I don’t have a MFA or writing degree—my undergraduate work was done in film and television, and that’s how I fell in love with telling stories. Whether we’re writing them for the screen or stage or the page, the rules (and the passion) don’t change a whole heck of a lot.
In film school, one of my writing professors came in, set his things down, looked at us, and said “there are no original ideas.”
Whoa. We all kind of looked around at each other, thinking…should we just quit now?
He was, of course, referring to the fact that there are only seven basic plotlines in the entire world. There are no new plots, not at the most basic level, so every idea you come up with—no matter how outlandish—will fit into one of them.
I’m not going to list them for you (you can Google it if you’re curious and haven’t heard this before), and in case you’re now the one sitting there wondering what’s the point, let me tell you: the point is that you’re original.
No two people look at the world through the same pair of eyes. No one’s childhood is exactly the same, the smell of the garden wafts under slightly different noses. We all have our own burdens, survive varying tragedies, learn lessons with grace and philosophies that are unique productions of particular circumstances.
If twenty of us sat in a room and were asked to write the story of two young lovers from feuding families, not one of us would write Romeo and Juliet—because we’re not William Shakespeare. We didn’t grow up in his house or his time, we didn’t trudge through his childhood or pick at his scars. We can’t imagine, really, the world through his eyes or understand the inside of his head. Every tale we tell comes from our heart, from our soul, from that place inside that we’re not even sure we’re brave enough to crack open and that is the something special we all bring to the table.
Learning the craft of writing is paramount. Networking is necessary. Hiring editors and cover designers and agents that help us move forward and grow is part of this business, but none of that means anything without the writer sitting in front of the computer willing to examine emotions, relationships, reactions, and the world around them through their very specific lens.
So, when you’re feeling down, or like you have nothing to add to the conversation, or that all the stories have been told—or even see a deal announcement in PW and think oh no, that sounds just like my book—remember you have a secret weapon.
Write the story. Crack open the well. Squint into those screens and describe your world, your feelings, your experiences, knowing full well that no one else will ever be able to do it in quite the same way.
Trisha Leigh is a product of the Midwest, which means it’s pop, not soda, garage sales, not tag sales, and you guys as opposed to y’all. Most of the time. She’s been writing seriously for five years now, and has published 4 young adult novels and 4 new adult novels (under her pen name Lyla Payne). Her favorite things, in no particular order, include: reading, Game of Thrones, Hershey’s kisses, reading, her dogs (Yoda and Jilly), summer, movies, reading, Jude Law, coffee, and rewatching WB series from the 90’s-00’s.
Trisha is the author of The Last Year series and the Whitman University books. She’s represented by Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.