What Did the Other Guy Write?: It’s Not Cheating….


We’ve all felt that way at some point, either while writing our respective pieces of amazing literature, or at some other point in our life. You sit down, look at what’s in front of you, and realize you have no clue what the answer is. The scene is pointless. The dialogue is somehow way too deep. The plot took a turn and is now lost in a bog in an unknown continent. Where was I going with this? Did I even write this? Basically, it may as well be in a foreign language or written in math equations. X>&$#*4=495#$(QND)= what the????

For those of you who have never felt this way, stop reading right now, close out of my website and never come back. Hiss.

Ahem. Now, for us normal people, we don’t like thinking that the last time we wrote we were possessed by the spirit of an understandably-unsuccessful-writer who drove our beautiful WIP into a series of ???!?!?! Sometimes there is nothing to be done but hit the kill [delete] button. And sometimes it’s salvageable with the right band-aid [sudden inspiration]. When a band-aid is applicable, you may have some stored in your emergency stash [idea notebook]. Or you may find you need to run to the store and ask the advice of somebody else.

Whenever I step back with a horrified “what is this swill?” I find I often turn to the wisdom of other writers. “What did she write for this sort of thing?” Looking at the works of others and seeing how they rightened a twisted plot, screwed the lid back on a maniacal character, and made every scene one of importance to the story helps me slow that blood-all-over-the-floor/test-is-in-ancient-arabic panic. I highly doubt that there is an author on my shelf that did not have to kill or bandage some part of their story, and still ended up with a publishable work. I find scenes similar to what I want, and examine the pacing. Often I look in other genres, to see just what would fit my writing style best, what would fit the story best. Even though the story is scifi, there are a lot of paranormal elements, so I’ll look at some of my paranormal books as well. Sometimes when I’m desperate I’ll take a scene from a book and write my characters into it, then step back. Does this sort of pacing work? Granted, my plot has nothing to do with the book I chose, but this scene fits the idea I originally had. So how did X write it?

It’s not cheating, it’s…learning from the published “masters.” Artists copy each other all the time, right? That’s how painters used to learn, by copying great works of art. It’s following the age-old principle of WDTOGD? (what did the other guy do?).

The trick for a good writer is to take those band-aid works, and improve, individualize, and re-invent until it’s wholly your own.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Haley Whitehall (@HaleyWhitehall)
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:39:16

    This is some of the advice that Bob Mayer teachers in his Warrior Writers workshops. To be a successful writer we don’t have to be 100% original. Finding out how issues have been handled by successful authors has really helped improve my writing not just fix the trouble spots.

    Another good post, Jennifer!


  2. Catherine Johnson
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 17:01:49

    I hate my WIP right now and I blame reading a really good book in the middle of my first draft. Mine is so different in every way, I just wish I could write mainstream fiction for once. So from today I have a rule. No reading while on the first draft. Who’s with me? 🙂 Oh and I get so much inspiration from other books, it’s good to open your eyes to new ideas. Great post.


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