The Struggles of Writerhood
by William Koch on March 4, 2018
Posted in: Uncategorized
You’re sitting in your room with two of your best friends. In your arms, you’re holding the acoustic guitar that you purchased over the summer. To your right, there is a cellist. To your left, another guitarist. You’ve been experimenting with different tunings for weeks, looking for different ways to experiment and different ways to be different as an artist. After days of anticipation and suppressed pride, you play the chord progression and sing the accompanying vocal melody that you’ve been dying to show your band. But at the end of the song, they tell you the six words you didn’t want to hear:
“Dude, that rips off ‘Champagne Supernova.’”
With a heavy heart, you scrap the melody, and go back to the drawing board with a slightly higher tuning. This isn’t the first time you’ve ripped off an earworm, and it surely won’t be the last. And, no, this isn’t a case of you being a bad writer or unoriginal; this is just one of your many experiences with the struggles of writerhood.
I say “writerhood” with intentional gravity. When we write, we do more than just write. Even the amateurs, even the people who are setting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper for the first time join the circle of anyone who has written before. It is the writerhood, like a brotherhood, like a sisterhood, only it is a circle of people joined by ink instead of blood. And, no, it may not be a closely knit circle. There are many in the circle who know few and there are few who know many, but it is nevertheless a cohort of creativity, a blanket of ideas, and a sphere of influence that covers all races, all regions, and all reaches of history.
It is influence, however, that is the writer’s fatal flaw. Every songwriter, at one point or another, has inadvertently stolen from another writer. It’s not intentional, but rather it is the consequence of an ever-increasing amount of music being written. Humanity has, inevitably, exhausted nearly every chord progression, every key, and every theme that is pleasurable to our ears. With every original composition being published for consumption, there becomes less and less opportunity to create something different, let alone something different and popular. Even in original work, influence is unavoidable. Poets mimic rhythmic styles and rhyme schemes that they’ve studied in class. Sitcom screenwriters, for years, have recycled plot lines, adding modern twists and adaptations to suit evolving audiences. Musicians take the basic G-C-F chord progression but twist lyrics and melodies to make something that they can call their own. None of this is unoriginal. It is years worth of subconscious manipulation, our cultural exposure manifesting itself in our creativity, and it is something that even the virtuosos of our time cannot avoid.
We try to move past influence. We really do. We try to put forth true originality that our mothers would be proud to put on their refrigerators. But there’s always the sinking feeling, the internal dialogue that wonders what we’re allowed to consider “good enough.” There is the constant thought that everything we’re doing is not only a copy of something that someone else has already done, but a copy of something that we’ve already done. As a musician, as a writer of poetry, and as a writer of short stories and scenes, I fear that the melodies and poems and bits I write are always too similar to things I’ve written before. Worse, I fear that they’re too similar to things others have written before. Even worse than that, I fear that they’re too similar to things others have written before that I haven’t even heard.
Fears always linger in a writer’s mind, whether they are reflected in the product or not. Yet writers keep writing. The writerhood’s circle grows because we don’t care if we accidentally match three notes of a previously existing melody, or pay homage to the great free verse poets of our time. Writers keep writing because it is the best thing to do, and because we care less about the ideas that have existed before us than about the ideas yet to come.
You’re sitting in your room with two of your best friends. In your arms, you’re holding the mandolin you got for Christmas. To your right, there is the cellist. To your left, your lead guitarist. You crank out the new song you’ve spent weeks crafting and revising, and at the end of it, they tell you the seven words you want to hear:
“We’re playing that at the open mic.”
You smile. You’re happy because they think it’s “good enough.” You’re happy because you didn’t rip off Oasis. You’re happy because maybe this is something that the newest member of the writerhood will someday inadvertently copy.