I gotta be honest: I’ve been struggling again with a few bouts of Imposter Syndrome (which I’ve previously documented here). In my quest to read while I prepare to write once again, I’ve been experiencing some really, REALLY good fiction. I’ll be reviewing them later on, but suffice it to say they’ve been exactly what I’ve been looking for in a story.
And that’s kind of the problem.
I’ve put together two first drafts in my nascent writing career, with my latest about to go under some massive reconstructive surgery in the coming weeks as February drags on. And the stories I’ve been reading (one via audiobook, one via Kindle) have been nothing short of amazing, but they’ve also been very similar to the stories I want to write.
So I want to ask you, O Reader of My Blog: Have you ever begun writing a story, only to find someone else may have already written that story?
This is where the Imposter Syndrome rears its gnarly, disgusting head. You don’t want to work on that project anymore, it says. It’s already been written. A better writer has already beaten you, so why bother trying?
Now, I could pack it in, listen to that ugly voice, and give up altogether because similar stories have been published in the past. Or, as my loving wife likes to say, this is where I can tell that voice to pound sand because of the theory she likes to call the More Cake Theory. That is: readers of a fantastic story, or even a particular genre, likely won’t turn their noses up at a similar story, any more than they might turn their noses up at another cake that has been set down for dessert. Far from it, in fact! Such audiences are likely to go, “Hey, I really liked that story, and so I get to lose myself in a similar world and extend my enjoyment.” Or, put more simply: MORE CAKE!
If you, like me, have encountered this state of fear and loathing, please consider the following points:
- I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this (and I remind myself of this in the process), but there are only about six types of stories that humans like to tell. The one begging you to write it down very likely has a few similarities to other stories that have been published, some more recently than others. And while great authors think of new twists and wrinkles to titillate their audiences, their stories basically boil down to these types of stories.
- Genres are a thing for a reason: they help categorize stories with common subjects, themes, and so on. George R.R. Martin isn’t the only fantasy writer, and Stephen King isn’t the only horror writer. Everyone has their own little quirks and new twists they bring to the figurative table, but writers in a given genre will tend to tackle similar subject matters. This is not a bad thing.
- When querying, you may find yourself thinking of “comp’s,” or comparative titles to your proposed manuscript. These help give agents a reference point to understand what to expect (while, perhaps, weeding out some choices that need more work). Again, this is really an expected part of the process. Use this to your advantage in labeling your comp’s (especially if they are recent!)
- No one likes to be saddled with that scarlet D for “Derivative.” However, a story that shares common ideas with a published work (see genre above) isn’t derivative by default. It is very likely you have some new, interesting ideas to offer; but because you stare at your WIP all the time, you may start to look at it as stale, boring, and *gulp* derivative. Take a break if you find yourself getting frustrated (it works for me), or let a trusted friend with an eagle eye take a look at a chunk of your work. And if you have to tweak a few details: isn’t that the nature of the beast? You came up with this idea that lit your soul on fire…that means it can happen again. This is where I like to tell myself to EMBRACE THE GRIND.
Let us all tell our Imposters to get bent. There’s more cake to be had!