Cryptomnesia or Inspiration?

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I came across a book on a site on Facebook that seemed so incredibly similar to Shadow People, that I rushed off to Amazon to check if it had been plagiarised, or worse still that I had had some sort of cryptomnesia episode when I was writing it. It was a massive relief when I saw that it had been published well after mine, so if any pinching had been going on I wasn’t the one doing it. Still – even though it was a totally different story, quite a lot of the characters in it seemed to be described uncannily similar to mine.

Then I saw a bit of a movie about a ghost writer that again made me wonder if I was subconsciously swiping other people’s ideas, although to be honest the only similarities to my Emmaline were that there was a ghost writer in it, and one of the characters was called Emmaline. Even though my book had been completely written – albeit roughly – quite a while before I saw the movie, I immediately and crossly started thinking of other names for it – not wanting anyone to be thinking that I’d got the idea for one of my scribbles from someone else’s story. Finally I opened a new book from my TBR pile, and saw that one of the characters in it suffered from the same disorder, and displayed similar traits as one of mine, in one of my three books to be published this year. My first thought was that I’d wasted quite a chunk of my time writing a book that I now had to bin because someone else had written about the same issue. I’ve done that before – deleted whole stories – always wanting to be totally original.

After quite a bit of jumping up and down – tantrum wise – it occurred to me that pretty much everything under the sun has been imagined or written about by some scribbler or another, so my over the top behaviour with these things was actually not very clever. The penny dropped finally. There’s more than enough to be getting on with in this industry without inventing new hurdles for yourself to angst over, so I’m not ever going to worry again about what I write, because I know myself, and I know that what I write all comes from me regardless of whether the topics or issues in it are popular or written about by many others.

The cryptomnesia is quite an interesting thing though. It’s amazing how our own brains have the ability to nobble us. Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism at the age of eleven when her story The Frost King appeared to have been nicked from Margaret Canby’s The Frost Fairies. Helen insisted that she had found out that The Frost Fairies had been read to her earlier, but that she had no recollection of it when she wrote her story. She also said much later in her life that that incident had put her off ever attempting to write fiction again because of the furore it caused, although she did have a lot of supporters, including Mark Twain.

So even though this serious form of unconscious plagiarism seems to be a real thing, I don’t see any point in worrying too much about basic similarities in stories now. It’s all about the writing after all, and if anyone really does swipe any of mine on purpose, I suppose that’s quite a compliment.


17 thoughts on “Cryptomnesia or Inspiration?

    Janetweightreed said:
    August 26, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I found this interesting – the key is to just continue to write:)

    Liked by 1 person

      jorobinson176 responded:
      August 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      So true – although I wasted quite a bit of time wondering about it. Just continue to write it is for me now too though. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    coldhandboyack said:
    August 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I notice similar things all the time. It’s bothersome, but I know my works are original. If someone else hits the publish button first there’s nothing I can do about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Charles Yallowitz said:
    August 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    It is interesting how often you find similar stories from unconnected sources. Though I wonder if part of the reason we see this is because you have a lot of people hunting for such things. Especially when you write in a genre because you always get comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

    Bruce Thiesen said:
    August 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    It’s pretty tall order for anyone`s music, writing, art, clothing style, or much else yo be pure original. Even if they are dedicated to the goal and careful not to cross the line. It may be impossible. There’s an mathematical equation out there to give us the odds, which must be affected by the changes in technology and the way we experience the world. Anyway, I agree with your conclusion; you know why and how you write. Just keep going.

    Liked by 1 person

    olganm said:
    August 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    It’s always happened. If you look at the Classics, from Shakespeare on, some stories are pretty universal and everybody living in a certain period of time has probably heard them at some level or other and make them their own. Very few things can be truly original and the more we check, read, talk to people, watch movies, the more likely it is that we’ll be influenced by something we hear, even things we haven’t paid much attention to. As far as we don’t intentionally rip somebody else’s work… As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery, so if somebody is inspired by your work, that’s a nice compliment.

