Friday, September 8, 2017

How to Use Other Writers as Inspiration for Your Book


How To Use Other Writers As Inspiration For Your Book - Writer's

Every good writer knows that reading is the key to writing a good book. Finding inspiration from other writers is natural and a fantastic part of the writing process. In fact, it’s what inspires many of us to try our hand at writing our own books in the first place.
From heart-wrenching romances to epic adventures, any book that you read is likely to have been inspired by another writer. That’s not to say that all stories are simply copies of others, but that even the greatest writers of our time will happily tell you that some of their ideas and inspiration came from reading other people’s work.
People have been telling stories since the dawn of time, so it’s no wonder that many contemporary books are derivatives of a story that came before them.
Of course, there is a line. And it’s essential that writers understand where that line is and make sure they don’t cross it. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to ripping off ideas from another writer's work, you are more likely to find them disgruntled and possibly ready to take action against you if you are lazy about how you use other writer’s ideas.
So how do you use other writers as inspiration for your book without being criticised or creating the possibility of a lawsuit looming down your neck? No respected writer wants to be accused of simply stealing the ideas from another, so making sure that you get the balance right is important.

Here’s how you do it:

Read widely
The more widely you read, the more likely you are to be inspired by a range of writers; therefore it will be less tempting and harder to ‘accidentally’ steal another writer's ideas or just copy their writing style.

Never copy word for word
Never lift someone else’s words and try to pass them off as your own. You will get caught, and your reputation as a writer will be destroyed too.

Think carefully about where your ideas came from
Sometimes we might think we’ve had an original idea, but when we examine where it came from, and we suddenly realise it’s because we read so-and-so. Always try to understand how and why you have thought of a particular story and make sure you aren’t just directly stealing it from someone else.

Always give your ideas a unique twist
As we’ve said before, it is OK to be inspired by other stories you’ve read, but don’t make yours exactly the same. Use bits of that story to inform your own, give yours a unique twist, and a different perspective to ensure it doesn’t feel to same-y to your readers.

Write in your own unique voice
Finding your writing voice is so important, and doing so will make your writing always feel authentically your own.

Be happy to credit other authors for inspiring you
If there is a reason why you want to lift ideas from another story, be sure not to try and deny all knowledge of doing so. Saying you were inspired by such and such a writer can make all the difference. If you are open and honest about it, people are far more likely to respect that.

Ask them if it’s OK
Of course, a more direct approach is to contact the author in question explain that you loved their work and tell them about your ideas - ask them if they are happy with your writing and see what they say.

Don’t ‘jump on the bandwagon.’
Sometimes there is a craze for new sorts of writing where one book will become a bestseller such as Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey, and suddenly hundreds of poor imitations spring up into existence. Don’t write a story just for the sake of it. Write it because it’s the story you’ve always been dying to share with the world.

Stay true to yourself and the story you are trying to tell
If you have a story that is burning inside you, it’s your story to tell - try always to stay true to that - you’ll know if you’re not. Writing something that you know is unique yours is a wonderful feeling, and far superior to simply trying to imitate something someone else has written already.

We know that every story has been inspired in one way or another, by a story that has come before it - and that’s OK. By using the tips above you will be telling your story, in your way, and that’s what good, original writing is all about.

As some of you may know from reading my blog, it was reading Prozac Nation that made me want to write my own story of being on the medication. I'd wanted to to write something I felt was meaningful to me and my experience with accepting my depression seemed to be the perfect subject.  For a while, however, I was discouraged by the idea, thinking my story was just too similar, that I was stealing Elizabeth Wurtzel's thunder by writing on the subject of Prozac. Wurtzel was considered the Generation X face of the iconic drug (noted in the video below) thanks to her best-selling book. 

