Four years ago, The Vow came out in theaters. You may or may not have seen it. It’s a movie about a woman who loses her memory after a car accident and her husband tries to get her to fall in love with him again. It was based on a true story, and it really was a nice love story to watch around Valentine’s Day.
I hated it.
Not because it was an awful movie, but because in 2009, I wrote a novel called Reminiscence (unpublished), in which woman gets into a car accident, loses her memory, and her husband spends the entire book reflecting on how they fell in love and tries to convince her to fall in love with him again.
Technically, they did not steal my idea, especially considering the movie was based on a true story. But I was still peeved. I saw the movie, literally, just to compare my story to its plot. And of course I saw all my story’s flaws … but still wished I would have done something crazy at that point in time: self-published it, so I could say I wrote it first.
It was a great learning experience, though. I have never gone back to that draft of a book and may never will, but I am still proud of it. It was one of the first full-length novels I ever wrote. It was not a complete waste of time.
If you’ve ever been in this kind of situation, though, you understand how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be. Whether you’re in the midst of writing something or you wrote it long ago, here’s how to cope with feeling like your ideas don’t matter as much as you thought they did.
Finish writing and editing anyway
So someone else has already executed your idea, beautifully, in a way you’re certain you never could, it’s disappointing. It makes you feel like you missed an opportunity, that you were too slow, that your idea wasn’t “original” enough to start with.
Sure, that might mean you’re about to spend a lot of time working on something that probably won’t ever get published. Honestly? Many of the things you write and edit won’t ever be published. Yet you still write and rewrite and revise as many projects as you can.
Why? Because that’s how you practice. That’s how you learn. If you stopped writing just because there’s no guarantee it will ever go to print, you’d never get better at writing. Just because someone else has “already written” your idea, doesn’t mean it’s not still worth your time to finish it.
Understand that pretty much every basic plot has been written before
Your stories are not just one plot line that has been written thousands and thousands of times before. That’s how ALL stories start out, but that’s only the beginning. Look at it this way: the story begins. Boy and girl meet. Boy and girl are from opposite sides of the social circle. They’re not allowed to be together, but they fall in love anyway.
Sound familiar? Romeo & Juliet. West Side Story. Grease. The Lion King II. High School Musical. The list goes on.
Yet not all those stories have the exact same themes or characters. They are not the same story retold the exact same way. That is why they are unique and why someone said, “Hey, I like this new twist on an old idea. Let’s make it happen.” With a bit of a new spin on something that’s already been done, you create something new out of it, and it turns out to be worth the effort after all.
Recycle your characters and themes
So you can’t write the exact story you were planning on writing. Bummer. It’s hard, I know. But as I mentioned above, you don’t have to throw out all your hard work just because some of it isn’t usable. There are still gems hidden in there. Pluck them out, toss out the parts you can’t use, dust them off and figure out how you can use them in a different way.
I started writing a book in 2012 that came from an idea I originally had for a T.V. show pilot (long story, don’t ask). I actually ended up losing that draft when my hard drive crashed last year, which isn’t quite the same as someone else stealing your idea, but I have actually “recycled” a few of the characters from that story to use in the novella I’m finishing up now.
It’s sort of like plagiarizing off yourself, except it’s totally allowed. At least, that’s what we believe here. There are really good parts of even the worst first drafts. Don’t throw them away. Save them for later. They will actually come in quite useful.
Don’t give up! You’re not done yet. This totally sucks, but it’s not your fault. After all, for all you know, you could have come up with the idea first, and someone else just got lucky.