Original Thought

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Original thought does not exist. The mind generates ideas by digesting what it consumes and experiences. However, while all ideas have precedents, some modify their precedents more than others. Originality ranges from blatant plagiarism to ideas that rework their sources so much they appear novel. For demonstration, let’s fill in the space between these two ends. The examples will focus on textual media, though this applies everywhere.

Least Modified

  1. Repeating word-for-word [blatant plagiarism, direct quotation, political slogans]

  2. Modifying only a few words [most gossip, poorly disguised plagiarism, anecdotes, stories]

  3. Recasting in new words [press coverage, revision]

  4. Modifying both the character of an idea and the language used to express it [Shifting the idea to a different emphasis, making a new form of the idea, adding an illustrative anecdote or diagram, switching passive voice to active or vice versa]

  5. Taking an idea as a basis for a new production [fan fiction, academic papers]

  6. Taking an idea, modifying it significantly, and using it as a basis for a new production [“spiritual successors,” taking inspiration from another source, many academic papers, many opinion essays]

  7. Taking many ideas as a basis for a new production [nearly all novels and essays, inventions]

    Note that personal experience is often an important source of ideas. It’s also the only source that’s unique to you.

Most Modified


Keep in mind that all ideas incorporate other ideas to some extent. Even those who never read draw from their friends and personal experiences, not to mention the logos, advertisements, announcements, billboards, and broadcasts that drone in the constant background noise of modern life. That’s why well-read individuals tend to write better: ideas come from other ideas, and the more material you have, the more you can create.

Don’t worry about creating something completely new. Nothing is. Focus on utility in your niche. The number of useful ideas is limited, but the number of useful configurations is limitless.