How To Survive Discovering Your Story Idea Has Been Written Before #Writers #AmWriting

You have an amazing new idea for a book.

It wakes you up in the small hours. Your excitement bubbles over. You frantically haul yourself up into a sitting position, gulp down a glass of water and start to tell your unconscious loved one all about your idea, speaking very fast and not taking a breath.

They don’t share your enthusiasm and mutter some stuff about your mental state, yesterday’s sugar consumption and that half bottle of red you consumed in Writing Corner.

Every time you think of your idea you get a delicious rush of literary happiness and struggle to stop using tweet hashtags such as #amazingnewbookidea and #neverbeendonebefore

It’s great to think that you came up with such a powerful and totally unique  idea. 

You throw yourself into your story and set to work writing this literary masterpiece. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months.

Then, on one Monday afternoon, you are stood in your bookshop of choice, wearing a fancy dress (a brilliant new story idea can play havoc with our wardrobe choices) and sporting a new hairstyle (new story ideas can result in adventurous hairstyles) gazing longingly at book shelves. Above your shoulders it feels like there is an imaginary sun which is shining brightly. Your new story idea has lit up your world.

You pick out a book at RANDOM and as you read the blurb you let out a piercing scream. THIS BOOK IS SIMILAR TO YOUR STORY IDEA. Your heart stops beating and time grinds to a halt. Some pesky successful author has written your idea!

You cry out ‘but….but….I was going to write something like that!’  

Cue freak out moment (someone out there has had the same idea as you), quickly followed by loud hysterical sobs and a worried look from a book assistant.

You shuffle away, wearing a glum expression, your fancy dress and your radical hairstyle.

You head home with a little imaginary rain cloud above your head. To me the image for this blog post was perfect for describing ‘literary disappointment.’

When you get home your laptop mouse lingers over the ‘delete’ button. Why should you carry on writing your story if it’s been written by a pesky successful author? Wouldn’t it be better to delete, forget and move on?

The fancy dress is stuffed at the back of your wardrobe as it’s a cruel reminder of your terrible discovery. The hairstyle is chopped out at your next salon appointment and the imaginary rain continues for days, sometimes even months.

This situation is a tough one to accept, especially if you are 55,000 words into a draft.

I have experienced this. It was a dark day when I discovered the best-selling novel ‘P.S. I Love You’ by Cecelia Ahern. This was after I had spent a YEAR writing a story about a young wife who finds some letters from her late husband, telling her how to fall in love again.

Readers, I crumpled in Waterstones and had to be helped back to my feet by a book store assistant with a comforting face. “Why did this unfortunate writing event have to happen to me?” I sobbed.

As I shuffled home, in my fancy dress, I had one big imaginary rain cloud above my head. I didn’t delete my draft. I gave myself some breathing space, in which I ate a lot of sugar, drank wine and binge watched romcom films. Then I went hunting for a different angle.

So, how do you survive this shocking discovery?

Remind yourself you can still write your story and make it your own. We all view the world differently so even though it’s a similar premise, you will still end up with a different story.

Write it anyway. If we all quit because someone beat us to a similar concept, then nothing would be created.

You need to work on what makes your story different and focus on the quality to make it stand out.

Make sure you finish your draft. At least get some enjoyment from finishing something.

Talk about it as much as possible. Let it out. Bore loved ones and friends silly with your tale of the book you were going to write until some pesky successful author beat you to it!

Read Elizabeth’s book ‘Big Magic’ – there’s a wonderful story in there about her own experience with this situation.

To all those who start to dress differently when they are caught up in new story idea euphoria – you all rock!

photo credit: Nhoj Leunamme == Jhon Emmanuel Rainy Season via photopin(license)

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I am a blonde writer of romantic comedy fiction.

51 thoughts on “How To Survive Discovering Your Story Idea Has Been Written Before #Writers #AmWriting

  1. Great post, Lucy. When this happens to me I second guess myself and assume I must have already read ‘successful author’s book’ or watched the film adaptation and it all seeped into my subconscious without me realising. I now understand there’s no new idea only a new way of portraying it. I’ll keep believing I’ve created something unique if you will! 🙂

  2. This has happened to me twice; first with ‘Mind Games’ (Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s film ‘Don Jon’ had already been released although I’d had no idea) and again with ‘A House Without Windows’ (Emma Donoghue had already written ‘Room’, although again I’d had no idea). Very frustrating, although I don’t think there’s a subject on earth that hasn’t been written about before.

  3. This has happened to me twice with ideas for sitcoms. One idea was “stolen” by Sharon Horgan and the second well, I thought I was a genius coming up with the of setting a sitcom in an office. It’s never been done before I cried then I started setting my idea down on paper, then I remembered….doh! Still, like you say I could still make them my own.

  4. That really sucks. 55,000 words into a quest only to discover that a “flag” has already marked out the paradise you’ve been laboring to create.

    I’ve buried a short story for similar reasons and a writing mentor reminded me that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and encouraged me to keep pursuing it, but this is small comfort.

    However, you’re right. While our premise may already have been claimed, our version adds a new spin and (perhaps more importantly) a new voice.

  5. Because I read so much I always fear that if I started it would just be a mish-mash of every book I’ve ever read! To be fair, how many original ideas are actually still out there anyway? I’m sure if I wrote a memoir of my life, someone else would have done it all before 🙂

  6. How very boring this world would be if there could only be one story of any kind. Something as simple as Jack and the Beanstalk would never have been told because it was already told in David and Goliath.

  7. I’ve pretty much always just assumed that every idea I’ve ever had for a story has been written before. Ideas are like a creative writing exercise, only helpful to a certain extent. A good writer can take any idea: good, bad, overdone, and make it awesome and unique.

  8. I can imagine how tough this must be and I admire your strength, how you dealt with it and for sharing this…sure it will help other writers. And that you say write it anyway. Love the way you come across in this post, true writer and creative person!

  9. And don’t forget that all the big plot lines have been used thousands of times and they will forever hit the spot. Just so annoying to see the details nicked straight from your very own brain. You will survive, you have survived.

      1. . (Ctd) except now it’s Tuesday and I shouldn’t type on my phone early morning with one eye shut!

  10. I feel this happens to many writers, and it’s one reason my creative writing teacher said we shouldn’t wait too long to write our stories. Unfortunately, we don’t want to rush our work, but if we wait too long, some else may have written the story we wanted to write. That’s the feeling I have right now with my mermaid story, but thankfully, it’s almost finished.

  11. A month after I published my book The Other Side, the internationally famous author Kate Atkinson brought out Life After Life. It’s practically the same story. People who have read it have been known to comment ‘if you like KA’s Life After Life, you’ll like this’. Or ‘very much along the lines of KA’s Life After Life’….

    And I want to yell, but mine came out first……

    Don’t worry about it. If you write romance, 50% of them are versions of Pride and Prejudice. And you can always tell who she’s going to end up with, within the first 2 chapters. Yeah, okay, I don’t get the whole romance thing….!!!

    1. Oh Belinda, how terrible – flu and writer demons! I am sending you some virtual 💐and a 🌈 – now get writing that unfinished book! I have written some of my best stuff with a raging temperature!

  12. What an insightful look at a terrible idea. I once worried about this but I stopped when I picked up writing again a little while ago. I think what may have helped is writing a research thesis and growing comfortable with my ideas building upon or even intentionally repeating prior experiements done by others to add my own twist to it. Maybe it’s reading more books (and TV Tropes) and realizing how little is actually, truly original. If you’re passionate about your genre, it will have it’s own flare of originality, I feel.

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