The Thief’s Mentality: The Search for Something Different


How many modern authors grew up trying to write Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and/or John Grisham before we discovered we couldn’t do them as well as they did? How many musicians grew up pretending they were The Beatles, KISS, and Nirvana in their parents’ basement? How many different kinds of books does an author have to read before they arrive at their own unique presentation? How much material does a creator have to produce before the idea of creating something different strikes them?

At some point in our process, we found our voice, but we found it difficult to work that voice into a unique, entertaining presentation. Some of us trudged through these waters until we reached a point where we wanted to create something different, others decided to stop on the trail and add their variation to the influential variation another created.

All artists start out with a master’s template in mind in other words. Another way of describing that template is formula, and if an artist adheres too closely to that master’s formula, they run the risk of becoming formulaic. Another way of describing the term formulaic is derivative, and art connoisseurs generally dismiss such works on that basis. The rest of us love formulas however. We download songs from musicians, who haven’t changed their formula in decades, we buy books from authors who specialize in a very specific formula of taking the reader from point A to point Z, and the TV show or movie that can nail a formula often makes everyone involved rich. We read books that profess that they’re “Like Stephen King”, we watch movies that are “a cross between Pulp Fiction and The Godfather”, and we listen to music that reminds us of all the music we adore. At some point in our enjoyment of a particular formula we reach a point Malcolm Gladwell might describe as a tipping point. This point of burnout is hard to define and difficult to see coming, but at some point we know the formula so well that we know it too well, and all the joy of figuring it out has dissipated, and that’s when the search for something different begins.

We want something different. Avid book readers, in particular, have read so many books that they start to run together after a while. We go to the bookstore (online or otherwise) scouring the racks for something different. We don’t even know what we’re looking for, but we’ll know it when we see it. When we find it, we can’t wait to get home, crack the binding, and enter into another author’s slice of life. Most book lovers enjoy other art forms, but there’s nothing more exciting to us than finding a stimulating, entertaining, and illuminating book. When we think we’ve found a great one, we tell our friends and family, and we call it a “find”. It’s our literary equivalent to an archaeologist digging through some catacombs for an artifact. At some point in our reading, however, we discover our “find” is somewhat formulaic. We trudge through, because of that super-secret part of us enjoys formulas. This is one of the many reasons why authors put pen to paper, for as avid readers we want to write that book we could not find in the various bookstores and libraries. 

One of the primary reasons most authors write a something different more often is that it is extremely hard. Those who haven’t tried it might fall prey to the notion that every revolutionary, transcendent artistic creation is simply a part of the nature of the artist. One might look at a an artist like Leonardo da Vinci, for example, and say he was a transcendent genius, or that he had God-given talent, and leave it at that. Perusing the reviews of Walter Isaacson’s bio on da Vinci on Amazon, one will find a review that states that the book was nothing more than a boring recitation of da Vinci’s process. “What did you expect?” we might ask this reviewer, “you bought a book about an artist.” Before launching into a rant against the reviewer, the artistic types who found Isaacson’s description of da Vinci’s process so compelling realized that non-creatives would find such a boring. In place of this “boring” discussion of attention da Vinci paid to intricate, natural details, however, is the idea that da Vinci was just born with an almost unprecedented ability to paint.      

Creating something different so hard that most creators stop at some point in the discovery process. They decide, instead, to create a story from a master’s template, hoping that their voice will make it unique enough that no one considers it derivative. This isn’t to say that authors of a given genre plagiarize other authors, but when they read one author’s books too often, they cannot hide the influence. The inspired book might even be entertaining and informative, but it does have a disappointing sameness to it. The idea that one book is more entertaining, or more informative, than another is relative to the reader, but the author of The Thief’s Mentality doesn’t know how anyone could use a words derivative or formulaic to describe it.

The author did not write these essays for the sole purpose of producing something different, just to be different, but his biggest influences are those artists who displayed breathtaking originality at one point in their career. No one artist influenced The Thief’s Mentality, and no one piece from any of these artists did either, but at some point in their careers, they made an artistic leap away from what made them the artists we know. These leaps often occurred soon after the artist satisfied their desire to achieve a certain level of acceptance. These artistic creations were so unusual and revolutionary that the artist’s closest friends and family members didn’t see them coming. “I don’t know where that came from,” they confess. “They were on a different level when they created that piece.”

After sorting through the various books in the genre of social sciences, philosophy, and humor and entertainment, we discovered a book of breathtaking originality, David McRaney’s You are Not so Smart. Amid all of the Malcolm Gladwell books, the Freakonomics books, and all of the books influenced by them, You are Not so Smart reached the author on this very personal “Something different” level. It provided a blueprint for how to formulate The Thief’s Mentality. If the fan of that book decides to read this one, they might not find many similarities after all of the work that followed that initial inspiration, but You are Not so Smart appealed to us on such a personal level that we wanted to write our own version of it.

Most artists have a creative imprint they cannot deny. The imprint is such that if their appreciation is pure they will follow the structure laid out by their weird predecessors, but at some point, they diverge from that. Their goal will be to try to create something so individualistic that the odd, revolutionary writers might consider it different. Having said that, The Thief’s Mentality is more of a hybrid of a wide range of disparate thoughts that the author thinks both sides of this particular paradigm might consider representative of the other side.

Even art connoisseurs initially greet breathtakingly original creations with confusion, disappointment and suspicion. “Why didn’t they just stick with what they do best?” we ask. Another question we ask is how can any person, even a critic who gets paid to listen to music, listen to an album one time and know that it is “revolutionary, brilliant, and a tour-de-force!” We all know that critics often receive advanced copies, but they don’t appear to need time to process greatness. Most people need a little time to appreciate works of breathtaking originality and transcendent qualities. Once their brilliance is processed and we lick the carcass clean, we all realize how brilliant their decidedly risky venture was. The artists who had the largest impact on The Thief’s Mentality were often unusual, offbeat individual trailblazers who viewed the world from a very different corner.

It’s almost impossible to escape some influence in any artistic pursuit, but the author suggests that rewriting and editing these essays have drained whatever influence may have inspired him to begin writing them. All but two of the essays contain the unique experiences he’s had with the unique people he encountered in life, so the only probability for influence lies in the analysis, but thanks to hundreds of rewrites, the author doesn’t think the author who influenced the analysis would be able to spot their role in it. Commenting on the originality of the collection, an independent editor said, “It truly is, in my opinion, a bit of a world all its own, something different than what I’ve seen in my editing queue or even in the library where I work part time.”

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