It’s Been Done Before: Being Original When Writing

First off: my apologies for taking so long to pen a new blog post. I’m pretty embarrassed about waiting almost four months to write again. To be honest, it’s been a hectic couple of months. I’ve been tied up with the new job, I’ve finally published the sequel to Dodger’s Doorway, Return to Storyworld, and I’m moving into a new apartment tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for me. But that’s not much of an excuse. I set up this blog to help out fellow writers who needed advice, and although only a small handful of people actually read these posts, I still think it’s my duty to maintain a steady stream of blog posts. Now that my life has somewhat calmed down, I’m ready to kick off the New Year with a fresh batch of advice!

This week, we’re discussing a heavy topic that hits close to home for me: originality in writing.

Story time!

When I first started writing Dodger’s Doorway, I was so proud of myself. I thought I had created an incredibly original story the likes of which have never been read before. Admittedly, I was borrowing some elements from books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the video game Kingdom Hearts. But other than that, I thought it was pretty original. Who’s ever read a book about a young man going into a fantasy world and interacting with fairy tale characters? My book would be a real game-changer.

Then I started to get worried.

In 2011, a few months before I published Dodger’s Doorway, I started seeing previews for an upcoming television show called Once Upon a Time. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fantasy series revolving around various fairy tale/Disney characters who are plucked from their own world and thrown into ours. Snow White, Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin – all of their stories are woven together into quite the epic modern fairy tale. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In the beginning, I thought, “Well, so what if Once Upon a Time is similar to my book? Not a big deal.” Then a “friend” told me that my book was basically a rip-off of a comic series called Fables. I haven’t read it yet (though it is on my to-read list), but from what I gathered, it’s extremely similar to Once Upon a Time, in which fairy tale creatures co-exist in their own private community in our world. Okay, still no big deal. That’s just two other stories that are similar to my book.

Then, over the past few years, I started finding out about more book series with a similar premise. I was surprised at how ubiquitous this concept was in fantasy literature. It seems there’s a whole sub-genre featuring fairy tale and literary characters crossing over with one another. I was getting frustrated. And it didn’t help when I tried promoting my book on social media and someone basically deconstructed the premise and told me that it’s been done countless times before. At one point, I seriously considered just saying, “Screw it. I’m done with this series.”

I don’t think anyone can blame me for being mad. I wasn’t so much upset about people being jerks, but the fact that I had this story I had been working on for years and it turns out that it’s been done already. I was so proud of what I thought was an original concept, and then reality hits me with the cold, hard fact that it’s just another run-of-the-mill crossover story. It sucked at first, but it was one of those necessary reality checks that every writer should go through at some point in their life.

I’m going to be blunt: It’s extremely difficult to come up with a 100% original concept nowadays. You could think up the most outrageously unique idea ever for a story, and chances are, there might be something similar out there already.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for originality. I’m sure you could come up with a unique concept, given enough concentration and brainstorming. But the point I’m trying to make is, you shouldn’t forgo your passion out of fear of people saying it’s not original. Want to write about boy wizards? Go for it. Want to write about elves and dwarves fighting? Do it up. Want to write about vampires and werewolves? Write it! Who cares if the concept has been seen before? Put your own spin on it and make it your own.

Even though my book is similar to Once Upon a Time, I still managed to infuse my own ideas into it so that it distinguished itself. You should do the same with your own writing. If your story is good enough, people will look past the similarities and instead appreciate the originality. Don’t believe me? Consider this: have you ever realized how Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings are all essentially modernized versions of the legend of King Arthur? You think most people realize that off the bat? Nope. They’re too busy appreciating the epic tales that are told. Three of the most recognized and beloved series on the planet aren’t as original as you think – that should mean something.

If you think you’ve struck gold with an original idea, go for it. Even if you find out that it shares some similarities to other stories, stick with it anyway. Complete originality isn’t crucial for a good story, but you must add some form of your own personal touch. That is what will distinguish your tale from the rest.

 

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Making Time for Writing

If you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely a writer, or you wish to become one. If you’re not a writer yet, what’s stopping you? Do you not know what to write about? Do you think your writing is bad? Do you lack the patience to sit down and churn out words? Whatever the reason, there’s usually an easy solution. But there’s one particular issue that isn’t that simple to resolve: lack of time.

