Quick-Tip Tuesday: Do Not Fear the Scoop!

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David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonWelcome to another Quick-Tip Tuesday!

It’s not always easy to come up with a new topic for these posts. We’ve been over a lot of material here at MW throughout the years. I know that on my own I’ve written over 300 MW posts; all told we’re coming up on two thousand for the site. It sometimes seems that there is nothing new I could possibly publish in this space that wouldn’t repeat in some way material you can find in an archived post.

But of course, if one of those older articles was written by Faith, Misty, John, or someone else, then I might have some perspective on the subject matter that they didn’t. And even if it’s an issue that I covered myself, it may be that subsequent experience has changed my approach or given me fresh insights.

In short, just because a subject has been discussed before, that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it again. I bring this up, not because I’m feeling defensive about my posts. Really. I’m not. I promise. But rather because I see aspiring writers dealing with a similar issue all the time.

When I was in graduate school earning my Ph.D. in history, I worried that someone would “scoop” me by writing a book or dissertation on “my” subject matter before I completed my thesis. I mentioned this to my adviser at one point, and he said something that has stuck with me ever since. “If you’re worrying about someone stealing your topic,” he said, “you’re thinking too narrowly.”

His point was that any dissertation I wrote about my subject matter was going to reflect my thinking, and was going to make connections, both within the discipline, and to peripheral issues, that no one else would make. And, of course, he was right. No two people would approach a historical topic the same way.

The same is true of a novel. I often hear aspiring writers lamenting the fact that more established authors have just published a novel that revolves around a premise similar to theirs. They, too, feel that they’ve been “scooped.”

They haven’t.

Give two people the exact same writing prompt, and they are bound to come up with stories that are as individual and unique as they are. Give twenty people the same prompt and you’ll wind up with twenty different stories. Indeed, that’s the whole point of a themed anthology: Every imagination works differently; every author brings to her or his writing a unique combination of temperament, taste, interests, creativity, life experience, intellect, and emotion.

I could take this a step further and say that each of us changes over time, and so if I were to write something based on a prompt, and then return to that same prompt five or ten years later, I would probably end up with two very different stories.

We as authors have enough to worry about in this business as it is — the market is tough, writing good novels and short fiction is no easy task, finding time amid work and family to do all we want to do can be difficult. Don’t compound the challenges we face by imagining problems where they don’t exist. The story you have in mind to write is uniquely yours. Even if the premise of another book is similar, the end results will be quite different. Write the story you want to write. Don’t be discouraged just because the terrain you’re exploring has been trod before.

Keep writing! See you in a couple of weeks.

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7 comments to Quick-Tip Tuesday: Do Not Fear the Scoop!

  • sagablessed

    THIS!! 1,000,000,000 this! We were taught the same in LMT school. Don’t worry about it. Your style will appeal to some and not to others. No one does it just like you. I was lamenting this very issue last night, but this post made me rethink our two stories.
    Just what I needed to read this morning.
    Thank you.

  • […] Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up over at Magical Words. It’s on the worry so many aspiring writers have of being “scooped” by better established authors, and it argues, in essence, that you don’t have to be concerned about that. I hope you’ll read the post. You can find it here. […]

  • […] Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up over at Magical Words. It’s on the worry so many aspiring writers have of being “scooped” by better established authors, and it argues, in essence, that you don’t have to be concerned about that. I hope you’ll read the post. You can find it here. […]

  • So true, David. I used to worry about that. When you simply books down to their major themes, they do seem similar, or in some cases identical. “Royal heir raised in secret” is such a trope, it can lead to thinking, “Why even bother?”

    It can also lead to a different kind of impostor syndrome: the feeling that you’ll be accused of just taking another writer’s ideas. When I first started coming around here, I found out about Faith’s Beast. And I thought, “Oh, great, I have a puma character in my story. Everyone’s going to think I’m a fangirl copycat.” So totally not the case, of course. On so many levels.

    My latest round of revisions addresses the fact that I got lazy with my magic costs. Now I’m really excited about the particular changes I’m making, because I *know* how unique they are. I’m not sharing here just yet, though. Don’t want to get scooped… 😉

  • One of the things I enjoy most about jumping into flash fiction contests just for fun is seeing the huge variety of stories that come out of the same prompt. It’s really helped me get over the fear of being scooped!

  • Thank you, Donald. Glad the post helped.

    Laura, we all worry about it at one time or another. But it sounds like you have it under control now. Looking forward to seeing the latest incarnation of your WIP.

    Sisi, that’s great. I haven’t written much flash, but I’ve wanted to try. Thanks!