• Laurine Croes

Is your story idea already published? No big deal!

Give them the middle finger

It’s probably the first thing you do when you have a great idea: Google it to see if it’s been done before. F*ck - chances are you will find out that it has, and you might feel discouraged to continue your project. It happens to the best of us!

The first thing I want you to understand is that it doesn’t matter. This is one of the most important things I learned from my brilliant teacher during my master’s degree in investigative journalism, back in 2017. As a student, you mostly learn by looking at what others have done before you. That’s how you get better. You look, analyse, copy and then start playing around with original elements. I always wanted to be the most original and come up with stories no one in the whole world, in all the years, had ever come up with. Of course, that never happened. I was discouraged, felt like I wasn't a good enough journalist and often quit a perfectly good writing project. My teacher actually made me look at it completely differently. He would say:

The fact that your idea has already been published, only means it is an idea worth publishing.

And you can feel pretty good about that! Of course, we're not there yet. Fine, my ideas are worthy of publication in the newspapers and magazines I would like to write for, but it doesn't change the fact that I'm always a step behind the curve. It's already been done, right? Well, drill these words into your head like my teacher has drilled them into mine:

"What is your angle?"

An idea, be it for a story, novel, article, blog or research project, is universal. Multiple people of multiple cultures in multiple countries can have the same idea. And they often do! What makes an idea unique is the person who holds that idea and turns it into a story or a novel or an article or a blog or a research project. The fact that you have the same idea as someone else does not mean you will go and do the exact same thing with it - so find out what it is that makes the idea interesting from your point of view. What's your angle? I would go on to publish original features about topics that were already covered, many times, all over the world.

It has been done, but not by you

American author Elizabeth Gilbert perhaps best describes the creative struggle of originality and ideas in her book Big Magic (available on Amazon or Bol.com). Although published in 2015, this book is still the most inspiring read that gets me out of my own creative prison: the fear of not being original. Gilbert inspires to follow your ideas with a childlike curiosity - just to see where it might lead you. Step by step, through research, by asking questions and by exploring possibilities. Don't expect anything, just trust your curiosity to lead you places others might not have gone. And that is precisely how ideas use you to become original works.

“It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

A story is never finished

It can happen that the story you want to write has been written almost exactly the way you wanted to write it and published by the same publication you intended to pitch it to. If your idea has been written about, don't let it go just yet. As time goes on, so does your story. What happens next? A story doesn't end the moment it's published, and you should never treat your idea as such a finite treasure. Maybe move on to something else for a few months and re-visit the idea. What's changed? Maybe your initial perspective of the story has changed, or maybe the person the story is about has. You might be able to offer valuable new insight just by waiting for the right time.

To summarise:

Reasons it doesn’t matter that your idea has already been published:

1 - It has been done, but not by you

2 - There are multiple angles to every story that fit different publications

3 - You know you have the right ideas for publication, so have faith

4 - A story is never finished. As time goes on, so does your story. Follow up!

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