This post has been done before

May 4th, 2011

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
- Ecclesiastes 1:9

There’s a vague point when a human has learned enough about the world that they often begin to despair. We are a species capable of horrific acts, nothing we make will last forever, that even beyond the inevitability of death we all live on a tiny rock in an uncaring universe capable of destroying everything we know.

But there’s the solace of creating something new and brightening the lives of others, right? Yet one of the biggest motivators for creativity is the hope of making something new is negated by all the other inventions, works of art, buildings, and discoveries made by those before us. Not only has that great idea that came to you this morning been thought by someone else, but there’s a 95%* chance it’s already been tried. And if it’s an actionable idea, it’s probably been done better already. Want to tell a story explaining a universal truth of the human existence? Shakespeare’s already covered it and with more style and tact than you could muster. Okay, that’s not exactly a reasonable statement because you’re hampered by the existence of Shakespeare’s work, whereas he didn’t have anyone (in english) to have already covered his ground, even if he stole his plots from other writers.

Even worse, all the ideas with low barriers to success have been plucked. You don’t have to be a technology expert to see that it’s an almost insurmountable task to design and sell a tablet computer now that Apple’s iPad has been out for a year, has tremendous momentum, and has been done with a high degree of style and engineering.

Even the phrase, “Nothing is new under the sun.” has been done multiple times and with eloquent style.  The phrase in English comes from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which was written about 2,300 years ago and was already an old expression. I’m not even going to try to compose something better. The concept works on several levels: whatever thoughts you’re having aren’t original, whatever you made has probably been done, people act the same way they have for thousands and thousands of years, and make the same mistakes.

The one way that’s historically helped those wishing to make something new: forgetting the past. Take the curse of trying to create literature to express the human condition when we’ve already got Shakespeare. He wasn’t the first person to write about teenage love or insanity or murder or thinking too much – but he was the first one to write in English and get wide exposure. It’s important to remember that he took most of his stories from lessor works before him. His gift was to take those nuggets and polish them until they shone with brilliant language.

Sure, this advice only really works for art. You’d be dumb to forget what we already know about scientific principles, math concepts, and productive technology. But maybe it takes accidental ignorance to make a leap – perhaps forgetting that the iPad is so great so that instead of trying to catch up you make a different device that’s equal or greater in quality is all that’s needed.

It shouldn’t be too hard to see that this post is really about writer’s block. I’ve been trying to get back to writing regularly for Budaeli, and I’ve been struggling to come up with something compelling to discuss. Topics I usually enjoy talking about have already been done, and what ideas I’ve had for new posts don’t fit the style I’ve developed. There are a few essays I’m working out but otherwise I’ve been stuck.

So I’m inventing a new rule: everyone is allowed to publicly publish one writer’s/painter’s/sculptor’s/designer’s block work. And I’m using mine up now.

Yeah, yeah, it’s not a new rule. But I did a quick Google search and didn’t find any mention of a writer’s block rule, so I’m claiming it as my own.


* I totally made up that statistic.



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