onegeeklogo6Dear One Geek,

My question/conundrum is this: every time I begin to sit down and flesh out an idea, either just putting thoughts to paper or actually trying to make an outline, it seems I always end up pigeon-holing myself and remembering that I once read something similar in another book. I’ve started calling this the “Simpsons did it” effect. It seems every-time I have an idea that I like, even one that on the surface seems unique, I suddenly recall a bit of a book that I might have read fifteen years ago that has uncomfortable similarities. My biggest concern is that I would continue the writing, begin shopping it around, and get labeled a derivative. I’m unpublished so far (in part because I can’t seem to get past this and finish something!) so my concern is theoretical, but frustrating!
Do other writers ever experience a similar sort of phenomena? How do you find new things to write, or get past wondering if your work bears too much of a semblance to something else?

-Stuck In A Rut

Dear Stuck,

Repeat after me.
There are no new stories.
End of Sentence.

This is your brain trying to keep you from having to deal with the critique and potential failure that is a risk when actually creating something artistic. Don’t let it.

Think of all the things you’ve ever read, heard, watched, experienced as a pantry of ingredients. You’re going in there, and you’re going to make a new recipe – but that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) avoid using the things in your pantry. They are the building blocks for any recipe – and by recipe, I mean a book, a short story, a song.  It’s which ones you choose, how you combine them, in what quantity, and what you do with them that makes a recipe – and by a recipe, I mean a book, story, song or piece of art – yours.

If you’ve got a hero who’s a bit Vin Deisel and a bit Ironman, rescuing a heroine who’s a little Hermione with a bit of a Friday complex, from a villain with Freddy’s dream-walking ability, but it’s because he’s actually a reincarnation of King Arthur… You’ve got a unique story. As long as you’re not putting Momer and Harge and their kids Lart, Baggie and Misa into Springfeld and running a Simpsons plot through it, you’re going to come up with something that’s yours.

Yes, chances are that somewhere in the hundreds of books and thousands of tv episodes you’ve consumed in your lifetime, you can associate any potential plot point with /something/. More than likely, with several somethings, because ALL creators call on the palette of their previously consumed media (from Shakespeare to the Simpsons) as a base for their creative works.  It will happen. That doesn’t make your work derivative (that’s such a horrible term.) or worthless.

If your work is /too/ close to something else (ie: a good number of your readers can go “Hey, wasn’t that a Simpsons plot?” without YOU saying “The idea’s kind of like that Simpsons episode”) then you’ll need to do some re-writes. After it’s done.

But get it done. You can’t fix what ain’t writ.

So, sit down and write. Seriously.

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