Wednesday, April 11, 2012
When a book idea lands on your shoulder and then weaves itself seamlessly into your life, it feels as though it's yours and yours alone. It's hard to imagine anyone else with the same thoughts, plot lines, and themes. You're an original, after all. Your work will be too.
Yet somehow it happens. When you polish your final draft, you catch wind of another writer landing an agent with a similar idea as yours. When you finally sign with an agent, you see someone else publish with your carefully thought-out title. (Ahem. This just happened to me.) And when you are finally closing in on your long-awaited publication date, a well-known writer tours his latest book— and it sounds an awful lot like yours. You fear, of course, that yours will launch like a dud bottle rocket on the Fourth of July—lots of promise for a show but no fire. You fear that your almost-there career will never happen.
So we are diligent, of course, in seeing what other writers are writing. We scour Publisher's Weekly for new deals, praying that those lucky devils have books that are nothing like our own. We chat with industry insiders about what topics are trending. We sweat over our own idea—is it original? Is it unique? Why is everyone else writing the same thing as I am?
But here's my take: Don't buy into it. Don't stress when somebody uses your title—just rename your manuscript. Don't sweat it when a famous author's book sounds a little bit like yours—in reality, it's probably nothing remotely close to yours. And when a new author lands a deal? Let it go, cheer them on, and focus on what you can control. And at this point, all you can control are your own words on paper.
Sometimes ideas converge and topics are hot. (Think vampires. And dystopian futures. And for that matter, boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love.) If you are writing to chase a trend, I'd advise you stop. (But then again, what do I know?) But if your idea is your own and someone else's work simply sounds similar? Hunker down. Get the manuscript completed, land your agent, and get to work.
I simply don't believe that any two writers can write the same story. And for heaven's sake, don't think of other writers as competition. That just makes life feel too much like high school. Celebrate other writers. If they are succeeding at something you desire, then they are paving the way for you.
Write your own story, and make sure it's yours. There's no fan fiction here—these stories in your mind are yours alone. Tell your tale and don't allow fear to freeze you stiff inside your boots. Keep walking. Write your story. And then let it loose into the world.