Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Do I Keep People from Stealing My Ideas?

I’m sitting in Barnes & Noble, sipping hot chocolate, staring into space. At least I think I’m staring into space. Until I hear,

“Do you see that girl over there? She’s checking me out. She’s staring at me.”

And I realize – I’ve been staring “at” a 15-year-old blond-haired-surfer for the past several minutes. Sadly, he’s mistaken my writers’-block-staring-into-space for wow-she-thinks-I’m-hot--aren’t-I-awesome?

I want to jump. Slap the boy. Explain I have my own fully-grown blond-haired-surfer at home.

But the B&N boy is convinced it’s all about him. Which honestly, reminds me a little of myself.

Especially at the beginning of my career.

I am ashamed to admit that several years ago I was scared to share my writing ideas with other writers for fear my brilliance would be stolen. I know, conceited, right? I just knew my amazing book or article would be ripped right out from under me.

But that was before I realized:

•    Writers are full of their own ideas. Most writers have more concepts than time, and they are more in love with their own ideas than the ideas of others.
•    My plans are not the most awesome on the planet. This one hurt. A lot.
•    Even on the very minuscule .0000002 chance my idea is “stolen”, no one can ever steal the way I would write this story… the voice, the tone, the humor… or really anything I would use to make the story “mine”.

So there you have it. Next time you’re worried about sharing your dreams because someone might steal them, remember the blond-haired-surfer in Barnes and Noble. And remember your writer-friends probably have their very own surfer at home.

And they probably like him a lot better.

B.J. Hamrick is the editor of Real Teen Faith.


  1. Hahahaha you probably made his day ;) I sit at B&N and stare at the mural of the wall of famous artists. Inspiring - and yet safe....hehe

  2. Great topic! I was doing a writing critique thing recently & for my submission I took more than a wink & a nudge from a songs, all four paragraphs started with a line from the song but the rest was mine. I got a good critique I as even told she can see I have good stuff coming!
    I was so excited but now I'm wondering was the good from the song I stole or what I actually wrote ya know?

  3. You always have the best analogies BJ!
    Funny thing is I get afraid to tell people my ideas because I'm afraid they'll think they are no good! So it's hard to tell people I'm attempting my first novel because I don't  want to be laughed at.

    I have a few questions maybe you guys could post about it the future:
    - when writers say they aim for x number of words a day, does that mean edited words? Or brains dumped words?

    - most writers talk about having writing at least one book before their first published book. So when you guys wrote your first books how did you approach it. Where you all "this is going to be published" or did you think " I'm writing a book to learn to write a book. If it isn't published ok, my second will be better"

    - have any of you gone back to the first things you wrote & tried to rework it?

    - how do you decide if an idea is good enough to work on as a book?

  4. Since las week I have been struggling with my WIP. I thought I had an idea was a little stuck, came up with a different idea & realized idea B could be a new plot twist for idea A, I'd just have to change some things. 
    I'm feeling confused over which to choose, how do you choose?
    & changing to B would involve changing the characters a bit & i feel slightly stange/guilt/sad/neglectful bc I was getting to know them. Almost like I'm a bad friend for changing, any advice?

  5. Anonymous, my first response is...don't stress. Take the compliment and move forward. :) Remember though that songs, almost ALL songs except for some general domain hymns, are copyrighted. I doubt you'd be able to use those lyrics legally in a published book. I tried to use two lines of the hymn Just As I am, spread apart, during a chapter of my novel coming out in August (FIREMAN DAD) and my editor said it was protected and I couldn't even do that. I was a little surprised. So be careful of that sort of thing. It's fine if it inspires you now, but when it comes time to submit to an agent or editor, I'd change it.

    Tonya, great topics! We'll get rid on them. :)

    I think for your first question the answer typically would be "words on the page" not edited because usually authors go back and edit in a second draft, or at least a day or two later. So if your word count goal was 2,000 words in a day, that would just mean that you wrote 2,000 words. Doesn't have to mean they're perfect and submission-ready. :)

  6. Tonya, so sorry. Meant "RIGHT" on them. Not rid of them. hahahahahaa

  7. Savvy, it's actually a good sign you are attached to your characters and feel that way. :) That means you are connected to the story and if you are connected, the odds of an editor or agent or reader connecting later are stronger! So don't worry about that. Just try to detach a little and think "which idea is more interesting" or "which idea has the most conflict" or "which idea would I like to read about more as a reader?" Be honest and there is your answer!

    It is definitely hard, though, anytime revisions are involved it gets emotional and tricky, but its part of the writing process. You need that practice because I can guarantee you a future edtior is going to have revisions on your contracted novels. We all go through it. You can do it ! :)

  8. I love this. I have totally stared at someone without meaning to and about the same thing happened, but it was his girlfriend who thought I was checking him out! Yeah, not good. Anyway, I have thought the same... someone stole my idea and it would never work the way I want it to, or become as successful. But I recently read (on someones blog that I can't remember), that if you twist an old classic (ex. Romeo and Juliette) you will get a good story come out of it :) THAT is awesome.
    (... isn't anywhere that sells/has books, a true writers dream!?)

  9. You guys are awesome! Betsy, thanks for answering a lot of the questions. I'll see if I can break down a post with one of the other questions this week.

    Loved hearing from you!