That phrase can be paralyzing to a writer. You have an idea, a character, a plot, a concept, a scene – you have something that interests you enough to jot it down or dwell on it in those moments you allow yourself to daydream and then it hits you like a ton of bricks; it’s derivative, it’s just like that movie such and such… you stop. Not original enough. We’ve seen it before.
Knock it off. Stop worrying about being original but, whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Don’t stop telling your story. I know what it’s like to worry that you have nothing to say or to allow yourself to buy into the thinking that everything has already been done. You won’t find your voice, you won’t find that thing you want to say until you begin to say something. If you want to learn to play guitar or piano, my guess is that you won’t begin by writing a song of your own. More than likely you will learn songs of other artists and, through playing those, you’ll get a feel for chord progressions and the structure the artist used to construct a song. In other words, you will cover other people’s stuff first. So why should writing movies be any different? If you love Cameron Crowe and feel you are that kind of writer then go write your version of Say Anything, Singles or Almost Famous. You will learn a lot about yourself and what moves you. You will learn what you care about. You will at least get closer to figuring out what it is you want to say.
Don’t allow yourself to look at Sorkin, Mamet, Diablo Cody or whatever writers you admire as gifted geniuses who simply type gold. They all work their asses off and every single one of them write crappy stuff all the time. I am sure of that. Nobody who is great at anything got their without doing the work. Even a child prodigy like Mozart had to sit at the piano and play.
So sit down, write stuff. Don’t worry about how original it is. Just work on telling a story you like, a movie you want to see. While other writers are struggling to be original, you are being productive and, if I had to bet, my money would be on the one actually putting in the work. Get to it. Open Final Draft and start typing.
If you don’t believe me, watch the wonderful series EVERYTHING IS A REMIX. In part two of the series, the focus is on movies. Happy writing!