Even Ideas Need Fresh Air and Light to Grow

The natural inclination of many new writers is to play their cards close to their vest, to keep their best ideas secret so no one else will steal them. Sometimes, these folks get sufficiently paranoid that the mark their submissions with copyright symbols (which mark the writer as an amateur) or imagine James Bond-worthy conspiracies wherein some agent, editor, or movie studio exec steals the million-dollar concept from their rejected submission and then passes the sacred spark to one of their experienced, already-rich-and-famous writers.

Such is the stuff lawsuits are made of.

The truth, however, is more complicated. Early in my career, someone told me (wish I could recall who) that when a great idea comes into the world, it does not come to you alone. And since ideas can't be copyrighted, only their physical expression, the best defense is to create, polish, and submit your version with all due speed and diligence.

But if you keep your thoughts jealously to yourself, you could be missing a valuable resource. If you're lucky enough to have a few trusted compatriots, it can help to hash out an idea as you're writing. Discerning colleagues can point out and help you shore up weaknesses before they become rejections. They can help you make your way through knotty problems and suggest solutions that suggest their own, even better solutions. (I refer to what happens in these brainstorming sessions as "spring-boarding" or "piggybacking" since each new idea supports deeper thinking that leads to more viable ideas.)

I was fortunate enough last night to have a conversation with romantic suspense author Christie Craig that turned into a terrific plotting session. I had a premise, characters, and a whole bunch of interesting possibilities, but I hadn't yet defined the story's central conflicts. Christie, who by all rights I might view as a competitor, offered to help, then dove right into the soup and helped me seine out the good stuff.

Do I worry that she'll "steal" my ideas? Heck, no. For one thing, even if we were to write about the exact same plot elements, our voices and styles are so different, the outcomes would bear very little resemblance to each other. For another, both of us have been writing long enough to understand that even novelists, who are by nature less collaborative than many other types of writers, breathe in the same inspiration that floats on the collective ether.

So don't be afraid to seek out help when you need it, to talk through a tangled problem, or invite a supportive fellow writer (no defeatists, naysayers, or saboteurs allowed!) to help you identify and correct any weaknesses before you send off your submission. Expose your idea to the light, then stand back and watch it grow.


Suzan Harden said…
You and Christie, competitors? Pfit!

But it's still a wonderful point.

I remember a writing exercise at a Northwest RWA chapter meeting a few years back. The scenario? The heroine has been stopped by the police, who find something unusual in her trunk. Something she didn't know was there.

If I remember right, Christie's answer was a gigantic pair of black lace panties that definitely did not belong to the heroine.

Yours was a decapitated head.

I don't think the ideas even compare.
Maybe that's why I needn't worry about having my ideas stolen. As I recall, I was given a wide berth for a while after that particular idea popped out of my mouth. :)

And you never want to go to a hardware store with me. ("Oooh, look! What a great murder weapon *that* would make!")
Suzan Harden said…
That's only because you look so sweet and innocent. ;-)
LOL Colleen, I would love to go to a hardware store with you!!!!!! LOL LOL LOL! That's awesome.
Innocent sweetness is the mask behind which many a monster hides her savagery...

Hmmm, this gives me a GREAT idea.

(Cue maniacal chuckle, followed by the clattering of claws upon the keyboard.)

I'm even worse in cooking supply stores - and keep me well away from anywhere they sell crochet hooks.

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