One thing it really helps with is filing off the serial numbers. (Which I pontificated about here but I didn't touch on this.)
Ripping off one story is uncreative. Ripping off two -- or a dozen, as wildly different as possible -- is creative. If Jack, from this story, had Stephan's background from that story -- it would shift his character a little, but still keep what interested you. And if you rip off this monster from a third story and give it a new paint job, and this magic from a fourth, with a few alterations -- why, you have a strikingly original story.
In fact, if you read widely it probably happens unconsciously. Reading the stuff puts it in your head, and you will find that something's running a dating service for all those ideas.