I debated about blogging about this because, well, I have good reason not to. I thought about keeping the whole debacle to myself because it was just outright embarrassing and makes me feel extremely vulnerable. Just thinking about it now makes me feel nauseous. In the end, though, I decided to share because I bet this happens more than most writers want to admit. And that’s kind of why I started this blog in the first place. So that other aspiring writers would have a place to come and read and feel a little less alone in the world. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
Something happened the other day and it threw me into an emotional tailspin. I’m talking near-tears to my husband, frantically texting my writer pal and, of course, sending my agent several over-the-top emails begging for advice, solace, peace anything to calm down the tornado of panic that I had spun into. Cutlery, small appliances, side tables, cows (sure, why not?)—all this stuff got caught in my wind tunnel vortex of anxiety.
I was sick at home last week, passing the time with a good but intensely sad novel (Life After Life by Kate Atkinson), Netflix and Googling random stuff. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an idea popped into my head: “I know! I’m going to see if that writer I like has come out with his second novel!” So I merrily clicked my way over to his web page.
That’s when the wind picked up, stirring my hair and billowing through my pajamas. I heard a cow moo mournfully in the distance.
On this author’s homepage was a description for his latest novel… and a major theme in it – hell, a very specific character-related magical realism idea, an idea that I thought was sheer original genius on my part (at least outside of X-Men) – was there on the screen, looking back at me and saying “Beat you to it, bi-atch.”
I could feel my blood heat up, my heart beat increase, could hear that cow’s mooing grow louder and louder. "Was this going to kill me?" I thought. Was this the final stage of my illness? A slow degradation by fever, mucus and sleep deprivation followed by literary redundancy and death by panic tornado and, if that failed to do me in, death by plagiarism conspiratorialists?
When I calmed down and the haze of my horror/respiratory distress subsided, I had a moment of clarity thanks to my infallible support system. My husband listened to me be all crazy, my friend texted me back even though she had better things to do, and my agent e-mailed me back. Here’s what she wrote:
“Just keep breathing and don’t worry. Your book is your book. So big deal! Weather Shmeather. Seriously. Your book isn’t about weather. It’s a metaphor and nobody has a patent on metaphors. Don’t. Worry. Does his book have Jehovah’s Witnesses in it? Or Greek food? Is it about the same people that yours is about?”
Thank goodness for calmer heads than mine.
There was no malevolence here, (and no flying cow either). It’s a crazy insane what-are-the-chances kind of coincidence. But I immediately got scared that my readers—if I ever get any—will think that I stole this key concept! I mean, shit. I list this author’s* first novel on my blog as one of my all-time favorites! It’s not a totally illogical leap to think I took one look at his second book and stole some ideas. (Of course, I most certainly did not. I began writing my book long before his came out. And I would never do that anyways! That is just freaking mental!) But if you’re looking for a reason to mess with me, and you read my blog, then visit his web site, or you hear about his novel and you think “Hmmm?”
I’ve always worried that this would happen. I’ve been working on this book for so long now that every time I walk by a book with a cover or a title that looks like it could be similar to my story or ideas, I panic a bit. It’s been about eight years since I began this process, and I’ve felt a little scared every single day. That’s a lot of fear to deal with. Most of it is irrational, of course, which is the most fortunate kind of fear to have, I suppose—but it’s still fear. And it’s this fear that makes me ask myself the same question over and over again: Is it worth it?
*And no, I'm not going to tell you who the author is. This way, you'll have to check out all of my favourite authors! Ha!