Q. One of my deepest fears is that I'm ripping something off without realizing it. Something buried deep in my subconscious that I saw in a movie 20 years ago--reborn as a "new" idea. My mind hates me.
This is called "culture." You're allowed to steal from your subconscious, regardless where you got it. Stuff from the late 80's feels and looks very little like stuff you'd make now; and you are a different person than whoever made the "something" (book? movie? TV show?), so you'll write a different story.
Used to be, bards all told the same stories, they just told them with slightly different words, changing minor plot points. It was called having a "tradition."
Don't stress about where you get your inspiration. The urge to tell an original story is overrated. What the audience mostly wants is an entertaining story and, sometimes, a truthful story. By making it your own, you'll make it original enough
Look at Miami Vice
. For some reason Michael Mann decided not to remake his series, but to make a modern action movie instead. No silk suits, I gather from the trailer, and no sense that the cops are torn and tempted by the vice they're fighting. Who needs it? If he'd just remade his TV series, I'd have gone to see the movie already.
If you suffered over every word in writing it, just the way you did the time you wrote something else that you know to be original, that's a pretty good indicator that you're writing something original.
On the other hand, if the writing all comes out in one unmediated rush, perhaps under the influence of a drink or two, and you know you've got a wonderful memory, you might entertain the possibility that you are essentially copying from memory.
A thought: if you are wondering as to whether a particular turn of phrase is your own, why not Google it and see if it's already out there?
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