All the Good Ones Are Taken

Ideas, not men. 🙂

There’s this book by Harold Bloom that I’ve been meaning to read for some time now called The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. In it, Bloom postulates that “poets are hindered in their creative process by the ambiguous relationship they necessarily maintained with precursor poets.”*

That’s what’s cool about being a writer. There is a connection between you and the reader, and possibly an even stronger connection between you and future writers. You are the master, they are your apprentice.**

As an amateur writer with legions of much greater writers preceding me, I don’t feel any anxiety about trying to produce something new and original because I have already accepted the fact that I simply won’t be able to. All the ideas are taken, especially the good ones. I do not have the skill of Faulkner or Hemingway or even Stephen King. I think I can safely say I am better than Danielle Steele, but even that may be presumptuous.

A common piece of writing advice is something like “read from the works of many different writers, not just those in your favorite genre.” So if you follow that wise advice, you will absorb what those previous writers have written whether or not you are consciously aware of doing so. That knowledge of what you have read in the past will somehow find its way into your own writing, and it will do so whether you want it to or not.

I know I may be totally missing Bloom’s point (and that’s why I should probably read the book before writing about it), but I feel like having anxiety over the influence of past writers, like all other things about which you can feel anxious, is a waste of time. I believe most published writers, whom Bloom would undoubtedly consider to be inferior, would agree with me. After all, they are still publishing and people are still reading their work. Their work may not be remembered or hailed as great 500 years from now, but that’s no reason to stop writing. So if it makes you happy, write. If your writing makes someone else happy, all the better.

*For this post, I’m going to talk about fiction instead of poetry because I think the “anxiety of influence” can extend to novelists also.

**That totally wasn’t a Star Wars reference.

2 thoughts on “All the Good Ones Are Taken

  1. “All the ideas are taken…”

    When a writer says, “I’m going to write something that’s never been written before,” my reaction is the same as when someone says, “I’m going to write something that isn’t even a little bit autobiographical.”

    I just smile and nod. 🙂

    …”especially the good ones.”

    It is possible to write something that’s never been written before, though it’s seldom achieved, which is probably just as well. I had a writing professor once who told us about a student who had written a (long, very long) epic poem that started with these lines:

    “The nicest thing that my room contains,
    is the iron bed where I rest my brains.”

    Okay, that probably hadn’t been written before.


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