My friend Jon, in conversation about this post, helped me identify what I wanted to say far more clearly and cleverly than I was going to on my own. So rather than pretending all the good ideas are mine, here is the conversation (paraphrased) in all it's gory glory.
"What are you writing?" Jon asked.
"A Burning Zeppelin Experience post about how much it sucks to be scooped."
"That's when you have a great idea, and then it turns out that someone else got to it first."
Jon eyed our (my and the Abigail's) bookshelves, full from top to bottom with probably more than a hundred titles of all kinds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, not to mention a huge collection of roleplaying games, and said "that doesn't seem to stop anyone."
I thought about it for a moment and presently replied "and you know what the difference between them and me is, Jon? They're published."
And that just about does it.
I always feel like a dick when my advice comes to "suck it up and do it anyway," but that's about the shape of it. There are not an infinite number of plots. There aren't even an infinite number of words (even if you sometimes make some up). Therefore, there aren't an infinite number of sentences you can write, or stories you can write them in. That means that whatever you write, there is a chance that someone else will write it in the future, and worse, a chance that someone already has written it in the past.
The trick is, you can do it differently, you can do it better, and you can do it your way. And who knows? Maybe your way will be better. Maybe it will touch lives in a way that the other work couldn't. Maybe it will even sell. For example, while I would never claim to be a better writer all around than Lois McMaster Bujold, a master of the fantasists craft who has been doing this for a very long time, I think A Knight of the Land is better than Beguilement.
That's right. I said it.
I think A Knight of the Land has a more interesting setting, more dynamic characters, and a more compelling story arc. I think it manages to achieve in one book what the whole Sharing Knife series hasn't achieved in two. I also think it needs a lot of work before it's even ready to go to agents, let alone publishers. However, I'll never get that chance if I don't edit it, and I'd never have gotten to edit it if I hadn't finished it.
So, case in point, when you are scooped, get off the floor, pull your heart back into your chest, and write it anyway.
* * *
One last point: the great ones deal with this, too.
In his introduction to Martin Millar's The Good Fairies of New York, fantasist god Neil Gaiman wrote that he let The Good Fairies of New York sit on his bookshelf for months - months! - because he was afraid that it would kill his enthusiasm for American Gods.
This brings me to my last point: if you think reading something will kill your enthusiasm for a project of your own, do what I (and, you know, Neil Gaiman) do. Don't read it! Trust me, books don't go anywhere. It will still be there when you're done (and ready to steal the best ideas for your first edit!).
* * *
- When have you been scooped?
- How did it feel?
- What did you do about it?
- Am I a dick for sometimes writing advice that comes out as "get the hell over it?"