In 2009, I wrote a book. A few years later, it became a movie.
Except it wasn’t a movie based on my book. It was a completely different story … that just happened to have many similarities to mine.
I’ve told this story before. At the time, I hate-watched the movie and pretended like it was a big deal. But in retrospect, it really wasn’t.
Those two stories had the same premise. But they were, zoomed out, two completely different stories.
The difference between my situation and many others is that a lot of people worry about this happening before they’ve actually written a book. They’ll excitedly tell a friend about their story idea and that friend will respond with, “Wow. That sounds a lot like the plot from this one book I read …”
And boom. Their story idea is dead.
Except it doesn’t have to be.
If it seems like the premise to your story is “too” similar to a story that has already been written, first understand that just because you have a similar idea as another writer does not mean you will — or even can — write the exact same story. If you’ve already written it and it’s somehow identical, you can revise it. Make it different enough.
Second, realize that no two stories — unless deliberately plagiarized — are exactly alike. You’re technically worrying about something that isn’t worth worrying about … yet, or at all.
If you have not finished — or even started — writing a book, and you have an idea that can fill a whole book, just write the book. You may not know it, but you’re opening yourself up to yet another lame excuse not to write. Stop it! Just. Write. Worry about everything else later, OK?
I know the idea of publishing something “too similar” to another story makes you nervous. But it shouldn’t. Your story might start out with the same framework, but I can pretty much guarantee it won’t end up that way. But you won’t get to that point of separation if you stop writing before you get there.
Most people wish they could sit down, write one version of a book, and be done with it forever, selling it immediately, making all the money. That’s not how writing works. First, you have to actually write a first draft. Then you probably have to rewrite parts — if not all — of your story several times. Then you have to edit and revise and keep tweaking it until an agent or editor or publisher says it’s “done.”
If you don’t want to endure the writing life in not just its glorious moments, but its tough ones, too, don’t pursue a career in writing. It never gets easier. You just get better at it. And learn how to ride the ups and downs. And appreciate both the good times and the bad.
If you’ve explored this blog before, you already know that my answer to pretty much everything is “just write anyway.” I know, for many of you, it’s more complicated than that. But my advice stands. Stop worrying about the little things, the things that don’t matter right now.
Write the dang story already. It’s in your head. Make it yours.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.