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Venting Creative Frustration

Scene from Disney's Tangled

One difficulty as a writer you may find yourself encountering is when you see someone come out with an idea similar to yours and your gut reaction is, “Hey, I saw that first!!”

As a writer, I find myself in a constant struggle to come up with innovative ideas since there is, as the saying goes, nothing new under the sun.

Usually this means going back to square 1. So what is it that’s bothering me lately? Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to vent properly and tell you about it.

My latest story, B—–, is something I’ve been working on since 2008. The capital city, C—-, was inspired by a French spot called Mont St. Michel, a cool island-mountain with a monastery on top. There were going to be other factors too (of course) but I loved the idea of an island city.

I wanted to make this place extra-special. Doing research into world cultures, I discovered the Thai tradition of air lanterns. I thought, “how cool!”. I even thought about using them (later) for my wedding coming up later this summer but it’s illegal in our area. So, if I can’t have them in real life, why not repurpose them for my story?

Then along came Tangled.

I’ve hesitated seeing Tangled because I’ve heard that they have a scene with lanterns. Today, I did a cursory Google search for “tangled lanterns” to get an idea of what exactly they did for the film, and stumbled onto this blog:
Disney, I see Wut You Did There

It’s a relatively succinct post but it says everything I needed to know.

Back to square 1.

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Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at LaurenJoanMiller.com.


  1. I really hate when somethign like that happens, when I was 15 or so I had a great idea, started writing a story about it. I was about half way through and I was reading a book of short stories written by Stephen King, one of the short stories was almost identical to my idea, it had been written about 15 years before I was born.

    After reading it I couldn’t continue the story, I knew the execution of the idea was different but the knowledge that someone else had used it and I had read it, tainting my own ideas was too much.


  2. Actually, my first response on reading it was “Damn, he stole my idea!” then i looked at the copy right and added “15 years before I was even born?”

    I did consider finish it, but really, it was dragging at that point, I realy had no idea how to say what I wanted to say so I gave up. Even looking back now I think that the idea was interesting, but really there was no where to go with it.

    Honestly, I would stick with the lantern idea, mainly because I love floating lanterns, they are just so cool looking.

    That is an interesting question, though really, as writers can we help being tainted? is that not a natural process when we read books/see the world/events. I do try to limit any tainting I might encounter, so if I was writing about an arsonist I would avoid reading books that follow a similar theme.


  3. I know exactly what you mean, Alan. There’s a fine line between similarity of ideas and previous exposure to another author’s work “tainting” or “influencing” our individual creative efforts. I would love to hear how other writers handle this situation.

    At some point, if you feel strongly enough about the idea and think you can change it enough that there’s no risk of “copycat syndrome”, then maybe go ahead and write it. For B—–, I’ll still be using my capital city but instead of European influences, I may have to source other ideas. Instead of a lantern festival, perhaps another form of light? We’ll see.

    Steven King is a brilliant writer but I’d be surprised if he’s never had this same problem. Did you take any comfort knowing that you both had the same idea? Non-writers have suggested before, “well, at least you’re in good company”. I don’t know about you but it never made me feel better.


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