All the good ones are taken!

Have you ever had an idea, dwelled too much upon it and got excited about starting it, only to find that someone already beat you it? It could be anything… a book idea, a paper or even a blog post. It feels like all the good ones are always taken, and you worry that if you try to recycle the idea and adapt it in your own way, you may get called out and criticized by your peers. Worse, you can be accused of plagiarism, and we definitely don’t want that. Once a plagiarist, always a plagiarist… or something like that?

While it’s true that the idea pool is running out of fresh stuff, there’s nothing wrong with taking some things that have been previously used and adapting them to suit your own story. For example, the creator of Pinocchio was probably the first to create talking puppets, but yet he doesn’t own any copyrights to that idea, meaning that everyone is free to use talking puppets as they please. He may have used the idea first, but it can still be recycled.

If you keep splashing in there, all the light bulbs will eventually fall out (or break maybe?)
Photo Credit: http://ideenouveau.com)

I have a novel in the works that involves people stepping inside the pages of books, and I only realised a little too late that that’s a central theme in Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I froze. With nearly 60,000 thousands words written, I didn’t have the heart to just scrap down the entire thing! So I stopped writing. I tried to think up of ways to fix this, and ultimately I decided that my story and Inkheart were only similar in terms of their theme, but everything else was quite different! I haven’t finished that book yet, but I will make sure it’s so damn good people wouldn’t even think of Inkheart when reading it.

Blog ideas can be quite similar, and if you spend your time agonizing over who used this or that idea, you won’t ever blog! People have been blogging for quite some time now, and any idea will have probably been used one way or another by some blogger. They might’ve used it today, or yesterday, or even a year ago. Somewhere out there somebody might be writing a blog post very similar to the present one right now.

My point is: one shouldn’t be afraid to use an idea just because someone tried their hand at it before. You never know, you might end up fashioning it in a way that is much better than all else. And besides, even if the idea is similar, the writing style will undoubtedly differ. One writer can present something in a somber manner, while another might make it quite funny!

Do you worry about copying people? Or do you just try to write whatever comes to mind?

22 thoughts on “All the good ones are taken!

  1. For quite some time, when I first started seriously writing, I avoided reading other novels in fear that I would find someone had written something too similar to my own idea, or that I would unconsciously plagiarise someone else’s idea. I have, of course, since forced myself out of that mindset. I always knew, deep down, that to be a good writer, you needed to be a good reader and if your style really is your own, you’re unlikely to write anything too similar even if the theme of your novel is familiar.
    I must admit though, I have ceased writing on one project – which was a play on Richard III’s final days. Having heard that a high profile actor and screenwriter are developing an idea, I lost faith. (I think I also lost faith because I simply don’t have the time to do all the research involved!!)
    My view is, as long as you approach each project with integrity your work will always be different enough.

    1. You know, I still have this niggling worry that one day I’ll come across a novel that’s too similar to mine, or someone will beat me to publishing a story that I’m currently working on, haha. But you’re right, of course, regardless of how similar a theme is, each writer has a different style and voice, and they can make sure to make a book different if they’re good writers.
      I’m sorry you had to stop working on that project! Though research can be quite discouraging. xD

  2. This has definitely happened to me, not a whole book, but a sentence here and there. I just change what I can and, like you, realize that it is different enough to be my own.

    1. Yep, exactly! I wouldn’t worry too much about sentences though unless they were really well-known. For example, if you search for a particular sentence in Google, you’ll find that it may come up in several results!

  3. When I wrote my first novel, I had completely written it before I had ever heard of the author Will Murray. I then discovered while at a signing for a book he wrote that another project he had worked on was based on a similar premise. I told him that, to which he responded “Unless your story is tongue-in-cheek then it will be completely different from what I have written.” Writing style is going to be a major difference.

    1. Aww, well that’s nice of him to say. You’d think some authors might get offended and try to talk you out of writing the book, but he’s right – no matter how similar the plot, the style will be different.

  4. I have the opposite problem. I feel like I have a billion original ideas and I don’t have the time or energy to make them all happen. For example, I really want to write a novel about a world just like earth except that people don’t heal when they get injured. That world would be so different! Everything pointy or heavy or rough would be banned, sports would be banned. I don’t have time to write this book though. Zen, would you mind writing it for me?

    1. That’s a really intriguing idea! You shouldn’t give them away so lightly though. 😉 Just keep a notebook for all your story ideas and scribble them down as soon as you get them. Even if you don’t write them all, it would be nice to revisit them every once in a while and give yourself a pat on the back for everything you’ve come up with!

  5. Thank you for writing this blog post! So many of my stories have devolved into nothing really worth reading because I get scared it’s too similar to something I’ve read before. I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo for the first time to get me writing a lot, and it’s very freeing to stop worrying so much and just let myself write.

    1. No problem! Just don’t worry about those things when you’re writing. The most important thing is to just complete the book, and all issues can be fixed when it’s time for editing. Good luck with NaNo! I might be doing it for the fifth time this year! =]

  6. I think this used to bother me a long time back.
    But then I started writing and stopped thinking. I have commitment issues when it comes to writing books and since I also have an issue with coming up with decent plots… I end up scrapping everything I ever write. Except of course stuff below a 1000 words that was never meant to be a book.

  7. I’m afraid of a lot of things when it comes to writing. Unoriginality is certainly on the list! I trust that faithfulness to my distinctive voice covers over similarities in theme, just as you say.

    1. I understand your fears about unoriginality! We all want our ideas to be original and unique, but eventually we’ll find something similar to our own works. Voice and style make all the difference. =]

  8. I haven’t had this trouble in my writing – yet. So far, I’ve used many of my own life experiences and simply written my characters around them. But I have had this happen with ideas in real life. I’ll come up with a good idea for a product and within weeks it shows up somewhere. It’s almost as though the idea was put out into the cosmos, and it climbed into several minds, but someone else is always first – not me. 🙂

    1. That’s an interesting way to put it! I can already picture a number of little light bulbs floating around and then slipping into people’s heads. Also in a way that’s rather like hurrying to press a buzzer in a game show, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll get your turn one day, Maddie!

  9. Great Blog!
    That’s why I’m always hesitant about blogging because I always have this fear that there are billions of similar blogs out there, and so it would be kind of pointless for me to reiterate… I should get over that and just do it =) instead of just writing it in MS Word, save it, then shift+delete it……

  10. I don’t think it’s possible for two authors to write the same idea the same way, unless it were on purpose. Just like two artists paint the same model differently, two authors could approach the exact same idea with the exact same medium and come out with very dissimilar results. It’s not a concern of mine.

    1. I like the artist example! I haven’t considered it from that aspect but you’re right. One artist may decide to have an abstract painting while the other may just paint it the way it is. There are so many ways to go about an idea. =]

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