Saturday, May 4, 2013

Originality? Maybe You're Trying Too Hard

I love to read an author who's truly an original, don't you? Perhaps that's why writing conferences devote so much time to techniques for developing our own "voice." It may also explain how we get trapped in a ceaseless round of rewrites, trying so hard to say something in a fresh way.

I recently came across a comment by C.S. Lewis that pulled me up short. Here's his "take" on original writing:
No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work's sake, and what men call originality will come unsought.--"Membership," quoted by Patricia S. Klein, ed., A Year with C.S. Lewis, April 29.
Faithfulness to the Lord demands that we invest every story with the best efforts of which we are capable; but when we obsess about giving the story our own unique "brand," we shift the object of our faithfulness--to ourselves!

Lewis' comment reminds me of the time a friend tried to teach me golf. Having never played golf before, I needed to start at the most basic level, so he took me to a driving range and began giving a series of instructions: Stand this way...grip the club that way...turn your shoulders, but not your head, etc. I eventually grazed the ball with my club. I kept on trying, and my friend kept on instructing, until he finally said, "You're being too self-conscious. Forget about yourself and just hit the ball." When I did that, it flew down the range.

"Try to tell the truth as you see it," Lewis advises. "Try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work's sake." In other words, forget about yourself and keep your eye on the "ball," story that needs to be told. Then originality will take care of itself.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at


  1. Timely -- at least for me! Thanks! :-)

  2. Wonderful quote, Joe. Saving this for future encouragement.