Write About It Even If Someone Else Has Written About It Before

Just because someone else wrote about it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t, too.

Jon Tobin
Jon Tobin
Jul 14 · 3 min read
Image from rawpixel.com

Have you ever had the experience of being inspired to write about something, but soon find out that someone else has recently written about the same thing? And then feel discouraged about proceeding?

It’s easy to surrender our ideas because someone else did them before — that’s a mistake.

But think about it. How many action movies feature an ex-CIA/military/law enforcement guy or gal who has to get involved one last time — this time to save the president’s daughter and/or secure the plutonium and/or defend freedom itself?

A lot of them.

Many action movies follow along those lines and many more will. And even though I have seen it before, I will probably still watch it. And that’s OK.

It’s Not The Idea That Matters; It’s The Execution

In copyright law, there is a crucial concept called the idea-expression dichotomy. The TL;DR version of the idea-expression dichotomy is this: the law protects creative work but does not protect ideas that gave rise to the original work.

The key here is that the law contemplates a world in which multiple people would make use of the same idea — each differently and creatively. The law protects implementation, but not ideas.

The idea for a movie or book remains unprotected and available for anyone’s use. In other words, if you want to develop an idea into actual creative work, the world becomes your oyster.

It’s telling that the law captures the idea that ideas want to circulate and be replicated by the most capable minds they can find.

Inspiration Can Strike Multiple People at Once

At times, a particular notion is of the zeitgeist. It’s as if it’s hovering around, waiting for the prepared person to catch it and turn it into something. Ready to take the idea and turn it into something concrete.

But it’s likely that, as far as ideas go, the universe favors redundancy.

In one of my favorite books, Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson writes that “[i]n every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts.” Emerson continues, “[t]hey come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

It’s possible that many people subconsciously recognize the same underlying truth or inspiration. And it’s possible that each person renders that underlying truth or inspiration differently. Emerson’s point can mean that multiple people often have the same idea at once. That’s why you will often see ideas that you had pulled off by other people.

And that’s just fine.

Your Unique Take Makes The Difference

It’s easy to reject our ideas because somebody else has done them already. However, resist that urge to dismiss your ideas because someone else has already had their say.

When I find that someone has written about an idea that I have that I want to write about, I remind myself that more than one person can address the same topic. I know that it may sound obvious, but many times, I have opted not to create something just because someone else did it first. Looking back, that’s a mistake.

Part of the process involves reminding myself that my views of a given subject differ from that of other people. I write differently, and the experiences that I draw upon are unique.

These differences hold for any writer.

So, just because someone else has already given their take on an idea, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also give yours. If you feel inspired to do it, you should.

Jon Tobin

Written by

Jon Tobin

Learning how to level up. 📖 Co-founder Counsel for Creators. http://counselforcreators.com

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