The Day I Realized There Really isn’t Anything New Under the Sun

For years, I’d been working on this idea intermittenly about a Southern woman wanting to write her memoirs and hiring a ghostwriter to help her. In this story, the ghostwriter ends up learning all of these things about herself, what she and the ghostwriter have in common, and it makes everything in her (the ghostwriter’s) world change. It was a novel idea, to me, in both that it hadn’t been done and it should be a novel length thing.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? It should. This is the basic plot, though not entirely, of Donna Sutterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I writing the first sketches of my novel, which at the time had nothing to do with a memoir, when I was in high school. The newer,  centered around a writer version began taking shape in the fall of 2003, when I was a freshman in college. I picked up Sutterfield’s book in 2007 from the library. That’s when my literary world fell apart.

How could it be? Someone had already thought up (and written…and published) my idea! What was I going to do? I had spent years starting this story, submitting it to a writing contest at the university I attended, getting a teacher to read an excerpt for me, letting it lie fallow, coming back to it. In all of that time, I thought it was fresh and new and different, and it wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Some things haven’t been written about because they don’t make good writing material. Some things have been written about, but not in the way you mean to write about it. As long as I don’t tell the same story, the starting point can be the same. It’s why all of the writing exercises my creative writing teacher gave us led to such varied places when we read them out loud. No two people see things exactly the same. I can still add something to the discussion.

Once I got over my disappointment, I realized Donna Sutterfield hadn’t stolen my novel. ( 🙂 ) Her novel was about a woman who worked in her father’s bookstore and an older woman with a secret she was dying to tell. It was about siblings and family pressure and identity. It was beautiful. But it wasn’t my novel. My older woman isn’t very old, and she is trying desperately to keep her own secrets while airing everyone else’s. Neither the older woman nor the younger have any siblings. Many other tensions and motivations are in play in my story. I’m not telling the same story at all.

I feel better about the story now. I know that it’s a story that still needs to be told, and get it told I shall.

Have you ever read a book that sounded like a WIP you were working on? Did you continue on with it? When did you realize, in a literary sense, that there was nothing new under the sun?

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