How to Get Over the 'It's Been Done Before' Mentality
"I shouldn't do the thing I want to do because it has already been done before." Poppycock!
There's this common mentality that creatives tend to have that keeps them from making the things they want to make. Let's call it the "It's Already Been Done" mentality. It's where you get an idea for a project, you're super psyched about it, and then all of a sudden your heart sinks as you begin to realize that, man, the idea you were so passionate about three seconds ago has been creatively realized already—and then you scrap it.
I mean, it wouldn't be a huge deal if this kind of thing happened every once in a while, but it's something that constantly keeps so many creatives from actually creating anything—and it's not only the fear of being redundant or unoriginal, it's also the fear of their work not measuring up to its similars.
If this problem resonates with you, you should check out this video from Zach Ramelan, who offers up an inspirational message for those warring with the "It's Already Been Done" mentality.
When I first started out as a filmmaker, I was writing screenplays and making videos and short films left and right. In fact, the majority of my work was created in my first year. And then the doubt set in. "What if all of my work is shit?" "What if people see my work and think I'm shit?" "What if I am shit and everything I make is shit and I'll never be able to do anything other than make shit?" Clearly, this was a very shitting time in my creative life.
I went from making a video every day and a short film every few months to struggling to finish a single page of a screenplay because I just knew that it wasn't going to be good enough. My ambition, as Ramelan so perfectly puts it, was crippled by my lack of confidence, a confidence that was born out of my perceived ability to be "original," and yet, I couldn't help but recognize my ideas in pretty much every film, book, and painting I came across.
"Ambition is crippled by lack of confidence."
And then, one glorious day in college, one of my writing professors asked me to write something—an adaptation. He said, "Pick any short story you like and adapt it into a screenplay. Use all of the original dialogue, action, and characters. Change nothing except the formatting." That assignment helped me get rid of my "It's Already Been Done" mentality, because that story had literally already been done, and I wasn't even allowed to add what I thought was my own subpar originality. There was no pressure to not be derivative—I had to be derivative. After finishing the project, like Hunter S. Thompson typing out The Great Gatsby, I knew what it felt like to write a damn good story.
But even if you don't try adapting a story or any other method of getting over a creative hump, the best way to overcome self-doubt is by working. Just doing it is far more effective than overthinking it, and you get a nice little project at the end, too, which is a bonus. Besides, you'll never know which of your ideas actually work until you actually flesh them out and put them out into the world. And once they get there, yeah, they may not be well-received by others, but if you're doing it for yourself and the sheer love of creating, then you've already received your reward.