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.

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The Disillusionment of Twitter

Marketing & Promotion, Mental Health, Self Publishing

I know that as a writer I’m supposed to be enamored with Twitter but the truth is I can’t spend a significant amount of time there without feeling terrible about myself. My feed is full of other authors, more well-know and more successful authors, and every day someone else is landing an agent or having an amazing sales day or launching a new book or sharing the amazing review they just got. Twitter is becoming less of a means of communication and more of a personal billboard and all it does is force me to indulge in that dreaded soul-sucking past-time called comparison. So I step away and I block it out. And while it’s the only way I can get any writing done I’m also not building any relationships and I’m not interacting with the people who matter most–readers. So how can we find the balance between engaging on social media and maintaining the right head space for writing, all while not becoming overwhelmed in the process? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question but I am learning more ways to cope with the stress that envy and disappointment bring and how to celebrate others’ success without discounting my own.

Step One: Know Your Limits.

When I’m in the middle of writing a first draft being raw both emotionally and creatively is a necessity. For two months I’m as open as a sore and sometimes getting the words out is just as painful which means that this is not the time to put myself in any kind of situation that could possibly lead to some kind of mental breakdown. Which means no checking my blog stats or monitoring my sales or constantly refreshing my twitter feed and dwelling on all of the people who have lives way cooler than mine. Comparison is the thief of creativity as well as the thief of joy and when your psyche is as delicate as an egg shell engaging in things that don’t fill you up or make you feel good about yourself just aren’t worth the risk.

Instead, learn to celebrate your own small victories, congratulating and encouraging yourself one word at a time. But not just for the words themselves but for the very act of creating, for being brave enough to make something no one ever has before. Even if you have to sit at your desk with your eyes closed, focusing only on the feeling of the keys beneath your fingers. Focus. Focus on you and no one else. Because there is a time and a use for social media but there is also a time for you. There is a time to step away from it all and in order to become successful finishers we must learn the difference. For our health, for our creativity, and for our sanity.

Step Two: Skip The Tough Love.

This step is all about respect. When it comes to writing I’m incredibly hard on myself, punishing myself with negative thoughts and comparisons and bad habits whenever I don’t reach my word count or didn’t accomplish as much as I’d planned. I used to categorize it as tough love but the truth is it’s just toxic. Because forcing myself to salivate over the success of others doesn’t motivate me. It terrifies me. And not just because it fills me with so much doubt and this crippling longing that I’m afraid will never go away, but because it’s so easy to get lost in it. It’s so easy to get on twitter or facebook or wordpress or kindle boards or amazon and spend an eternity over-analyzing every move and every piece of data and every author and trying to figure out where you’re going wrong.

It’s so easy to make yourself feel like a failure that sooner or later you start to become one. Because sooner or later you start to entertain the idea of giving up and if you keep indulging in these self-destructive comparisons, sooner or later you will. Failures aren’t the people who tried and lost it all. Failures are the people who never tried at all. And if you’re spending too much time on social media, letting yourself spiral into deep disappointment and self-loathing, and your excusing it as some kind of twisted form of motivation you’re not hurting anyone but yourself and you’re only prolonging the success that could be yours if you just had the self-discipline to get off the internet and get back to writing.

Step Three: Stay Away From The Things That Hurt You.

The concept is so simple it’s biological. I know we’ve all heard about or maybe even lived out the scenario of our mother telling us not to touch the stove top because the burner is on. Unfortunately though, throughout the history of mankind, the warning is usually never enough. So we touch it anyway and guess what? We get burned. We blister and it hurts like hell but it’s that pain that we carry with us long after the burn has healed as a reminder to stay away from things that might hurt us. It’s a survival mechanism, really, and we’re fairly good at it when it comes to physical adversaries. But for some reason we’re not so good at it when it comes to emotional ones.

As humans, and especially as creative ones, for some reason we like to dwell on things. We like to drown in our own sorrows and the urge to pick ourselves apart is like this awful twenty-first century tick that sends us out in a frenzy to buy every new product or endorse every new program that might somehow make us better. But if we really cared about bettering ourselves we would treat our time and our thoughts and our bodies like they’re sacred. Because they are. And we need to fill them with things that build us up rather than tear us down and we have to learn the kind of self-discipline and self-respect that allows us to say no. To close that article or that email. To put that magazine away or to stop listening to that judgmental family member who makes us feel worthless. To get out of that toxic relationship with men and with women and with food.

To protect ourselves like we’re worth protecting.

This need to constantly judge and degrade ourselves goes way beyond abusing social media and so do the traumas. But if we can start there, if we can learn to set boundaries with the small things first, then maybe we can use them as leverage when it’s time to build bigger ones.

Comparison Kills

Motivation & Inspiration

Comparison is a thief. It’s a liar. It’s a crutch.

And we all do it. It’s almost second nature. The moment we meet someone we size them up. We hear about someone else’s success and we compare it to our own. We hate our bodies because they don’t look like the photo-shopped versions we see in magazines. We don’t believe we’re smart enough, talented enough, brave enough, strong enough, good enough to do something because the other people who have—who’ve accomplished that one thing we’re dying to do—are different, better somehow. But that’s a lie.

It’s all lies.

Comparison makes us see faults that aren’t really there. It makes us fear things we shouldn’t. It makes us question our own self-worth which is pointless when you stop to consider the fact that you are here. You are here and you are alive and that is no accident. You are not an accident. Here. Now. In this body. In this life. You are not an accident.

It’s a crutch.

Dwelling on all of the ways you don’t think you measure up is just another excuse for not reaching your true potential. Comparing yourself to others leads to dissatisfaction which leads to fear which leads to complacency. If you don’t think you can reach your goals in a state of imperfection then guess what? You never will. But if you could let go of the fear of not being good enough, if you could let go of the fear of failing, if you could just let go and let yourself be you then maybe you might surprise yourself. Maybe you might find out that you’re wrong. That you are good enough. But you’ll never know unless you try.

It’s a thief

When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we’re not just sabotaging our own happiness, we’re sabotaging our own self-discovery. Life is about finding out who you are, your talents, your dreams, your purpose—the things that make you tick. But when you find yourself dissatisfied with how your gifts compare to someone else’s, you’re missing the point. It’s not about what you have in this life, it’s about what you do with the things you have. What you can give.

And anyone and everyone can give. That’s all we’re put on this earth to do. You may be good at writing, or working on cars, or teaching, or gardening, or listening, or making people laugh but in the end, at the core of every desire and every dream is giving. So give. Stop letting your fear stop you. Stop letting comparison steal your joy and your ability to discover yourself. Stop letting it steal your ability to give.

Comparison is a thief and a liar and crutch but you don’t have to drink that poison. You can ignore the artificial expectations of the world and you can take back your joy. I wrote this because, even though I know it’s the absolute truth, sometimes I need to be reminded of my own misconceptions. Sometimes we all do.