Life is like Lego, and so is writing. We all have our own bin, full of everything we’ve experienced on a sensory, intellectual, and emotional level. Yes, there are probably more levels than that, but I’m trying to be brief here.
Some of the pieces in our tub? They match the pieces in other people’s tubs. Because we’re all people*, and there are certain commonalties to the human experience.
*If you’re not a human person, or if you’re a sociopath, this post might
not make a whole lot of sense to you. But hey, I’d LOVE to interview
you for this book I’m writing . . .
When we pursue creative endeavors, we shake our metaphorical Lego bin, then pull out the shiniest pieces. We move them around. We experiment with different ways they could fit together. And then? We create. Or maybe you just dump them in the middle of the floor and put them together at random.
Like a monster.
One way in which life and writing are very much not like Lego, is they don’t come with instructions. Oh, there are resources—books, website forums, Facebook groups, and Twitter hashtags (and a certain incredible blog run by a group of Master-builders). There are also finished products we can study, trying to puzzle out how on earth they made something so intricate yet cohesive.
“Look,” these creators say. “Here’s what I built.”
And all too often we feel like the tent poles of our lives have poof! disappeared, leaving us a saggy-slumpy dejected mess.
“They used one of the same pieces I used.” [Insert Eeyore Sigh] “Guess I’ll give up now.” Smash, crash, clatter. Back into the bin the Lego pieces go.
New Metaphor (because I can’t mix them if I don’t use more than one): If two people decide to paint a picture of a bird, you wouldn’t say, “You both painted a picture of a bird. That’s lame. Which one of you copied the other one?”
- Because you’re not a jerk like that.
- Because there are different kinds of birds, and different painting styles.
- Because people love a good bird painting. There should be more than one of those.
In fact, it was recently brought to my attention that our very own Melanie Jacobson wrote a blog post a few months ago ON THE SAME SUBJECT AS THIS ONE. Okay, maybe that’s not so strange. We’re both brilliant, and TTOF contributors don’t compare notes on our topic picks, after all. But guys? Her post talks about birds too.
Seriously. BIRDS. But a different kind of bird reference and a different picture with birds in it.
So instead of destroying your Lego creation or burning your birds—don’t burn your birds, that’s cruel—pause to marvel over the connection you have with your fellow creator. You both love building sharks out of Lego! You both love painting birds! You both love writing stories about a secret clan of tiny blue people who live underground!
True story? I wrote that book when I was eleven. Then I read Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men when I was twenty-five. What a weirdly fantastic thing to have in common with an author I greatly admire.
Celebrating our differences instead of squabbling over them is one of the most beautiful things human beings do. Creating stories with common threads also connects us in beautiful ways. Yes, strive for a unique approach. Create sentences and paragraphs and pages that could only come from you. Shun clichés and subvert tropes. But also trust that no matter how many things we human beings have in common, twelve authors writing the exact same story concept will produce twelve very different stories, varying on a plot, character, POV, and/or stylistic level.
Yes, I know there are more levels. Shush.
Please don’t despair if you see your own ideas reflected in someone else’s work, because what that really means is you’re seeing a part of yourself in another human being. And in this Lego builder’s opinion, that’s a huge part of what stories are for.
Optional Exercise: In the comment section below, write a one paragraph story concept based on the following prompt. Check back later to see if anyone else got tricked into letting me give them homework, and enjoy how different your final results are.
A woman discovers she can read people’s thoughts . . . by licking them.
Kimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.