    Liked by 1 person

    teagan geneviene said:
    August 26, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Jo, you sound like me — i try so hard to come up with something completely original. A few years ago before i started work on an epic fantasy, i was again trying for something unique. So i took every fantasy in my personal collection, and then everything in a movie or TV show. I meticulously broke each one down into several basic categories. My conclusion — EVERYTHING has already been done.
    What was i to do?
    My next question was if everything on my large spreadsheet had already been done when the next best seller was written… Was it any good? Answer — YES, i had enjoyed this long list of “Been Done” stories.
    So i wrote what i wanted. Hugs! 🙂


    Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. said:
    August 26, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Most stories in all genres have a similar formula – particularly romance for example.. Girl meets boy, falls in love, boy or girl does a runner, boy or girl goes into spiral and is rescued by a knight in shining armour who looks like Richard Gere…there must be 50 million books out there – I would say that a fair few of them have got similar names, plots and locations…. as you say – unless you physically pinch chunks everything you write is from you own fertile imagination….XXS


    theowllady said:
    August 27, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


    Sherri said:
    August 27, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Very interesting this Jo, I hadn’t heard of cryptomnesia so thanks for explaining that! I haven’t ventured down the fiction road yet, other than short stories and flash, as you know I’m working on my memoir, but I do have ideas that I squirrel away for future WIP and recently I came up with what I thought was a great idea. I was so fired up about it and told my daughter enthusiastically (she is great to talk to about writing as she writes on her blogs and she and I bounce off one another a lot). Well, my enthusiasm melted instantly when she told me that it sounded exactly like a film she had watched once called What Maisy Knew (Maisy is also the name of one of our cats coincidentally!). So we rented it and watched it together and she was right. I couldn’t believe it. There I was thinking up what I thought was this great idea for a novel and not only has it been written but it’s been made into a film!!!!! Put me right off…until I realised that (and just as you say) nothing is new under the sun and we just have to keep writing as we feel led as after all, what we write will still be unique and new to us and will always have something fresh for readers to digest. Hopefully 🙂 Hope you haven’t been plagarised though…
    Love & hugs to you for a lovely day my lovely friend… ❤ xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox 🙂


    Kev said:
    August 27, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    I’d never heard of Cryptomnesia, Jo. It’s very interesting. Of course I have nothing to worry about with my Miedo series as it’s all true and from my own life. But my other works… naw, I actually strive to be different and present something unique so I don’t think I’ll have much to worry about. It’s good to know though. I wonder if this person had read, Shadow People than Jo? You may have been the inspiration. I liked your idea of the spaceships. Might use that one day… just kidding. But I do like it. I thought that was quite unique. 🙂


    christineplouvier said:
    August 27, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    The name thing is what’s eerie, to me, especially if it’s an unusual one I know I’ve never heard, before.


    Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. said:
    August 30, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    As usual Jo Robinson ventures into territorial waters around rocky subjects in a writers daily life….. For anyone who has read thousands of books over half a century or more, there has to have been some form of osmosis as facts, stories, names and plots infiltrated our systems. Anyway I suggest you might like to read the post for yourself.


    Seumas Gallacher said:
    September 6, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    ,,subliminally, there will always be the possibility of bits you’ve read elsewhere sticking in your mind that you believe in good faith are yours … go ahead .. print and be NOT damned, m’Lady 🙂


      jorobinson176 responded:
      September 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      And there was me thinking I was one of a kind – never mind – print I will! 🙂 X


    Cynthia Reyes said:
    September 9, 2014 at 5:38 am

    We can barely ever have what we think is a unique experience without discovering it has been shared by many others.
    Same could be said about what we write.
    I had written something very close to that first sentence above, only to later discover that author Elizabeth Goudge had said something very similar in her autobiogrphy. The words above are hers.
    Since she lived and wrote long before I came along, I can hardly accuse of her of plagiarism!


      jorobinson176 responded:
      September 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Ha haaa – true! There’s nothing new in the universe. 🙂


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