I’ve been mulling over the topic of generosity lately, dear writers. Of the writers I meet, there is a particular set of worries I want to address. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who don’t want to start blogging, hire a coach, or promote their material online before it is published because they are afraid someone will STEAL their idea.
I used to think the sense of defending one’s idea was a result of arrogance, like, “My book idea is so cool that if anyone ever heard of it, they would for sure steal it away from me, so I better not tell anyone about it.” But over the years, as I’ve worked intimately with authors, I’ve learned that the fear of having an idea stolen is not about arrogance in most cases. Instead the fear is scarcity thinking.
If you think there are only ten viable book ideas out in the ideasphere in any given year, and one of those ideas has visited you, then you will want to protect that idea, hold it close to your chest, whisper it only to your very best friend (who is not a writer, of course, because why would you be friends with other kleptomaniacal writers?).
I understand this inclination. When I read the book Half the Sky, my heart pounded. With every page, I was both excited and disappointed. Since my teenage years, I’d had an idea to research and write a book about specific stories of gender inequalities that exist around the world outside the bubble I live in. I’d traveled quite a bit by the time I was 35 (already to 4 continents and 11 countries), and I’d imagined myself in Asia and out in the African interviewing women and girls. Half the Sky was a beautiful, powerful, heart wrenching book that gave me the chills. I wish I would have written it, and I was struck with both admiration for its authors and burdened with a few weeks of shame and envy that I had not written it.
Of course, I would not have been the right author for that book, and the IDEA knew it. I didn’t have the platform (or the Pulitzer Prize), the experience as a reporter, or the financial backing to do the amount of travel such a book would take to birth. Nor, frankly, did I have the research skills or complex understanding of the issues to frame the topic of inequities against girls and women around the world with the level of sophistication required to make the kind of powerful impact Half the Sky’s authors ultimately had. Kristof and WuDunn were the perfect authors. Half the Sky, was a book I needed to READ, not one that needed me to write it.
Here’s the thing, writers… If a book wants to be written, it will get written. You can keep your idea to yourself, but all you really do is isolate yourself from possible cheerleaders and partners in the creative process. If the idea you have is ultimately materialized by another author, do not fear. That’s not a sign that you’re not a fit vessel through which creative ideas want to come to fruition, it’s only a sign that the particular idea you had your heart set on, needed a different angle to be all it could be.
I know a woman who had an idea for a children’s book. She shared the story with a “friend” who actually DID steal her idea and move ahead with writing the story. The original woman was infuriated. She was able to block the thief from publishing the story, but to this day, she still hasn’t published it herself. The IDEA is still in the womb (two wombs, actually). And what happens to a being that stays in the womb too long? That’s right, it does not survive.
There are not just ten brilliant ideas available to you this year my friends. There are millions of ideas floating in the air around you. If someone else writes “your” book, move through the envy until you can find generosity in your heart. Share ideas freely. Open your sixth sense to the ideas swirling around you right now. Ask the ideasphere for inspiration. Generosity opens space; scarcity closes it down.
My policy is to share what I’m working on. I also share ideas from the list I keep of storylines or non-fiction themes that visit me while I’m running. I know not every idea is for me, but I figure if one has visited me, it must want me to know about it, to perhaps nudge another writer.
Creativity IS the essence of being human. Humans can create by fiat, that is to say, we can create somethings out of (seemingly) nothings. And there are infinite somethings waiting to be created.
Dear writers, don’t be afraid to share your ideas, your techniques, your resources, your connections, and your enthusiasm with one another. Share judiciously, for sure. When you sense you are talking to a jerk, feel free to walk away. But when you are with other artists, remember we are in this together. And we will all be happier and more successful living in a healthy and abundant echo system.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
This happened to me. Someone wrote a book about my dad and I was disappointed when I read it because it did not tell MY story. That is when I started to write from my perspective, with my themes, my dirt. The book that was written was dry, about doctrine and the history of Pentecostalism. I don’t care about that. What happens to women and children in that environment? How does that culture eat people up? The end result might be salacious, but sometimes that IS the result. Extreme behaviors and vast misunderstanding of self and the world.
There are plenty of memoirs out there; many about being raised in extreme religions. I can only tell mine.
Amen, sister! I don’t understand the inclination to write in super secret or to not talk about projects or to not even blog because of the fear that there are a bevy of unscrupulous writers out to steal ideas. Any writer who is actually a writer has a bazillion ideas floating around in their head at any given time. How many books can one person write in a lifetime? Seriously? Sure, some folks pump them out like crazy, but most of us mull our one good idea to death and spend so much time futzing about it and worrying what others will think of us or worry about family being upset, or about the idea being stolen that it just rots in our brains and never sees the light of day. So yes! Talk to other writers. Share ideas. Get inspired. Find your people. Put your idea out there into the light of day and see if it still looks as good as it does in the dark recesses of your mind.