I’m Posting This Sh1t Online,
Now Whaddaya Gonna Do?
“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook,
you’d have invented Facebook.”
The Social Network
On the day I started writing this post on the commonness of ideas, I stumbled upon this article… on the commonness of ideas. It just goes to proves the point. That is, while ideas are often repeated, they are not often stolen.
Ideas are not unique. Ideas are cheap. They are common, that’s not what makes a book. But I’ll get back to that.
This guy gives an example of what most writers fear. An idea is pitched in a crowded room and someone decides to claim it. The author of the post has advised people since then to fear publicly revealing their ideas, including posting them. But is this a rational fear?
The idea that was supposedly stolen was a book called The Dude Who Knew Too Much. Ever heard of it? I haven’t. I even googled it. Nothing. Was it ever published, maybe under a different title? I doubt it. I mean, it kinda sounds like Spy Kids or some other kids-getting-in-over-their-heads story. But I wouldn’t say that’s stolen. It’s an idea that anyone could have or take and make into their own.
So I don’t think that guy’s example provides a particularly strong argument. But I’ve got some arguments of my own.
1. People steal less than you’d think.
Why? No idea. Maybe most ideas aren’t that good. Maybe people that steal ideas realize that writing and selling a novel is a lot more work than nabbing someone’s idea. Maybe people are good. (Haha.) I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. Many, many people put their work online. Fact is, most of it doesn’t get stolen. Whatever the reason, it just doesn’t.
But if it is? I mean, if it’s really stolen, as in someone publishes something that’s so close to yours that you’ll never be able to publish it? A blog is a public record. It’s not a whisper at a convention. It’s not a locked trunk in the back of a closet where you keep the rejected manuscripts. If your work really is stolen, there will be no question as to who had it first. None at all. Posting your fiction may expose you to thieves, but it also protects you from them.
But if someone steals it, if someone really steals your idea, it doesn’t matter because…
2. Ideas don’t matter. Execution matters
And no, I didn’t steal this from the guy in the first link. We just had the same idea because ideas are not unique. Writing is not having an idea. Lots of people have ideas for stories. Writing is writing the story. A story doesn’t exist until it’s told, and an idea is not a story.
Writing is the marriage of a story and it’s author. A good story in the hands of a terrible author will go nowhere and a bad story in the hands of a talented author could become a thing of beauty.
You want to read Lord of the Rings by Stephenie Meyer?
Or Animal Farm by Danielle Steel?
And what of “high-concepts”? Simple. A high concept, like any other concept will fall flat in the hands of an untalented author. And vice versa. Moreover, high concepts are black swans, the massive phenomena that changes the field and dwarfs all other achievements. There’s a lot to say about this theory, and it’s really a topic for another day. For writers I recommend reading this “this application of black swan theory to writing”(pdf).But the basic idea is that black swans cannot be predicted or planned because they are random. They are not due to one idea, or even to a talented execution of the idea, but also to circumstance. And circumstance is far more powerful than you realize.
What does this mean for us? A high concept means nothing. It is only one part of the equation.
Because a book is not Idea.
A book is Idea + Talent + Circumstance
And the idea is the smallest, the lightest, the easiest of the three parts. If you have trouble with ideas, you may want to consider another line of work. It’s only non-writers that ask “Where do you get your ideas?” So don’t worry about someone stealing your work. They probably won’t. And if they do, it’s not going to do squat for them, it’s only one third of the equation. Maybe it wouldn’t have done squat for you either. So don’t worry. Just write.
That’s my take on it. I know, however, that it is something that many many writers worry about. It’s hard not to when your ideas are so close to you, when you feel so passionately about them.
How do you guys feel? Do you worry about people stealing your stuff online? Do you post it anyway? Do you think ideas are really unique?