I felt there could only be one book on such a subject and that it had already been written. But others I knew convinced me that it doesn't matter that other people have written on a similar topic, that everyone has an entirely different story to tell. Everyone's experience is different. Each person's backstory is what sets their story apart. A local bar owner in my home town wrote a memoir on how she dealt with her husband's alcoholism. Plenty of people have had alcoholic relatives, but how many such people are Christian women who owner a bar dominated by motorcycle-riding patrons? This is the author's backstory here.

As if she knew what someone else might be thinking one day, Wurtzel noted in the epilogue of her iconic memoir that:
“…The fact that depression is ‘up in the air’ can be both the cause and the result of a level of societal malaise that that so many feel.  But once someone is a clinical case, once someone is in a hospital bed or in stretcher headed for the morgue, his story is absolutely and completely his own. Every person who has experienced a severe depression has his own sad, awful tale to tell, his own mess to live through. …” 

Similarly, in her depression memoir Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah quotes the editor she worked under at The Washington Post as suggesting she write a piece on her depression, asking if she'd read William Styron's book on depression (he doesn't mention the book by name) and that if Danquah were to write a piece, she would have to avoid repeating what had already been said, which he felt would be hard to do, Danquah's reply to this was:

Yeah, right. Like Styron and I would have the same angle on anything. We had the same illness; the similarities end there. The way I did depression was a-whole-nother bag of beans. I’m a single black mother about half a paycheck away from the government cheese line.” 

Again, it was as if the author knew that someone might be thinking something similar one day down the road.  Danquah definitely had something different to say on the subject, presenting it from the perspective of a black woman. 

I noted these two quotes in the new epilogue I recently wrote for my memoir. I hope to be able to obtain permission to use them in the final product if one day my story sees the light of day.

My friend at the behavioral health center said that Prozac Nation was ahead of its time. It was written in 1994, only seven years after the drug had been approved for use as an antidepressant. He did not begin taking the drug until 2001, after the 9/11 attacks. I myself did not begin until 2015, about 15 years after a failed treatment (in my mind) on several other antidepressants including Paxil. Somehow the psychiatrist I'd seen then did not think of prescribing Prozac, which was the first SSRI on the market and the most well-known one (This is one of the things I noted in my memoir). It wasn't until the mid- to late-1990s that Prozac became a well-known name, even though it was introduced in 1987. Wurtzel was one of the first people to be prescribed Prozac, which one of the things that makes her story stand out. In the video above, she felt writing about her experience would be something people can relate to. I certainly felt that way after reading her book. And now I'm trying to tell a story others can relate to, offering my point of view. 

As for jumping on the "bandwagon," I have tried not to do that. It has been more than 20 years since the iconic Prozac Nation was written and Danquah's memoir (though not as well-known) was published in 1998, almost two decades ago.  But the subject of depression is universal and still occurs, so there can be ways to offer a new perspective on the subject.

I can bet that reading Twilight has inspired a number of other vampire novels, though some, like The Vampire Diaries, preceded Twilight. Stephenie Meyer was said to have come up with the idea for her Twilight series from a dream. I can imagine that others one day may have a similar dream and think that it will make a great book. if so, they can write it. It  won't be the exactly the same dream Meyer had, but others will be likely interested based on the popularity of the vampire novel. 

How have other writes been inspiring to you?


  1. We have a friend who considers himself a writer. He doesn't read. And I believe his writing shows that lack.
    I suspect a writer gets inspiration/ideas/material from everywhere. And it is the individuality which makes (or breaks) their piece.

  2. Honestly, it's strange that I get inspired by reading...but it's not to copy the idea of the book I'm reading. Usually it's some small thing within the story that sparks an idea. Some of my best ideas have come while reading someone else's book!

  3. I like to read books in a genre I plan to write to get me in the mood to sink into that type of world. I try not to copy anything, but perhaps some of the flavor of those words seeps though. I do the same thing when watching tv shows really. Though there's less thought involved with tv than a book.

  4. I would love to 'dream' a book, but my dreams dissipate like snowflakes in sun.
    Have a safe weekend.