans are programmed to follow the crowd, how do they break out of it? The answer: operate below our programming, through our subconscious (note: I did not originate this technique)

Try this: take a piece of paper or open a word file and without thinking about, write down the first words that pop into your mind. I’ll start us off

ticklish monkey feelings bored eclectic suitcase mother freeway orange juice taste test judge ice cream van famous action mountain.

Okay, now look back at what you’ve done. What could I write about? A story about a ticklish monkey. The mother of all freeways. A famous action mountain? An article about the most filmed mountain in America. An action story set on a famous mountain crawling with tourists. These ideas aren’t very good, but you get the idea, right?

2) Try to look at life from a different perspective: there’s a school of thought out there that says anything from the point of view of someone non-white-protestant is more original, so you could attempt to walk around all day and feel about how you'd react, or how people would react to you if you were a different race. But it’s tough to stop being a race, I’m not really sure how it works. And I’m afraid to, for example, go up to Asian people on the street and ask them if I’m doing it right.

3) Know what’s out there. You can’t be original if you’re ignorant to the past.

4) Be lucky. I’ve had some dreams, I’ve stumbled upon some interesting phrases, they bought me (marginally) original ideas. Sometimes its all about luck. It’s about what you happen to dream on, or what your subconscious accidentally stumbled into. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away.

5) When writing non-fiction articles, say about firefighting for example, don't focus on the stuff another firefighter would know, (ie. fire-engines are red. Use dalmations etc). Focus on your unique experiences as a firefighter. Tell a story about that time you saved twenty alpacas from a burning blaze in an East London art show flat. Mention the redness of the trucks only if you must and only as an afterthought.



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    • FreezepopMorality profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Zest isn't such a bad word. It's also a fabulous body wash!

      Thanks, Elena. And thanks again for the insights. I always want to know more about originality.

    • Elena. profile image


      9 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Freeze! The presentation I delivered was more on "ideas, improvement and innovation" :-) In line with what Aya said, an idea is worth NADA if not "put to paper", in a manner of speaking. Ideas, good or bad or original or of any kind only acquire value when they take shape into something explainable, sharable. Most theorists associate "idea" to "invention" and "description of the idea into practical terms" as "innovation". right-O, off my chatter box again! Laugh!

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      The best ideas come spontaneously. You'll know it when you see it! I look forward to reading more of your hubs -- your approach is refreshing and while there is nothing new under the sun, that doesn't ever, ever, EVER mean that your words can't be tossed together with a fresh, lively, and enjoyable zest. (I hate that word zest. In fact, I've just compared writing to tossing a salad, but maybe the Shakespearean allusion here is an appropriate one: our salad days are the best, after all.)

    • FreezepopMorality profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      well, Elena, your comments suddenly made me realise that all this time I've been thinking about originality and I've never even bothered to see if there was already academic discourse on the subject (duh!) And obviously there is. You're right, they should be called radical/incremental originality. And innovation, it seems, is the practical application of originality, not just the theory. You could come up with an original idea, but it wouldn't be innovative until you put it into something. It's weird that you should deliver a presentation on the same day, shoot, I’ve never even heard of people giving presentations on originality. I’d like to hear one.

      Teresa, I really like that phone a friend idea. That's something I've never heard before and besides being potentially fruitful, sounds like a lot of fun. Many of your ideas are good, but I like that one the best. I think I’ll try it tonight.

      Everyone else, I’m not sure if I want to believe that everything these days is unoriginal, but I am sure that originality is REALLY HARD, and even we do find it, we should, as Aya says, we need to package it so people can recognise and understand it.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      FreezepopMorality, it's not that hard to come up with an original thought. Speaking it out and trying to share it with others is the hard part. Many people can't understand an idea unless they've heard it before. That's why repetition is required.

    • goldentoad profile image


      9 years ago from Free and running....

      maybe nothing is original anymore, but we can try to put a new spin on it.

    • LondonGirl profile image


      9 years ago from London

      "vanity, vanity, vanity, all is vanity", said the preacher, "vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is nothing new under the sun."

      That should cheer us all up....

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      You might come across cubing techniques and other methods of examining different perspectives (a cube has six sides; turn the topic around with the questions Who, what, where, etc. and ask six q's about it ); there are others, too; but what I like most about your Hub is that you came up with your ideas on originality (mostly) on your own, and aren't simply compiling others' methods. Well done. Others you can try? Well -- open a book (any book) at random and see what pops out at ya; pick up a magazine and choose a face or a scene to write about (Nat'nl Geographic works better that Cosmo); phone a friend and ask a totally nonsensical question, write down her answer and make it the first sentence of your piece (e.g."I don't know what drugs you THINK you're taking, but this is the last time I let you borrow my camcorder"); you know you'll come up with tons of better ideas than these yourself, because you are THINKING (*hurrah@!!!!!) (sorry, I'm a retired professor, I can't help it!) But the main thing is to have fun with it. I love your idea about the firefighter story -- write it!

    • Elena. profile image


      9 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Freeze! Great read, and you know what?  Writing about originality seems seems quite original in itself :-)  What you describe as originality I would actually call innovation, especially when you refer to vertical and horizontal, also referred to as incremental or radical, in some contexts -- maybe we're both talking about the same thing at large, I however think there is a difference between originality and innovation.

      This hub IS very original, though maybe not innovative.  Geez, I'll turn off my chatter box now --it so happens I delivered a presentation today on this VERY topic!  Incredible coincidence :-)  KUDOS!


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