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.

Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

I know it’s not technically Wednesday but let’s just pretend like it is. Despite the tardiness, this week I’d actually vowed to integrate blogging back into my life again, especially since it’s not enough to just tell the world that I’m working on something huge, but now that I’m approaching the publication date of the first novel in my upcoming series, I think it’s time to start actually showing it. Because I am working. Non-stop. This series is literally my entire life right now and the closer I get to that fall deadline the harder it gets to breathe. Which, if you happen to also suffer from anxiety, you know I mean that quite literally. It’s a stressful time but it’s also terribly exciting, especially now that I’m back to making steady progress.

Unlike my last WIP check-in, things have actually changed this time around and I’ve actually made some huge dents in my to-do list. Book 4, the first book in my upcoming YA series, is still waiting for its final read-through before I send it off for a copy-edit. But, finger’s crossed, I will have the FINAL draft ready for spit-shine by next weekend.

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AND I’m only about 6 pages away from completing the 4th (really the 6th) draft of the sequel. This book I really struggled with. I mean, really truly, pulled my hair out struggled. And I’m still struggling, primarily with the ending. All I can hope for at this point is that everything save the last thirty or so pages is fantastic and maybe I’ll have an epiphany between now and the fall. Still it’s off to my FINAL beta reader this weekend and I can’t wait to get her feedback on how the series is evolving.

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Being that I was totally an editing machine this past month, I also made some huge progress with the third novel in the series and it is now off to my second alpha reader for review. This is hands down my favorite book in the entire series. The first two were all about discovering the story’s true identity, while this third one was just pure joy. I don’t know what made this one easier to write than all the others, surely it has a lot to do with the groundwork I laid all those months I spent writing and re-writing those first two novels from scratch. There was so much starting and stopping and so much self-doubt that by the time I got to the third novel in the series I was at least sure of the essential things, which made exploring not just a necessity anymore but something I actually looked forward to. I’m praying that plot-wise this novel is much more solid than the others but I also don’t want to let my love for it blind me from its imperfections. Luckily I’ve just sent the third draft off to one of my harshest/most insightful critique partners and I can always breathe easy knowing that her suggestions will always improve my work tenfold.

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I was supposed to resume working on the first draft of the fourth and final book in the series this past week but editing the previous two took wayyy longer than expected. I’m officially three weeks behind schedule, which sucks, but I’ve refused to go into panic mode just yet. The work I did on the previous two books was necessary and it couldn’t have gotten done any other way. Sometimes things just take longer to evolve and sometimes there are days when you’re only capable of doing so much. I worked my butt off this month but for the first time in a long time I didn’t let myself get burnt out. And for me that’s a victory. Not to mention it makes it painfully clear that some of my deadlines, okay most of my deadlines, were probably ridiculously unrealistic. But you live and you learn. So as of now the final book in the series is still sitting just shy of 50K but I plan to finish it within the next couple of weeks and then work on the first round of revisions throughout the month of August.

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Speaking of August I can’t believe that it’s really almost HERE. I’d very vaguely mentioned in the past that I was shooting for an August publication date for the first novel in the series and while, truthfully, that novel has been hanging around waiting to be tweaked one last time and published, I’m thinking of holding off for just one more month and moving the release date to September. I’d say the first and second books in the series are practically ready to go but being that I’ve found myself three weeks behind (which, like I said, really doesn’t count seeing as my deadlines were unrealistic in the first place) this final book is going to be cutting it terrifyingly close if I still want to release it this winter. Which IS still what I want. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing this series, now that I’m reaching the end, there are other places and other characters calling to me and I can’t wait to get to work on something new.

Unfortunately though, that probably won’t happen until…(let me check my calendar…) December. Well…that sucks.  At least I’ll have a nice break from this series when I get down to editing/re-writing my next NA contemporary romance, which is still in the totally unsalvageable first draft stage, so why bother putting up a fancy progress meter at all.

Last month’s WIP check-in was totally shameful. I didn’t make any substantial progress on a single thing. But this month was all about kicking it into high gear. If everything works out according to plan from this point on I will be publishing my first new novel in a YEAR. Yes, almost an entire year has gone by since I published Breathing Ghosts and it breaks my heart. And when my heart is broken I do crazy things like attempt to publish four novels in order to make up for the months of silence. Four. Like I already mentioned, I will try my hardest to get back to blogging, but if I end up dead or in a coma at least you’ll know why.

WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

I feel like I just wrote one of these posts and after visiting my blog for the first time in weeks I realize that it’s because I just did. I haven’t been blogging much and it’s partly because I haven’t had very much time but it’s also partly because I’m afraid of documenting my snail-pace progress for all the world to see and also of reading about all of the amazing things other people are accomplishing that I’m not. I guess you could say I’m in an intense state of hibernation these days working on this series but the strange thing is that the more I work on it, the more work there is to do. Every time I peel back a layer of disfunction there are two more hidden underneath and when I make a significant change to the plot I don’t just have to make sure it works within that particular novel, but I have to go back and weave it through three other books. I’m not sure what I expected. I knew writing a series wouldn’t be easy but I also didn’t anticipate that almost an entire year would go by before I published something post Breathing Ghosts. I know that writing them back to back was the right decision for me, especially since this is my first series, but eight months without putting anything new out into the world has definitely made me more gun-shy when it comes to this next project. Hence the hiding in shame.

But seeing as this monthly check-in is supposed to hold me accountable, I’ll be honest and share the fact that nothing much has changed since my last WIP Wednesday. Book 4 was supposed to FINALLY be complete this month but after several delays and going out of town last week that’s just not going to happen. Luckily it’s just awaiting some minor changes to the ending and one last copy edit before I can set it aside for good.

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As for the sequel, I’m slowly working my way through those revisions now. Tragedy struck for one of my beta readers and all of her notes were deleted and although (thankfully) she was willing to re-read the entire thing again, it set me back about two weeks and after going out of town I just haven’t had a chance to gain the momentum I really need to get through these changes.

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I was supposed to be editing the third book this week, but due to the aforementioned setback I won’t be getting to those revisions until next week.

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The almost good news is that I’ve still been making somewhat steady progress on the last novel in the series and just hit 41,000 words, which is just about halfway. The bad news is that my deadline is just two weeks away and there’s no way I’m going to meet it.

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But the real good news this month? On the drive back from my trip I had an epiphany about my NA Contemporary novel and when I re-write the entire thing from scratch this fall it might actually be interesting.

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I was tempted to delete this post instead of publish it but that wouldn’t exactly be fair. Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery and I definitely have a problem focusing right now. But for the sake of my own sanity I can’t keep dwelling on all of the things I didn’t do this past month. In fact, let’s all just pretend like the month of May didn’t even happen. Let’s also pretend like it’s not my 23rd birthday this month and that, just like everyone else on the planet, I’m not immune to getting older.

WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

Is anyone else having a heart attack over the fact that it’s already May? Sometimes it terrifies me how fast time moves when you’re not really paying attention and now that I’ve been living in the real world post-graduation for a while I can absolutely see how so many people forget to not only stop and take a vacation but to just stop and breathe. I had a lot of things planned for the month of April and while I did manage to accomplish some things, Spring has been less about rushing for me and more about slowing down. Not in the way I work but more so in the way I approach it. I shifted things around heavily this month, something I anticipated doing even back when I was writing February’s check-in, and have finally come to the conclusion that having a little breathing room is good not only for my creativity but just my psyche in general.

Book 4 is still where it was last month but I’ve set a deadline and plan on completing the FINAL draft in about six weeks, so…mid-June I’ll finally have something amazing to celebrate.

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I’m still waiting on notes back for book 5 but hope to have them by the end of this week, which means the fourth draft should be/might be completed by the end of the month.

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The second draft of book 6, and the third novel in my YA series, has been sent off to one of my alpha readers and depending on how quickly I get a response and/or how atrocious they thought it was I’m hoping to have those edits done by the end of the month as well.

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It’s no secret that my 7th novel, which is also my latest Contemporary NA has been…a struggle to say the least. But luckily I managed to mostly stick to my word count goals this month and have brought the first draft up to almost 60k! There are still about six chapters that need to be written but I’ve decided that regardless of how short I am to my overall goal, I have to let this project go at the end of the week. I really feel like I hit my stride in the past couple of weeks and I’ve made some huge developmental progress but this manuscript is still a complete mess–one I won’t have the time to sort out until my YA series is closer to completion. So, that being said, I’m going to let this novel sit for a while and will hopefully start the first round of edits sometime at the beginning of August.

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Book number 8 is finally underway! HALLELUJAH! The first 20k-30k of every first draft I write tends to move at lightning speed and this one is no exception. It’s not as clean as the other first drafts I’ve written for this series but at least it’s something. I’m planning on this novel being sort of epic, both in scale and in length, which means I’m devoting some extra time to it through the summer. Right now it’s sitting at about 26,000 words and if I can keep up with this pace hopefully I’ll have the first draft done by the end of June.

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Bringing so many things to an end this summer is no doubt going to be exhausting both emotionally and mentally but it’s also going to be incredibly gratifying. It’s easy to get distracted by the end goal and to get so caught up in the anticipation of it that I forget to live in the moment and/or I prolong the moment altogether by just avoiding writing out of fear. But finishing shouldn’t be something to fear, nor should the possible potential of failure. Like I always say, they’re inevitable in some form or another but I can’t let that get in my way. At this point I can’t let anything get in my way. I’ve spent too much time and energy and it’s time to do this. To really do this. Wholeheartedly, epically, bravely, definitely. I will finish and by the end of the summer this dream won’t be just a dream anymore.