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But They’ll Steal My Ideas!

 

No. No they won’t. And if they do, chances are you won’t even recognise your idea after it’s worked its way through that other writer’s psyche.

I have heard several (inevitably new and/or unpublished) writers say things like, “I don’t want to join a critique group or give my work to a beta reader or an editor because they might steal my ideas.” I shake my head when I hear this sort of comment.

I have been in workshops where a dozen writers were given the same writing prompt (in other words, the same story idea) and produced a dozen entirely different stories. I’ve never been in a workshop where two writers wrote the same – or even a similar – story from the same prompt. Never.

The other day I was talking with a writer friend, J.M.Cornwell, and she began discussing an idea she had. Her idea sparked an idea in me which took off in a different direction entirely from my friend’s idea. I sketched out a story, and then became a bit concerned that J.M. might think I had appropriated her idea. When I mentioned it to her, she said, “For crying out loud, write the story! Your story won’t be at all like mine, and you know it. Go for it.”

So I did. The story’s still in the notes and planning stage, but when I write it, I know two things: It’ll be my story, not my friend’s; and J.M. Cornwell will be okay with my taking off on her idea.

I have never worried that my critique group, beta readers, or editors would steal my ideas. After all, how many variations on “boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again” have you read? Or variations on “guy murders other guy and detective brings the murderer to justice”? Or maybe “the zombie apocalypse erupts and only a few people survive”? Honestly, you could write variations on variations on variations of those basic ideas from now till twenty minutes past forever.

Idea-theft should be the least of your concerns. Write the doggoned story. Get it critiqued, beta-read, edited. Rewrite it as needed. Make it the best, most polished bit of writing you can. And there you have it. A finished piece worth reading.

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