Sometimes, after I write something, I have the scary feeling that I'm never going to write anything ever again. I convince myself that there's nothing left; what else could I possibly write about that hasn't been done? When you walk into a book store, you see the piles upon piles of beautiful books; soft cover, hard cover, picture books, non-fiction. No matter what section you spend your time in, you'll see new authors and new books that you had never before heard of or seen. The ability to add something worthwhile to these piles seems fleeting at times.
So far, this feeling has always passed when the next idea hits but it doesn't stop me from wondering if what I've written has already been said.Technically, since each writer has their own voice, it would be different, but it has to be more than different if you're telling a similar story. You have to find a way to tell a similar story from a unique perspective, from a different point of view. That story has to be just as compelling as another like it, in a different way, and this is no easy task. It can obviously be done; as evidenced by the selections and options available in every genre.
Most love stories have a similar framework: boy/girl meet, something threatens their chances of being together, they overcome obstacles and find their way back to each other. I have read, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of stories with this framework (just reading all of Nora Roberts' books allows for this). However, I like some more than others, I reread some, I put down some after only a few pages, and I recommend certain ones to friends. How can I have such varied opinions on similar stories? Voice, perspective, writing, character connection, action and so much more. Every time an author twists the familiar story with their own unique style, it can compel and capture you.
Reading is an essential part of being a writer. I've come to understand that more and more in the last several months. It helps you see how scenes are established, how setting is developed, how characters draw you in; it helps you see what attracts readers. When I switch gears to writing, I have to explore the ideas until I can be sure that what I'm saying, while sharing a similar theme or concept with another book, has not been said or done before.
A perusal of any library or book store will help you understand how overwhelming this task can seem. Aside from all of your well-known authors, there are so many that you have not yet read. I am always amazed by this because I consider myself well-read, particularly in children and youth genres. Picture books are a passion of mine; my husband and I had a collection of them before we even thought about kids. Still, the librarian at my school will share a new book and I'm blown away, not just by an awesome book but by how many books might be available from this author I had not yet read.
There's always more. A story can be told countless times if the voice telling it is fresh, passionate, and captivating. It's important to know what story you are telling, whose story you are telling. Putting a book together, regardless of genre, is a series of attempts that don't always go well and, many times, seem frustrating. I suppose that's how you know when you are really a writer (published or not): you can't not tell the story. You have that drive and commitment to going back time after time to make your story just as compelling, if not more compelling than another like it. You can always draw comparisons, but in school, we encourage that. We asks the students to tell us: 'What does that book remind you of?' or 'Have you read another book like that?' or 'How is this book similar to your own life?'. While we want to have a distinct voice, we also need the common thread. That commonality may connect a writer's work to another story, but it also connects them to the audience.
Your audience wants something from your story. They want to see themselves, find themselves, or even escape themselves. Your story has to be something they identify with in some way. Even if that makes your story similar to another in the same genre, it's what your audience wants. They want another book to make them laugh or cry and to pull them in. Maybe there are only so many stories to tell, but there will always be endless ways to tell them.