Today is a good day for writing. The sun is streaming in through the back windows, across the open expanse of the kitchen and into the front-room. It makes my little cosy world feel spacious and clean. Fresh. A state that belies its true nature. The discarded plates can go unnoticed, the strewn flotsam of rubbish can wait till tomorrow, the strata of filth and grime is something which can be avoided. I’m drinking a big cup of organic white tea (middle-class represent!) out of a big, fat, pint mug. Times like these are one of only two times I can really write, the other being the grey place where afternoon and evening blur together. There is always however a problem with writing, the ever struggling battle for originality, the quest to produce something new and exciting. Naturally this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The English language in its current form has existed for give or take 500 years, tracing itself back to people like Old Billy Shakes. That’s a lot of time for other people to have been doing writing. And that’s just the time frame for using comparatively modern English. Chaucer was mucking about with words back when middle-english was still a “thing”. Before that beardy Saxons were harping on about some Beowulf chap. And that’s still a farcry from the beginning. The Ancient Greeks had Homer with his Iliad, along with Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and many more. Writing was astoundingly ancient before even they turned up. The Vedas of ancient India popped up in about 1500 BC, even then writing was all hoary and rheumy-eyed with age, complaining about its joints and its back. The Epic of Gilgamesh can trace its roots back to about 2150 BC, it was written in Cuneiform, an alphabet which would have been doing the rounds for nearly a thousand years before people started writing about Gilgamesh’s dicking about with walls and hunting out Utnapishtim. At the end of his quest Utnapishtim says to Gilgamesh “The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.” That sentence is older than western civilisation, its older than the civilisations that begat western civilisation. I doubt I’ll ever write anything that sounds that good, how can I even compete with that?
Five thousand years of people scribing on paper or pushing holes into clay has churned out a mind bogglingly huge amount of prose. Even though most of it has been lost, the stuff that remains often makes me doubt my ability to say anything good. Originality is of course out of the window. After five thousand years nothing is original any more. Although you could theoretically put any of the 200,000 words of the English language in any order and be guaranteed to come up with something technically original, that’s not how it works. I actually tried to sit down and calculate the number of possible combinations of words available to you, but the number is so astronomically big it makes even the term astronomical seems insignificantly small. The number is so large that it caused every calculation device easily available to me, to melt.
Realistically there’s only seven types of story anyway: The quest, voyage and return, rebirth, comedy, tragedy, overcoming the monster and rags to riches. Every story ever written can be pigeon-holed into one or more of these categories. If you want slightly more detailed breakdown of plots and events then there’s always Georges Polti’s “Thirty-Six Dramatic Sittuations.” My personal favourite, for its name alone, being “Fatal Imprudence.” No writer should ever have to worry about originality, originality is a goal that none of us can ever truly achieve, it is an impossibility. We can strive towards it with all of our might and every fibre of our being, but we will never truly reach it. But then again they say it’s always about the journey, not the destination right? We just have to hope that whatever we write contains a little fragment of ourselves, and that by luck or skill we tumble across a truly sublime combination of words that will outlast us. It wont be easy though, because Shakespeare stole all the best lines before we were born.