Creative Freedom Comes in 68 Digits
By Evan Braun
A reader of the blog recently asked some important questions about writing that I’m sure a lot of other writers share. I know that similar concerns plagued me for a long time before I published my first novel. Here is what they wrote:
Q: What happens when I know I had the idea first, but then some up-and-coming author publishes something nearly identical to what I imagined? I keep waiting for that killer story that will make the perfect book, and in the meantime have written over twenty books that I do not find worthy of publishing. What do you recommend? Should I push at publishing something less than my best?
I sympathize. Creative people invariably face exactly this kind of self-doubt.
The first thing to single out is this writer’s output. Even if none of their books are published yet, it’s an incredible achievement to write more than twenty books. That shows an amazing amount of perseverance and dedication. We can all learn a valuable lesson from this person’s example: even when you’re not sure of yourself and your ideas, you have to keep working, keep writing, and keep improving.
However, I also want to encourage writers who may share this mindset. I’ve been there myself. The reality is that short of flagrant plagiarism, no two books are going to be “nearly identical.” But maybe that’s because we’re defining “identical” wrong. Let’s broaden the definition a little bit. Yes, two books might share various elements—a premise, a character, a plot, and/or an ending. But these are superficial qualities, because nobody can write the same book as you. Your voice and your worldview and your execution are wholly and uniquely your own. It can’t be duplicated.
I speak from experience. Three years ago, I published my first novel (not the first novel I’d written, but the first one I published), called The Book of Creation. The premise for this story is that the Nephilim of Genesis 6 are finally re-emerging after six thousand years of relative inactivity, and over a period of time they conspire to take the world by storm. I didn’t know it at the time, but other stories of a similar type have been written and published, both before and since. In fact, there have been quite a large number.
At first, I was crestfallen. My story was not original. Was it cliché? Was it overly predictable? I feared so. But once I investigated some of these other novels, I realized that my fears were unfounded. While my book shared a few elements with them, none of them were the same. My book was indelibly my own in a host of ways.
The literary world is full of amazing stories, both through history and into the modern era. These days, with self-publishing becoming more and more prevalent, there are more books being released than ever before. Chances are, if you’ve written a memorable story it’s going to have some commonalities with other books. That’s unavoidable. In fact, it may even be a good thing, because it indicates that you are tapping into storylines and narrative techniques that capture readers’ imaginations—an ever-shifting formula that countless writers have been perfecting for centuries.
Think of it like a deck of cards. There are fifty-two distinct cards, but that deck can be shuffled into so many combinations that it’s impossible to wrap one’s mind around it. If you do the math (and someone has), the number is sixty-eight digits long. Here it is:
I don’t think mathematics has yet created a word for a number that large, and certainly the human race has yet to produce even a fraction of that many novels so far. We’re really only getting started.
For me, that puts my fears into perspective. Any book that you write is yours, plain and simple, and cannot truly be duplicated. So you don’t need to worry about what all the other authors are doing, and you don’t need to be overly concerned with creative trends in the publishing industry. The best formula for success is to write what you’re passionate about, even if you’re not the only one (you won’t be), and then promote yourself as tirelessly as you’re able. And never stop writing.
My advice is to write each book to the best of your ability, then release it to the masses and start working on the next thing. If you do this over and over, not only will you be constantly producing your best, you’ll also get better and start to develop a following.
So resist the temptation to hold onto your manuscripts for years and years, struggling constantly to perfect them. Perfection is unattainable. “Less than my best” is a deceptive term; it shows that you’re measuring yourself not against reality, but against an imagined potentiality. Your “best” will get better and better over time. Don’t let the possibility that you’ll be a better writer in ten years prevent you from reaching your audience right now.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored two novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has also released a sequel, The City of Darkness (2013), with a third entry in the series due later this year. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.