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Why No One Wants to Steal Your Idea (and if anyone does, why you shouldn’t sweat it)

 

Jump into any writer’s forum online and you won’t have to scroll very far to find newbie writers terrified that someone will steal their ideas (which are, of course, all very valuable and definitely worth stealing). How do you ever manage to get feedback, they lament, when the internet is just crawling with people ready to pilfer your precious ideas? The replies are invariably filled with plenty of validation for this belief: Never share an idea, they say! Put a copyright on everything! Don’t even tell people that you’re writing something!

I’m here to tell you this belief is not true. No one wants your idea.

No, not even yours, reader. Yes, I understand it is a Very Good Idea. Still.

Now, I know people will appear from out the woodwork with stories of how a friend of a friend had a Very Good Idea stolen. Inevitably, these Very Good Ideas will have gone on to become full blown novels, sometimes even Hollywood movies. Others will claim to have sold ideas, as if there was a market for such things. A subscription service, perhaps.

I’m sure, in the entire history of the internet, it has happened at some point or another. Ideas have been stolen, and grave injustice has been perpetrated upon innocent idea-havers who would otherwise have gone on to fame and fortune. “Wizarding school, that was my idea!” they cry.

Sad though these stories are, as writers, they should concern us not at all. We’ve all heard the saying “opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” Well, ideas are a little bit like that too. Ideas are everywhere, available free of charge. However, an idea does not make a book. An idea is simply that — a vague notion, something that might, with time and effort, take shape and become a book, a movie, a work of art. An idea is worthless in and of itself. The polishing of the idea, the development of the characters, the worldbuilding, the plot, the tension, the stakes the research, the detail  — well, you get it. All of this is what it takes to turn an idea into a book. Needless to say, ideas are the easy part.

What’s more, two different artists can take one idea and turn it into two very different things. Look no further than the various adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays to see how an idea (or even an entire plot) can play out in various different ways. Disney’s The Lion King is Hamlet played out with animals, whereas Ten Things I Hate About You is The Taming of the Shrew set in a high school. So even if someone does steal your Very Good Idea, do not fret. Chances are their book and yours will come out entirely different in the end.

Finally, and most importantly, writers don’t need to steal ideas. Ideas are perhaps the one thing that most writers have in abundance. We might lack the time to write every idea that we’ve ever had. We might lack the skills to turn a complex idea into a competent novel. We might even lack the creative energy needed to turn a simple idea into a fully fledged work of art. Ideas are the easy part. Writing those ideas is what’s hard. Currently I have at least five different novel ideas (aside from my main work-in-progress) simply waiting for me to write them. My critique partners have similar backburner ideas. Every writer worth their salt is constantly getting inspired by their world and experiences. The ideas are not the hard part.

Here is a controversial opinion: The writers who believe that their ideas are the best part about their writing are the writers who will have a hard time ever completing a novel. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting inspired by new ideas, but I also know that the journey from idea to completed novel is a long and arduous one. I will have many ideas as I grow as a writer. Some will become books, and some will not. Worry less about the ideas, and more about what it takes to become the sort of writer that can transform ideas into works of art.

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