Other People Have Your Ideas and That’s Okay

Love this post by Natalie Whipple about ideas.

The bad part: other people will have your awesome ideas.

Oh, hey. I’m just writing that bestselling novel about the same thing your novel’s about.

Sure, they won’t be exactly the same, but maybe someone else out there is also writing a book about a magic hat/boy who talks to wolves/kickboxing grandma. Maybe both of you will even get published around the same time. Maybe the other writer is someone super famous.

It’s a scary thought. No one wants to be the writer who misses out on a big idea. No one hears about a guy who wrote some other book about a white whale and a crazy captain with a missing leg. What if someone is out there right now, writing your book?

The good part: that’s okay.

First, no one else can write your book. It’s your book, from your imagination and experiences. Even if you write a book about a white whale and a crazy captain, it’s going to be different than Moby-Dick because you and Melville are different writers. And maybe they’ll both be awesome. Writing isn’t like a

Second, Whipple talks about how books don’t exist in a vacuum. If a reader picks up book A, thinking “Huh, magic hat, sounds interesting” and loves it, that reader might also pick up book B because they still love magic hats. Sure, you could be concerned about comparisons between the two, but if both books are written by talented people who care about craft and story, I think the reader can appreciate both.

Case in point–dystopian YA novels. It’s been a major trend in recent years, thanks in large part due to The Hunger Games. I’m sure a lot of writers were crafting their dystopian worlds when The Hunger Games hit and they thought “No, that was my idea!” And I compare a lot of YA to The Hunger Games. Still, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found other dystopian novels I’ve loved.

Whipple says it well: “But ultimately this whole experience has taught me that publishing isn’t really a competition. It’s a big web of connected creativity that all of us can benefit from.” The more creativity and stories we have, the better. And we all bring different viewpoints and voices into these stories, even if they’re all about kickboxing grandmas.

(image: Dean Wissing)

3 thoughts on “Other People Have Your Ideas and That’s Okay

  1. Reblogged this on Note To Self and commented:
    A great reminder for all the aspiring writers and accomplished authors out there… don’t ever give up just because you’re afraid someone will end up comparing your work to someone else’s. We all have our own unique voices. We also live in an age when even fanfiction is publishable. KEEP WRITING.

  2. I’ve never understood why people get hung up on “ideas”. If a story is well written then the reader isn’t thinking about the “idea” of the story, she or he is thinking, “Wow–I gotta keep reading to see what happens next–how on Earth is Simon going to find the purple pearl before the giant squid eats Bruce?”

    Some of my favorite books have, in high concept, really lame ideas. One example I like to trot out is Robert McCammon’s “Gone South”, which if you were going to sum up in a sentence is about a Viet Nam vet who is dying of leukemia being chased through the swamp by a former circus freak and an Elvis impersonator.

    Yeah, right. But it works, not because it’s a great “idea” but because it’s a well-written book and he makes me really care about the characters.

  3. I read Natalie’s post too, and thought it was such a great perspective. And she really got it right with the power of the “if you like this, try this” approach to finding books. It’s definitely how I help patrons find books at the library!

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