Sunday, February 28, 2010

Idea scoopage: How not to rewrite someone else's book

Now that my recent work in progress is working in that mysterious place called Queryland, I am thinking about my next WIP. The good thing is, I have a bunch of ideas. That bad thing is, I keep getting crippled with the "What if this has already been done before?" problem.

So here's how I've been trying to make sure I'm not rewriting someone else's book. Or at least, making sure my idea is unique enough to stand on its own.

It basically comes down to searching for similar books. If you're an avid reader of the particular subgenre your'e interested in, then you're already way ahead. Still, it's good to know what else is out there.

Some places to look are:

1) Put in search terms including your genre and the subject matter. Get creative with your search terms. Use a thesaurus if necessary! If your subject is a girl who's a witch, you'll want to look at witch, sorcery, magic, spells, etc. You get the idea.

After finding any books that vaguely resemble your subject matter, scroll down to the related books ("People who bought this book also bought...")

2) Check out the Listmania option for searching on Amazon. I found this:
New YA fiction for 2010.
You don't want to rewrite the book that's about to come out!

3) Google. Duh.

4) Wikipedia has a surprising number of topics in the vein of "Witches in Literature." There are huge lists there of books and when they came out. Sometimes in Google and Amazon some older books won't show up from the 1980's or 1990's.

5) Ask the experts. Do you have friends that write or read voraciously in this subgenre? Or better, agent-friends? They may be able to tell you if your topic has already been done, or suggest other books you may have missed.

6) Take a look at the deal pages on Publishers Weekly or Publishers Marketplace. The latter needs a subscription, unfortunately.

On a final note, I have to say that this searching is kind of a lonely business. With the birth of a new idea comes a lot of propietary, secretive behavior. Nobody wants their idea scooped. It's a terrible feeling to put your blood, sweat and tears into a manuscript only to have a similar looking thing show up on the deal pages of Publisher's Weekly. Unfortunately, you can't anticipate what's out there being shopped around by other writers.

So...does anyone else have other ideas of researching your ideas to prevent Scoopage?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blogging Bipolar Disorder

In a flurry of embarrassment, I erased my post to Facebook and the Querytracker forum about my new blog. Why? Because of this:

Online Platform Do's and Dont's

What's the purpose of a blog? I have to admit I get nervous at the very term "social networking." And for a newbie writer (if you don't include my fourth-grade foray into writing) supposedly it's good to get yourself out there. So I put myself out there, and quickly reeled myself in. Fast. It was a twelve hour turn around from visions of Super-Fabulous-Blogger back to reality.

Having a great blog with a billion hits a day takes upkeep and maintenance. Like feeding a little monster, I've heard it called.

So after a small freak-out, I decided to change my blogging goals. Like, have NO blog. And then I thought, I should write about this on my blog. Ugh, what's the matter with me? So in the end, here I am. And my blog will be a place where I can write about writing, and help any others along who come to this neck of the woods.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The first impuse to write

Do you remember the first time you thought of becoming a writer or poet? Many of my current writing friends have revived a love from a dormant dream in the past. I can think of three major nodes in my life when the impulse to write really got me. Or rather, shoved me.

The first time, I think I was in fourth grade. I was incessantly reading Judy Blume and trying to tackle Watership Down but getting nowhere because it was way out of my league. But all those sad rabbits on the cover inspired me. Surely I could write a novel!

I started with a piece of blank paper. I folded it in half. In flowery italics, I wrote "Joanne" on the front. Already such a tragic-looking title, right? Inside the piece of paper, I wrote the following:

Joanne was twelve when she got sick. The doctor came into her room and said, "You have leukemia." Her mother cried. Joanne died.

That was the whole book. Who knew writing a novel could be so friggin' difficult? I picked up the pen again in college and took a creative writing course. I was proud to use the word "garnet" to describe something instead of using "red", and I wrote a few decent paragraphs but some overall really bad short stories. I remember thinking, it's probably a good thing I'm pre-med.

Finally, eleven years later I was an attending physician in internal medicine in New York City's Bellevue Hospital. I took care of a sick patient I couldn't remove from my thoughts. At two in the morning, I sat down at the computer. At four in the morning, I submitted a short piece about my experience to the Annals of Internal Medicine's humanities section, "On Doctoring". To my astonishment, it was published.

Bang. The writing bug was back full force. I thought, this is sooooo easy. So I wrote more, submitted more, and felt the first of many painful rejections. The bug crawled away, and then in the fall of 2008, I joined the Seven Doctors Project, a writer's group led by a poet, Steve Langan. The point of the project was to help established doctors find a creative outlet in writing, be it poetry, non-fiction, fiction, even music lyrics. I joined, and something odd happened to me. I became a writer.

Since then, I've been writing poetry, more non-fiction, and went back to my fourth-grade dream of writing novels. And I haven't looked back.

So when did the bug bite you? And I'm not talking about a teasing nibble. When did it take a fat, juicy chunk out of your soul?