It’s ironic that I’m making this post considering I haven’t had time to do much writing myself, mainly because I just started a new job and I’ve been doing a lot of research into going back to school. Like most normal human beings, I just don’t think there are enough hours in the day to do everything I want, so I’ve had to prioritize. However, seeing as writing is an important part of my life, I’ve had to find ways to include it in my hectic daily schedule, and I hope my advice helps you do the same.

Let’s say you’re like me: you work the typical nine-to-five job from Monday through Friday. Then you sleep about eight hours each night. Take out the three or four miscellaneous hours where you eat, brush your teeth, shower, commute, etc. That leaves you with four or five hours each weekday to do as you please. When it comes to weekends, well, you’ve got all the time in the world (unless you’re like me several years ago when I worked the dreaded hours of retail).

The point I’m trying to make is that there is always SOME time in the day for you to get your writing done. In fact, you can get your daily writing quota in with just one hour each day. One hour – but that hour better be well-spent. That means actually pushing out content and not just watching YouTube videos or chatting on social media. Don’t be ashamed – we all do it.

That daily hour of writing doesn’t have to be all at once. Take advantage of little pockets of time throughout your day. Have a long lunch break at work? Write. Riding on the train? Write. Waiting for class to start? Write. This is why it’s a great idea to always carry around a notebook (or even use the notepad on your phone).

What I’ve found that helps is giving myself a little bit of leisure time before I start writing. It’s not like I leave work right away and immediately sit behind my laptop and start hammering away at the keys. I give myself a half-hour to an hour to settle in. I grab a bite to eat, I read a comic or a chapter of a book, or I watch a quick episode on Netflix. My mind has been working like a machine the entire day, and it needs a chance to cool down. I’ve tried writing right after a long work day before, and trust me, it doesn’t end well. I find myself unable to properly string words together or create coherent thoughts. I’m running on fumes.

Another thing I’ve found useful is cutting down on all the unnecessary time-wasters. For me, it’s video games. I made a promise to myself not to buy any new video games until after I had finished my book. Well, I’ll admit right now that I failed that part since I binged at a recent store-closing sale and bought seven new games. But I’m not starting any of them just yet. They’re currently sitting on my shelf, waiting to be opened until after Thanksgiving when I finally have time to waste again. Find a way to keep similar time-wasters from eating away at your schedule so that you have time to write. If you’re serious about your writing, it should be one of your top priorities. First and foremost, though, you need to make time for your family, your health, and your job. Writing is important, but not important enough to put ahead of your well-being.

One big thing to remember when making time for your writing is to not overburden yourself. You may feel like writing hundreds of stories all at once. That’s awesome that you have that kind of ambition, but you better be able to organize it all. I have numerous stories I want to create, but my priority is my main novel. If I tried to focus on everything all at once, I get stressed out and don’t know where to begin. I end up just flipping between several word documents, trying to figure out which one to work on. It’s much easier to find time for your writing when you have a clear, focused project in your mind. You shouldn’t go into your day thinking, “I’m going to write for an hour.” Instead, you should think, “What am I going to write today?”

Don’t feel bad about skipping a day or two. While it’s better to write every single day, you don’t want to force it. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like writing. In that case, feel free to spend your time on a leisurely activity. Play a video game. Read a book. Do something to clear your mind, and then come back to it later on. Just don’t let too much writing-free time go by. Writing is like a muscle, and what happens when you don’t use a muscle for a long time? It becomes weaker (I’m pretty sure I’ve used that muscle metaphor plenty of times in my blog already, but it’s the truth).

When you’re passionate about something, you commit yourself to it. If you really want to be a writer, you have to find time to hone your craft each day. You can never use the excuse, “there aren’t enough hours in the day!” Trust me, there is ALWAYS time to pursue your passion.

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Finding the Motivation to Write

Remember in high school when you found it so hard to start that long essay, so you kept on procrastinating? Then, once you actually started writing, it became much easier? Guess what? That feeling doesn’t end with high school.

