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She Stole My Idea!

by Kim Vogel Sawyer

A couple of months ago, I came across an article about Lisa Wingate’s recent release, Before We Were Yours. You’ve probably heard about it—set simultaneously in 1939 Memphis and present day Aikens, South Carolina, it’s the fictionalized account of the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home Society which stole babies and adopted them out to wealthy families. I’m a Wingate fan, so I was eager to read the article, but as I read, my heart began to sink.

Set in both contemporary and historical time periods.

Children being stolen.

A generational tale.

All three of those descriptors fit my newest title, Bringing Maggie Home, which was set to release in only a few more weeks. Yes, I had a little panic attack. What if people thought I stole her idea? After all, hers released first. Would people realize I’d turned in my manuscript a full year before I saw the article about Lisa’s book? Would they believe I hadn’t overheard her talking and decided to borrow her idea or had somehow sneaked into her brain by mental telepathy and harvested her creativity?

I took my concerns (honestly, it was more like my hysteria) to a group of trusted author friends, and their responses sprinkled welcome water on my fire of worry. Apparently this happens. A LOT. Two writers, completely unbeknownst to each other, grabbing hold of a similar idea and setting off into story world at the same time.

There are some similarities between Lisa’s story and mine, but there are some real differences, too.

Lisa’s is written in first person, present tense; mine is third person, past tense.

Lisa’s is more relationship discovery, less mystery; mine is equal portions of both.

The biggest difference: Lisa’s has her trademark writing voice; mine has…well, mine.

You see, as my wonderfully comforting writer friends pointed out, writer voice will always set apart your story from someone else’s, even if the basis for the story is similar. Each writer brings to the story his/her own background and experiences, his/her own way of viewing the world, his/her unique way of stringing words together. Reviews have started coming in for Bringing Maggie Home, and a couple of them have mentioned that the story “reminded them” somewhat of Lisa’s story, but that it still stands out as its own unique telling.

Its own unique telling… That is music to a writer’s ears. After all, we write to share from our heart. Our tales wouldn’t be nearly as effective if we were borrowing someone else’s inspiration.

Mark Twain said it best: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

So, writer, don’t despair if someone else seems to have landed on “your” idea. Keep turning the kaleidoscope. Something of beauty, something uniquely yours, will emerge.

God bless you muchly as you journey with Him!

With more than 1.5 million copies of her books in print worldwide, Kim Vogel Sawyer enjoys a full-time writing and speaking ministry. Kim and her retired military husband, Don, live in small-town Kansas, the setting for many of her books. Learn more about Kim’s writing at www.KimVogelSawyer.com.

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10 Responses to She Stole My Idea!

  1. Gina Holder says:

    I had this happen the other day. I saw a new release by an author with a similar premise to my novel in progress. There’s a lot of differences too, but at first it’s a definite sinking heart moment! BTW- I am reading Bringing Maggie Home and I love it! (Singsong voice!)

  2. Kim, I’ve had the same experience. I was told early on that no two authors write the same thing the same way, and so far that’s proven right. Thanks for sharing this information and your experience.

  3. Daphne Woodall says:

    Before you said it my thought was each voice is different. But I understand you wanting readers to acknowledge your integrity. I had a story that was fiction but then the storyline became similarly real in the news and my only proof is the dates on my emails where I sent it to myself. I can’t wait to read “Bringing Maggie Home”.

  4. Gina, loved your comment, and especially the sing-song voice. 🙂 Thank you!

    Doc, always fun to hear from you.

    Daphne, isn’t it funny how “great minds think alike”? Sure am glad our voices stand out as our own!

  5. So sorry for your panic, Kim! Perhaps the fact that ideas are “in the air” all around us is the reason that they cannot be copyrighted. 🙂

    Solomon, the wisest man of all time, said this: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9). So be encouraged, my friend! 🙂

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn
    ______________________________
    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA
    Author & Writing Coach

  6. Janet Ferguson says:

    Same here with my first book Leaving Oxford! I love your books and Lisa’s, too! I know they both will be fantastic!

  7. Pearl Allard says:

    Kim, this is comforting, and the Mark Twain quote is going to stick with me. I’m a new writer wondering what on earth I was thinking when all topics have been covered bazillions of times over. Crazy? Called? Kaleidoscope. Thank you.

  8. Kimberly says:

    This happened to me too except I’m indie publishing this particular book. I went so far as to consider not publishing it. Mine was already written when the other one came out. I still haven’t published it but plan to in March of 2018 after being encouraged to do so by multiple people.
    I have the same fear though. What if people think I copied her idea?

  9. Amy Lillard says:

    Yep! Had the same thing happen to me…more than once! Then after the initial shock, I realized that (hopefully) there would be enough differences in the books that readers wouldn’t make a strong connection. so far so good! LOL

  10. Paula says:

    I believe there is no such thing as an original idea. I figure God has all the ideas first and decides to give them to us. A whisper here, a whisper there. “Tell *this* story,” he says. “Hold out *this* truth.” By His Spirit, we speak to the audience He intends to reach.