Okay, raise your hand if you know a writer who believes her work will be stolen if she shares it with anyone. Someone who laboriously puts a copyright symbol on every page or, worse, registers the copyright by paying the $30 (or whatever it is now). Found this post today over at Edward Champion's blog, which made me nod and say “Amen!”
The point of all this is that if you’re a writer clinging to the stubborn notion that someone is out there to “steal” your work, and if you are letting this get in the way of writing, submitting, or pitching, then I ask you for the good of humanity to step out of the way. Take up something else. All good writers are idea machines. All good writers have distinct and original voices in which an “idea” is just one component of an equation as intricate and inexplicable as love.
Perhaps this fundamental misunderstanding of the writing process is what causes so many people to ask the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Would these same people ask a bookkeeper, “How do you keep focus when you’re inundated with so many numbers?” It’s just the way writers are wired. For a writer, ideas flow through the noggin like a barely controllable fire and trying to manage all this is a bit like a good head rush during a run. There’s really nothing writers can do about this other than set it down on paper and do the best they can to convey this frenzy in coherent terms. If they’re lucky, they can make a living at this.
Afraid someone's going to steal my ideas? Nope. However, there IS something to be said for not talking about uncontracted work in detail on a public forum such as this blog. Suppose I outline my plot for you right here, in all its glory (snort), and you write up a proposal and sell it to your editor. Your work won't BE my work, but you may be cutting into my chances of selling a similar storyline because you already did so. If you think that's crazy, Alison Kent talked about that very thing on her blog a while back. (I linked to the post at the time, but can't find it now of course.) And Diana Peterfreund talks about the same thing in her post today.
When I said “keep that stuff off the internet,” I was talking about writers who blog at length about their uncontracted ideas. Call me superstitious, but I don't do it.
Sounds like good advice to me. And that is totally different than the person in your critique group who won't let anyone take a chapter home to read and comment on at leisure because he's afraid that you, dear writer, may take his brilliant idea and write it yourself. Gimme a break!
Yesterday, in fact, someone sent me a link to a blog that was criticizing (okay, ripping to shreds) that Left Behind series of books about the apocalypse. And I realized, as I read the post, that OHMYGOD, I once wrote a story in 8th grade English class about — gasp — the people left behind after the Rapture! Those thieves! They somehow got a hold of my story! They took my idea! They made millions! I'm going to sue!
Okay, okay, I'm not really that insane, and I realize that me writing about the people left behind (I called the story “Alpha and Omega”) came from a really warped church experience with a group of people I won't name but who are pretty common in the American South. They scared the everlovin' shit out of me, and so the second coming was on my mind quite a lot at the time. Maybe those two dudes went to the same church, or maybe writing about what happens to those who don't get sucked up to Heaven with Jesus is a pretty common idea since, oh, every New Testament contains the story about the second coming and no one who's read it or had it preached to them wants to be left standing on the Earth after Jesus picks up his friends and boogies.
But sometimes ideas really do run in common threads. And what you think is unique, brilliant, never before been done, may exist in many incarnations in many writers' heads. All you can do is write your story your way, and then market it to agents and editors in the hopes of seeing YOUR vision be the one on the shelves.
Steal your ideas? Puh-leeze. I've got too many of my own.
Now tell me about a time when you saw your plot or your idea or your character's name in a published book. I just told you about my left behind story, but I have another one. Once I named a horse in my WIP Sirocco. I loved it, and it's the name of that wind that blows from Africa up the Med and into Europe. Loved it. Imagine my surprise when I read, after I'd finished the book, Laura Kinsale's Prince of Midnight and she had named a horse, you guessed it, Sirocco. Damn it.