“I want to be an original genius”

Posted on 29 November 2013

This is from a conversation I had with a young and ambitious comedian. His name has been changed to Dingus Doohickey, because that’s funnier.

Dingus Doohickey, be careful of running down the “everything must be new” rabbit hole. It can be a dead end. In creative writing there is a saying that goes, “There is nothing new in the avant garde.” You are most likely to come up with fresh material when you are honest about who you are and what your life is like, right here and right now. This moment is new with new challenges. You can also come up with new stuff by looking harder at traditional tools. But I can almost promise you, if you don’t know what went before and don’t have a good grasp of your tools: you will reinvent the wheel.

I actually don’t mind people re-visiting stories and jokes. First, it’s a delight seeing new twists to old material, or even just being reminded of what I liked about it in the first place. Second, you have to remember that old stuff is new stuff to a lot of people. You can have theatrical revivals or remake films precisely because a new generation is not familiar with the stories. How sad if Shakespeare was no longer produced simply because The Globe version is considered the definitive and people felt you shouldn’t mess with that.

From long experience as a creator, a post-graduate supervisor, and a judge for a literary award, Dingus, I would agree that the magic is wonderful when you can find it and especially wonderful when you find it in yourself, but I would caution you not to worry too much about genius and focus more on authenticity. If you worry about genius you will 1) be overly concerned about other’s opinions and therefore, 2) not take enough chances. Whereas if you focus more on what genuinely turns you on, not on what you think SHOULD turn you on because others say it’s genius, you will start finding your authentic voice. That voice will lead you to the magic you’re seeking.

Peace and kindness,


2 responses to “I want to be an original genius”

  • Cynthia Dringus says:

    What if what you like is seeking out originality and uniqueness and stuff that “reinvents the wheel”? I love non-traditonal comedy, are you saying I should just drop it because there’s “nothing new in the avant garde”?

    • Katherine says:

      I LOVE originality and uniqueness. I find sometimes people who try too hard to be original and unique end up being “different” in the same way certain groups have been “different” since at least the 1920s. Reinventing the wheel means they are creating the same stuff over and over again, rather than something genuinely innovative. Some people are in the vanguard without being a part of an avant-garde movement such as Bohemianism, Modernism, or Post-modernism.

      I remember having to participate in a Post-modernist group at university. They all wore the same sorts of clothes, drank the same sorts of coffee, created the same sort of “dark edgy” creative works. I used to ask them, “What do you call a solitary white sheep when it’s caught in a herd of black sheep?” That didn’t make me many friends. 🙂

      I ended up hanging out with open source software developers because they were doing the most original creative work at the time and had great enthusiasm and love for their work. I didn’t have to dig through the posturing to find amazing stuff.



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