All writers have experienced synchronicity—two or more people coming up with the same idea at the same time. And if you haven’t, and you write for long enough, synchronicity will happen to you, too. Historically, many inventions and theories have surfaced simultaneously, often from people on opposite sides of the globe. For example, two scientists came up with the theory of the evolution of species in 1858. Darwin just published his version first. And in 1876, both Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell
filed patents for the telephone on the very same day.
For freelance writers, this phenomenon occurs when you realize that several others have already published articles based on that fabulous idea you just pitched. In the world of fiction writing, this unlucky coincidence happens when you’re chatting with another writer and figure out that you’re both writing novels with similar plot lines and characters—or worse—your book is launched and a similar title hits the shelves in the same month. For essayists who write about the human condition, it may be even more common.
‘I wanted to hate the imposter article…’ (Illustration by Josh Quick)
This causal connection happened recently to me, when I opened my computer one morning to find a published essay that was frighteningly similar to the piece I’d submitted the night before. My essay, “An Open Letter to the Mom with the Toddler and the Baby,” was my response to seeing an exhausted mother in the grocery store. She was wearing a baby in a sling and a toddler ran around her legs as she tried to shop. Seeing that mom brought back memories of how tiring those days were when my kids were small. I was so certain that my piece was fresh and unique that I was shocked when I opened my Facebook newsfeed to see an essay eerily similar to mine–published on the very blog I’d pitched!
That other essay referenced a mom the writer saw in a warehouse parking lot. This mom also wore her baby in a sling and had older kids running around. Although the titles were different, the essays both adopted a similarly soothing tone, told from an “I’ve been there” perspective. That writer even makes several of the same points that I do and ends the piece in almost the same way. I wanted to hate that imposter article, but it was actually really good.
The thing is, synchronicity happens. Blame it on the internet, the collective unconscious, or just plain bad luck. I would argue that, when synchronicity strikes, writers experience five stages of grief. First, Denial.
That essay isn’t exactly like mine. There are differences, really. I’m sure my topic is so evergreen that the publisher will need another piece like mine soon. Maybe a different editor at the publication will see my creation, be overcome by my brilliance and publish it immediately. Mine is so much better.
Once you’ve moved through Denial, Anger takes over.
This is not fair. Just because that writer turned in her article sooner, she got hers published. If I wasn’t so busy with all of the stupid stuff I have to do, I would’ve written mine earlier, too.
Eventually, your anger will burn out, and then you’ll begin the Bargaining process. You’ll start making mental deals with imaginary editors.
Maybe if I tweak my prose just a little, it will still work? I’ll rewrite the whole thing, if they would just accept my essay. I’ll even let the magazine print my piece for free; I don’t need a paycheck. I’ll do it for the glory and the writing credit. Bargaining usually doesn’t last long, especially since you probably won’t get what you asked for.
Unfortunately, you aren’t done yet. Depression will hit next. During this stage, you will want to give up and Never Write Again. Ever. Some of the thoughts repeating on an endless loop in your head might be:
Why do I even try? The freelance market is oversaturated anyway. What’s the point? I could paper several full walls with my rejections. I’ll never make it as a writer. I suck.
Hopefully, the Depression stage will be short and you can roll right into Acceptance. With Acceptance comes renewed hope.
There are lots of other markets. I’ll rework my query and send it out again. My essay will be published somewhere, someday.
The next time synchronicity slams you in the ego, just remember it happens to all writers. Work your way through the stages of grief, then send out your work again. And again. And take comfort in the fact that great minds think alike.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable. Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is an award-winning freelance writer and essayist. She lives with her three children and husband in the foothills of the Cascade mountains near Seattle, Washington, where she loves to hike, read and drink lots of coffee.