Admit it.  

You've daydreamed about creating something so wild, so inventive, so revolutionary that your work is forever forged in the history books!

Or at least shrouded in your school's memorabilia case as the main attraction for Parent-Teacher Night. 


But then, you sit down to work on the project...

...And all you can think about is how terrible it is and why genius is so unfair.


When you care about a project --  an internship application, a college essay, a presentation -- your pursuit of originality sometimes paralyzes your process.


But it turns out you don't need to put so much pressure on yourself. 


Even the greats recycled ideas to create the masterpieces we cherish.


Shakespeare, for instance, is said to have been inspired by Arthur Brooke's poem, "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet."

And the first known version of the star-crossed lovers story is Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus. I bet the chain goes back even further. 


If Shakespeare wasn't fazed by borrowing, then you shouldn’t be either.


One of my favorite creativity myth busters is Austin Klein, author of Steal Like an Artist. In his book and popular TED Talk, Kleon argues that there are no original ideas, and that creativity is a remix boiled down to three basic actions:






Yes, copy. Which is different from plagiarizing (claiming someone else's work as yours). The honorable thing to do when you copy an idea is to acknowledge the person who inspired you.


Kobe Bryant has no problem admitting that he copies the moves of other basketball greats like Michael Jordan. 


Twyla Tarp, legendary choreographer, adds " If there’s a lesson here it’s: get busy copying. That’s not a popular notion today, not when we are all instructed to find our own way, admonished to be original and add our own voice at all costs! But it’s sound advice. Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill." 


Copy. Physically recreate the thing until your body absorbs the idea and you can identify the specific elements that enthuse you.





Combine those elements with patches of other ideas. 

"Human beings...artists...are collectors," Kleon says, "Not hoarder[s] mind you, there’s a difference: hoarders collect indiscriminately, the artist collects selectively. They only collect things that they really love.” 

When you observe the world around you, collecting inspiring ideas, you increase the probability of fusing unlikely ingredients. 



This one-of-a-kind fusion becomes the new "invention" that earns its own right as an achievement -- one that someone else may borrow from. And the cycle continues.


Copy, combine, transform. Your projects may not make national news (at least not yet), but you will have created worth your own admiration. 

And in the end, that may turn out to matter most.


How do you get great ideas for your projects? I'd love to know. Share your comments and questions below.

Liz F. Bradley is the founder of Ink Well Coach. She taps into 10 years of experience as an educator to help college applicants bring heart and humor into winning college essays.