What To Do When You Realize Your Idea Isn’t Original

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

I’ve kept the details of my upcoming release locked up tight, not out of fear that someone would steal my idea but out of fear that some blog reader might point out that it’s already been done. It’s an irrational fear because, let’s face it, there is no such thing as a truly original story. We are constantly recycling ideas from the smallest details concerning character and setting, to bigger ideas like central conflicts and plot points. It’s the unique combination of those familiar elements that creates a new story but even with this knowledge, I’m still terrified that I’ve spent the past year writing a series that someone else has already done better.

Confession: my upcoming series is all about dreams. And what new trend is popping up in this fall’s YA releases? You guessed it. I’ve discovered several upcoming novels that revolve around dreams or navigating dreams or dream boys or dream girls or falling in love in dreams. Each time I stumble upon another book that’s even vaguely similar to my own concept I feel like someone has just punched me in the stomach. I curse like someone has too. Because this is 400 days, thousands of hours, and countless sleepless nights we’re talking about here. I’ve devoted the last year of my life to this project and the thought that  upon publication, it might just disappear, buried beneath the other novels like it, is devastating to me.

Eventually, in the midst of my panic, I started to remember this age old rule of storytelling–that nothing is new, not completely–and this thought spurred me to think about my own reading habits. After all, readers are precisely who I was most concerned about in all of this. I was afraid that after reading three other novels about dreams this winter that people would pass over mine either because they didn’t like those other novels or because they liked them too much and didn’t think anything could top them. Again, another irrational fear. But when I stopped to think about how and why I read books, I realized that when I love a certain genre or a certain archetype or a certain setting, I tend to seek out books that share those qualities. And if the publishing trends of the last decade have taught us anything, it’s that other people, if not most people, tend to do the same thing.

The most famous example of this? Twilight. When I was sixteen they released the first movie in theaters and I remember that whole semester, every girl in my high school was lugging around those giant black books along with their textbooks. Around that time True Blood aired its first season and soon after The Vampire Diaries was turned into a television series as well. Vampire books had always been a popular literary vice among readers but they’d never exploded quite like this. During the height of Twilight’s popularity, not only were people devouring everything they could related to the books, but they were branching out and devouring anything and everything vampire-related as well.

Why? Because when we find something we like we can’t get enough of it. When Kettle Korn releases their holiday drizzle corn every fall I clean out the shelves at Walgreens pretty much once a week and when my birthday comes around and my boyfriend buys me a cake from marble slab I usually eat half of it in one sitting. It’s ridiculous and irrational but we are consumers. We consume things. And when we like something we consume it as much as possible. So maybe the fact that these other novels about dreams are being released around the same time that mine are, is actually a blessing in disguise. I’m indie, which means that I’m invisible. I can’t afford, nor do I have the clout to send out hundreds of ARCs or to put out press releases or organize a street team to share my book cover and host really snazzy giveaways. But traditional publishers do. And if they want to expose and promote this new trend for the sake of their authors, who’s to say that my work won’t be made more visible as well? Who’s to say that someone won’t read one of those other books, fall in love with the concept, and seek out more? Who’s to say that being a part of the emergence of this new trend won’t actually work in my favor?

The key to all of this is perspective. I can either live in fear and believe that everything happening to or around me is part of some cosmic plan to ruin my life. Or I can live in the hope that everything happening to or around me is actually working in my favor to make my dreams come true. I choose to believe in the latter. Why? Because optimism just feels better. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and you’re creating something that other people may have also created or doing something that other people might also be doing, don’t panic.

I repeat, DO NOT PANIC. Instead, breathe, relax. Realize that books are about the journey, both for the reader and the writer, and that whether or not someone has a read a book like yours before, whether or not they hated it, the experience they have with your story will be totally unique. Because you’re unique. And even if the plot may be similar to something that’s already been done, or the characters are slightly familiar, or the setting is just being revisited, your words can never be replicated. Your point of view and your vision are something that no one else on earth has the capacity to create or translate. It’s you. Your book is you and you are one of a kind.


17 thoughts on “What To Do When You Realize Your Idea Isn’t Original

  1. I learned a long time ago that there isn’t a single story that hasn’t been told already. But it’s how you tell that story that sets yours apart, and that’s the fundamental difference.

    1. Amen. There are only so many ways to explore absolutely everything. Human emotion is, in some ways, quite limited and so is modern day language, which is why most stories, at their core, are usually about the same thing. But the fear of being unoriginal should never stop us. In fact, even though every human being is unique, it’s the things we share that bring us together. People are drawn to the familiar just as much as their drawn to the unknown, which is why telling stories about love and redemption and conquering ones fears will never go out of style.

    1. Exactly. Two people could be given the same prompt or the same set of circumstances and characters, and both could still end up writing something totally different. No two human experiences are exactly the same, and because it’s our experiences that inform our creativity, no two expressions of that experience can be the same either.

  2. I LOVE any stories to do with dreams. Love love love! To me, they absolutely can’t be overdone.

    As far as originality, think back to Inception. I’m sure plenty of stories had been told about dreams before, but that one felt new. And then Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves last year. On a concept level, it sounds like Inception, but they couldn’t be more different! I bet yours will be too. You’ve at least got me excited about it!

    1. YAY!!! I’m so glad to hear that! And thank you for providing some real-life confirmation to my argument in this post. I love The Dream Thieves and I think the series’ success is probably the reason this trend has taken off this past year. At first I was hesitant to read the first novel because I was afraid it would be too similar to what I was working on but in actuality they couldn’t be more different. I suspect that’ll be true for all of the other dream books out there as well. I just hope that readers will fall in love with the trend and maybe find my books along the way.

    1. Panicking is usually my first instinct in every situation, so every time I remind blog readers and other writers not to overwhelm themselves with feelings of defeat, it’s just as much a reminder for myself. It can be really difficult not to compare ourselves with others but until we learn to acknowledge and embrace our own uniqueness we’ll never be satisfied and we’ll always live in fear of being out done. But life shouldn’t be about living in fear. Life should be about doing. And for me that means writing the stories I want to write, whether or not someone else has or could do it better.

    1. That’s absolutely part of it. I also think that convincing the reader to go on this journey with you is much easier when you’re coming from a place of authenticity. Writing isn’t about casting a spell, it’s about revealing the truth and as long as you’re sharing your truth, and informing every word you write with the true experiences and emotions of your own life, then they’ll believe every word you say.

  3. A good lesson Laekan. Isn’t it amazing that there are zillions of absolutely unique books out there made up of a combination of just 26 letters? And I’ve never read a book yet where I’ve said ‘This is way to similar to that other one’.

    1. It is pretty amazing and I think that it serves as a great reminder that when we’re feeling limited, we’re actually limitless. Doubt and comparison and fear have constructed these huge barriers inside all of us but any limitations we feel are truly all in our own head.

        1. And that’s usually the challenging part of writing we’re all drawn to. Telling stories isn’t easy but when you manage to convey something totally unique, even if it’s just one sentence, it’s absolutely beautiful.

  4. I needed this! Thank you! I found this blog post while frantically Googling things like “my book isn’t original”, “can I or sued for plagiarism even if I didn’t know”, and “what to do when you’ve given up being a writer” after finding a book, by a pretty well known author no less, that had almost the exact same general plot idea as my new novel. So this blog post totally walked me back from the edge. I’m just going to sit down and pound this thing out, and I can hope I’m on the bleeding edge of a new subgenre.

    1. There are only so many plots out there. What differentiates most books in a single genre or subgenre is the voice. As long as how you approach a topic is unique, you will find readers who will connect with your work because what they’re really connecting with is you!

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