Are any “new” ideas actually new?

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It often occurs to me that ideas are cyclical. It’s true in other mediums too (everything in film gets a reboot, right?) but sometimes I hear about a new YA book and it reminds me of something in an adult genre (think Twilight as a YA revamp of Dracula, or the Hunger Games as a reboot of the Japanese movie, Battle Royale). So it was great to read an article on Brain Pickings that quoted folk musician Pete Seeger saying, “we are all links in a chain” just taking an old idea and adding a new twist (he titled his album after the process). Even Mark Twain agreed:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Even if you believe it, it doesn’t have to be a depressing thought. As any lover of Jane Austen knows, her ideas are constantly recycled into many different forms, some of them great (the classic 90s classic movie, Clueless is loosely based on Emma) and some worse (Twilight was based on Pride and Prejudice). It’s a truth universally acknowledged that it’s as much how you write and what you do with the idea that counts, as much as where the base inspiration came from.


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