Lack of motivation is the ugly cousin of writer’s block. With writer’s block, you feel like you could sit down and write for hours on end, but you’re stumped as to what to write about. On the other hand, lack of motivation is when you have a ton of ideas bouncing around in your mind, but you just can’t find yourself sitting down and putting them to paper. Like many other writers before me, I’ve suffered through both of these plagues, and if you’re serious about writing, you’re bound to face the same obstacles.

It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? If you’re a writer, you’re obviously very passionate about bringing your ideas to life. But if that’s the case, why is it often so hard to crack open the laptop and begin writing out of the blue? Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your passion. It’s still there. You’re just experiencing a terrible yet common illness: being human.

No matter how much you enjoy a hobby, there may come a time when you struggle to find motivation. It can happen for a variety of reasons: stress, boredom, lack of support, lack of ideas, etc. We’re not machines; we can’t work non-stop. We need motivation in our lives to keep us going. Eventually, you might start to lose that motivation, but if you’re lucky, it will only be temporary. You just need to know the right tricks to get you back on track.

This may seem like the most obvious solution, but one of the best ways to get motivated is to completely distance from all distractions. We live in an age of Netflix, smartphones, social media, and countless other forms of distraction, so it’s understandable that your mind wanders when you’re supposed to be writing. I remember once trying to write an article at my old job but I couldn’t get those first couple of words out because I had The Office playing on my TV, my iTunes playlist going at full volume, and my phone constantly buzzing with texts from friends trying to plan a bar trip for that night. My mind was in multiple places at once, but it wasn’t where it needed to be: on the writing itself.

If you’re like me and you have a compulsory need to keep the TV on at all times, then your best bet is to change your location. I found that I was able to focus on my writing when I distanced myself from all the tech in my room. Nowadays, I spend most of my time writing at the coffee shop, the library, or even outside on the porch. I also turn off my phone, plug my headphones into my laptop, throw on some soothing instrumental music, and begin typing away. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make for your motivation when you get up and move somewhere with less distractions.

Another distraction for me is the Internet itself. I don’t need to tell you how easy it is to get lost in the depths of the Web, especially when trying to finish an essay or article. The worst is when I have to look up information about something pertaining to my writing, and the next thing I know, I’m on the Wikipedia page for the second season of Lost or I’m watching a funny animal fail videos on YouTube. It’s even worse when I get sucked into the voids of social media and news stories. Why does it seem like all the interesting stuff happens when I’m busy?

Anyway, it’s easy to get distracted by the Internet, and what’s worse is that you can’t exactly get away from it because you might need it for writing research. That’s why I recommend a temporary site blocker, such as StayFocusd or SelfControl. With these apps, you can create and customize a special blacklist of sites, and then you can block those sites for a set length of time. My blacklist includes all the time-wasters like social media, gaming sites, and comic forums, and it’s done wonders for my productivity and motivation so far. It may take time getting used to the blocking, but once you condition yourself not to check these sites every five minutes, you should notice an increase in your focus.

So we’ve covered the obvious causes for lack of motivation. Let’s look at the deeper factors for this phenomenon. After all, it’s not just about distractions; it’s also about your attitude and your overall outlook.

When you’re passionate about your work, it’s easy to dive into a new project. You tell me to write a five-hundred-word essay on hedge funds, and I’ll be dragging my feet the entire time. If you tell me to write a thousand-word analysis of Fight Club, I’ll churn it out in a half-hour with double the word count.

You should never force yourself to write about something you don’t find interesting. Do you think all those successful authors out there are writing about things that aren’t appealing to them? No. They’re writing about what they find intriguing, and because of that, they’re motivated to create pieces that are insightful, entertaining, and successful with the public.

You don’t have to force yourself down a narrow route and write stories based solely on what’s popular or what will sell. If it’s not your taste, don’t write it. You’re tired of all these dystopian teen novels like Hunger Games and Divergent? Write a spy thriller action story. Hate A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings? Write a romantic comedy. Do what you want to do. Don’t try to force yourself to write something out of your zone. Not only will it be extremely difficult to stay motivated, but the lack of interest will also show in the writing itself.

There may come a time when you hit a slump in your writing and start to lose motivation. Don’t assume that this means you’ve lost your passion. Instead, take a break to clear your head. Go for a run. Watch a movie. Read a book. Hang out with friends. Do something to jumpstart your motivation. In due time, you’ll find yourself ready to write once again

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!