Writing Tip #89

What you didn’t know won’t hurt you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years as a novelist, it’s that there are few truly original ideas.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and stumbled upon an idea or location description or character trait that resembled something or someone in my debut novel, Baby Grand — something that I thought, fool that I am, was totally original and never seen anywhere else before. I mean, how could it not be original, right? It was an observation that I had come up with out of thin air.

Well, apparently, the air is thin for a lot of writers. Just today, I was reading Andrew Gross’ The Blue Zone, and about midway through a suspicious looking fellow was introduced who, as Gross describes, wore “a large gold cross” around his neck. Guess what? The villain of Baby Grand, Don Bailino, is also first seen wearing a large gold cross.

When this kind of thing first started happening, and my book — although written — was yet to be published, I’d get a bit distressed: Does this mean that I have to rewrite the passage or description or rethink the character because a novel was already published with a similar idea?

I realized that was silly. I mean, if we tear apart our books every time we see something similar someplace else, our books would never get written. There will ALWAYS be something similar someplace else. Especially if you read a lot. (And, as a writer, you should.)

So now I just sort of smile and think to myself, Great minds…

This kind of thing actually reminds me of a friend whose son just graduated from high school today. I remember when her son was a baby, and she had to work and leave him with a babysitter — something she hated doing, but needed the extra income — she instructed the babysitter that if her son were to say his first word or take his first step, not to tell her. This way, when her son said his first word or took his first step with her, it would be the first time as far as she was concerned, even if in actuality wasn’t. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

I guess that’s my motto when I come across these novel similarities: What I didn’t know won’t hurt me. Nor should it.


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