A writer’s dilemma

I feel disorientated. I know it’s silly, and I know I am overreacting. Still, it hit me, and now I’m out of my element.

So, what happened? Not much. I just learned that the novel I’m planning to write, and the novel I’m outlining and living for so long (around 7 years, to be exact) is not as original as I thought it was. In other words, someone else wrote a novel using similar motives (and ideas, more or less).

Naturally, I feel like crap now.

This thing should not surprise me. After all, things like this happen all the time, and I am the first to admit there is no such things as a “new story” anymore. All stories have been told long ago; all you can do is to tell them in a different way, your way.

Still… It hurts. It hurts not because I thought my story was, oh, so original an unique; it hurts because it sucks to have many/more particular stories that use similar, yet peculiar motives. I mean, it’s hard to make an unusual mix of elements like that, but to do it twice? What does my novel means if some key elements (or what it looks like key elements in my head) are the same?

My husband says I’m just being paranoid and that there are no new stories after all (the thing I always say to people when they encounter the same problem with their writing- and I know plenty of times when it happens).

Then again, I always knew my chances of getting published were slim. But that didn’t change the fact I had (and I still have) a clear vision of what I want with this book, and how I want to make the strange mix of high and urban fantasy and anthropology work. Like I told my husband, this novel was supposed to be some sort of a literary version of my graduate thesis, in which I’ll explore, in fiction form, all the main themes I learned studying archaeology (and anthropology). (My official paper would be about Iron Age Greece, btw).

So yes, I really want to write this novel. It’s not because I spent years shaping its story. It’s because I need to write; I knew this ever since I was 11 years old. Don’t get me wrong: I can live without it. But it makes my days better and it let me cope with reality and its problems (poverty, political mess, etc) better. I am good at it. I might not be a great writer per se, but I have a passion and patience and this need that makes me want to write even if there’s no one to read it.

9 thoughts on “A writer’s dilemma

  1. Mariana

    Please don’t tell me that you are comparing yourself with SMayer again!

    I have to agree with your husband Mira, you’re being paranoid. But I can’t disagree with you or censure your feelings eighter. It’s simply awful when you think that you’re being original and then find out (or think you found out) that you’re not being original at all! I have been trough that – not with writing, because I’m not a novelist but with other aspects of my life, including my behavior.

    But, in the writing matters, it’s really hard to make completely original new stories. It’s almost impossible, I would say. This happens since the begining of book writing, you can see the Gilgamesh Epic (and loads of other things) in the Bible!

    Don’t worry Mira. Points of View are ALWAYS different, always new. And your story CAN’T be completely equal to some other story, simple because it is yours.

  2. Mira

    Please don’t tell me that you are comparing yourself with SMayer again!

    No, I am afraid it’s more serious than that. It’s Salman Rushdie’s “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”.

    The mix of rock music and myths is want my novel is about, and seeing it explored in this novel hurts.

    Especially given the fact Rushdie is an excellent writer (even if this book is far from his best and he obviously knows next to nothing about what is like to actually be a rock musician instead of a rock music fan). In any case, he’s an excellent writer.

    But there are similarities that are striking, and that sucks.

    Don’t worry Mira. Points of View are ALWAYS different, always new. And your story CAN’T be completely equal to some other story, simple because it is yours.

    I know that. The thing is, the story isn’t similar, not at all. However, some details are creepily similar, like the fact first sentence starts in the same manner- “on the last day of X’s life”. And the fact someone’s mother killed herself. And the fact, I don’t know, the setting of the story is a different universe similar to our world, but not quite our world.

    Also, my novel involves many references to Ancient Greece and other Ancient cultures because, well… I’m an archaeologist majoring in Ancient Greece. I can’t escape it. Rushdie is a historian.

    These things are logical, of course. But still, the mix of rock and Ancient Greece and myths and setting of a world similar to our seem like more than a mere coincidence.

    My husband (who loves Rushdie’s “Midnight Children” and respect him as an author), says this actually proves my writing talent, since my ideas and points are similar to some of his. But I don’t like it. I don’t think I’m a good writer per se, but I know I have good ideas. This may sound egoistic, but I honestly think my ideas are good- not because they are absolutely good, but they are good to me. What I’m saying is, I’d love to read my stories even if they weren’t mine, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need a confirmation.

    Then again, with this novel, I reached the stage where writing only for myself was not enough.

    None of this means I take my writing as important as Rushdie’s, nor I think I’m a writer of the same/similar calibre. Not even close. But that’s besides the point. My story was mine and mine alone, and now I feel like I can’t call it like that anymore. Which hurts. Sure, there are other works dedicated to myths of rock narrative (think Tencaious D and the pick of destiny, to name just one recent- if not high quality- example)- but none of them has so many similar motives (Ancient Greece and different universe similar to our setting).

    That’s why I feel bad about this. Not sure how else to explain it.

  3. Y

    Im thinking along the same lines as your husband, no story is 100% original. All authors have been influenced/borrowed from outside sources.

    You have been working on this too long to just call it a day and start from scratch. You just have to get creative and salvage your work. Instead of throwing the whole thing way tweak it so it doesnt mirror the other novel so much, or throw in more twists!

  4. Mira


    Thanks for your support! I calmed down. I guess I was just unpleasantly surprised (and generally not in the mood because of the weather change and stuff).

    Rusdhie’s novel is good, but, in my opinion, it is less what critics wanted it to be, and more about his usual themes (India, alienation, culture clash, etc). But I guess that part of the story critics didn’t get so they concentrated more on the music part of it.

  5. Godheval

    This is going to sound like a platitude, but please do not let this set you back. Keep writing your book, because no matter how many similarities there are, there is simply NO WAY that the two books will be the same, that what was in his head – even if you two lived identical lives – would be the same as what’s in your head.

    So what comes out on the page will be different. It will have your voice.

    I stress this because I have, on several occasions, run into this problem with the novel that I’ve been writing for the past 6 years. I call myself trying to bridge the gap between pop fiction and literature by having fantasy characters engaging in over-the-top scenarios, all the while incorporating a ton of philosophical meaning and references.

    I thought this particular blend was completely original, that no one had done or would do anything like it. Then I found multiple things quite like it – Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” and then a second book series’ whose name I’ve forgotten described a certain concept exactly the way I described it.

    But I’ve pressed on – and continued to build on my work – and regardless of any comparisons drawn, I know that this is MY work. At times it seems to write itself, like it is fated to be written, and I’m just the medium – I’m sure you know this experience.

    Keep writing it, no matter what.

  6. Mira

    Thanks for your comment, Godheval, I really appreciate it! It’s good to know this happens to other people; well, obviously it’s not a “good” thing, but it makes me feel less alone in this.

    Your idea sounds really good, and fresh, even with Pullman’s and others’ work.

    So yes, I guess the best thing to do is just calm down, and keep working.

  7. Ankhesen Mié

    Beautiful piece, Mira.

    But it makes my days better and it let me cope with reality and its problems (poverty, political mess, etc) better.

    I feel you. You transported me years back to when I was living in Cameroon.

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