Nothing New Here


Popular music, while largely inane, does occasionally say something profound, even if ironically or accidentally. Consider these three couplets from “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved

Nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown

I would add another line or two: “There’s nothing you can write that isn’t written, there’s nothing you can read that isn’t already read.” Okay, it doesn’t rhyme—maybe that’s why Lennon and McCartney didn’t include it—but it expresses the same theme.

As I pursue various research interests, I realize that for every good, interesting book I find on a subject, there are usually dozens more. Much nonfiction publishing today seems to be summarizing and synthesizing previous works on a subject. That’s not totally a bad thing, but it is a sign of saturation. If there were original ideas, people would be publishing them.

This all leads to the thought that book publishing is downright depressing. The rejoinder doesn’t inspire me at all; it’s all about selling yourself and your book. I don’t like sales. I would rather create such a great product that it sells itself. This may be laudable, but it is so 19th century.

Even those books that seem to make a splash are often re-worked and repackaged ideas from 5 to 50 years ago. They sell because we have short attention spans. There is nothing new under the sun. How many times has Dale Carnegie been re-phrased and put under a shiny new cover? And nothing he said on how to influence people was new to him.

All of this is a two-edged sword. As a reader, the world is my oyster. I can find a book on just about any topic I can imagine and often I can read it for free at the city library. Having a university nearby increases the odds. Even with my somewhat eccentric interests, I could probably spend the rest of my life reading what is already published on the topics that interest me.

As one who enjoys writing, along with many who have entertained the fantasy of being an author someday, I realize that it is just that: a fantasy. This scenario happens regularly: I find an interest, I read a book or two on it, and I think, “Hey, maybe this is the topic.” By the time I’m engaged in the third or fourth book on said topic, the thought hits me, “This is what I was thinking about writing two books ago. They beat me to it.” The last time this happened was a recent copyright, but they still beat me by a few years.

I find myself in the same place as all those guys with home-brewing kits in their basements while their wives make crafts in the den. It may be fun and you might impress some friends, but you’re no different than thousands of other people doing the exact same thing. Don’t think you’re going to become the next Samuel Adams or Martha Stewart. There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.

What does that mean for me? It means my writing is just a hobby, but that’s okay. The key to something being a good hobby is that you must find satisfaction in it even if no one else cares. My family feigns interest when I tell them I’ve seen a new bird, not because they are intrinsically interested, but because they know I am. A hobby is not a competition, at least not with anyone outside ourselves. In my own little world, I’ve put another tick in the “win” column; I’ve written today, and that makes me happy.


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