This unnerving moment happens to every writer:
You finally get the nerve to tell someone your idea for a book. You describe your idea, you brace yourself for whether they think it’s good or bad, but instead they say, “Oh yeah, that sounds like [X book].”
You blink a few times as your face flushes. Someone already had the same idea??? And the book is already published??
Are you now completely, colossally screwed?
No! You’re not. Deep breaths.
There are hundreds of thousands of books out there. The odds that you will come up with completely original book that does not remind anyone of another book is pretty much zero. At the end of the day, originality is somewhat overrated.
Still, it can be disheartening to feel like you’re simply retracing someone else’s footsteps, and it may leave you bewildered. What do you do?
Here are some scenarios and what to do about them:
When all of your ideas for novels feel like books you have already read:
Keep thinking. Keep brainstorming.
If you’re not feeling impressed or excited by your own idea there’s no way you’re going to sustain enough momentum to write a whole novel. When the writing gets hard it’s only your belief in your idea that will sustain you.
Don’t settle for an idea that you feel is vaguely uninspiring. Keep pushing yourself to find something better.
When it feels like you are imitating someone else’s voice:
When you are just starting out, you may annoy yourself to death because you know you sound exactly like your favorite writer or the most recent book you read. You can’t stop yourself from imitating.
This is totally, perfectly okay. Just go with it. Get the words out there. Don’t stop writing.
What will happen over time is that you will gradually start to find your own voice. You’ll start sounding less like your favorite writer and more like you.
And when you do, you can go back and rewrite the opening part where you were imitating. It will be much easier to go back and revise the voice than it would have been if you had obsessed over your voice from the start.
When you’re writing a novel and then find out someone else already had a similar idea:
This is somewhat inevitable. There are tons of books already out there, we’ve been telling stories for thousands of years, and there are only so many combinations of events that can be shoehorned into a story.
The important thing to focus on is what makes your story unique. You need a unique setting, unique characters, and a unique style.
If the world of your novel feels very different than the previous similar book, chances are people won’t even make the connection.
When you look at your unfinished novel and think, “Why in the world is anyone going to care about this with all the other stories out there?”
If every writer who experienced this feeling stopped writing there wouldn’t be any books out there at all.
Everyone wonders why anyone would care about their book. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and feeling of futility.
Don’t give into these feelings. If you power through and finish your novel you’ll be immensely glad you gave your dreams a shot.
Do you ever have these moments of doubt? How did you get through?
Art: View of the Salon Carré at the Louvre by Alexandre Brun