Nobody Is Going to Steal Your Great Idea!
Writing sure is a scary thing. Sharing your work is even scarier.
During my very first seminar at university, we were asked to come up with an idea for a single scene based upon a particular photo. After ten minutes or so, we went around the room of around 30 students and shared our thoughts. The amazing thing was that not one single idea was even remotely similar to another. We had all looked at the photograph and connected with some part of it, and our imaginations had run with the idea in entirely different directions. Apart from it being a fantastic lesson in idea generation, there was one other thing that stuck out to me.
There was one guy who just refused to share his idea.
Now there could be two possible explanations for this, either he was too embarrassed to share his idea, thinking that he hadn’t come up with anything good. Or he was scared of somebody stealing his idea.
Later in the semester, we had to stand up and pitch an idea in front of 3 lecturers and our peers as part of an assignment. It was great practice for walking into a room with an agent, publishing house or production team and selling them on an idea within a short space of time. The same guy asked whether he could just pitch it to the lecturers as opposed to the whole class because he didn’t want his idea, ‘out there.’
A pattern had started to develop, and over the 3 years, it quickly became apparent that this student was very cagey about sharing his work for peer feedback. He was seemingly terrified of having his ideas stolen, whether from a single scene or his whole screenplay dissertation.
As most people who have participated in some sort of writing course will tell you, the most significant positive from these types of courses is building relationships with like-minded writers. The feedback you can receive is absolutely invaluable and reading the work of others and suggesting improvements will improve your own work too. It’s a win-win situation all around. I’m a firm believer that no-one can teach you how to write, not really. Writing is a craft, and you can only get better at doing it by… doing it. Writing courses don’t teach you to write, they teach you to read analytically, how to give and receive feedback, and they provide deadlines. The actual act of learning to write is wholly upon yourself.
Throughout my time at university, I worked with a writing partner. We would read each other’s work and give brutally honest feedback. It helped that we both understood the need for this to improve our writing. From minor assignments all the way through to our dissertation screenplays we would chuck drafts back and forth, discussing and actioning the scribbles that adorned the pages.
As a result of this partnership when it came to the Steven Knight Award for Best Screenplay, we were both shortlisted into the final three, and my writing partner went on to win first place! Without that constant feedback loop and discussion, I’m sure he’d agree that neither of us would have performed so well.
And yet it’s something that too many writers shy away from.
I get it. It’s a scary thing to put your work out into the world for many reasons, but the danger of forgery can be reduced if you’re smart about how you share your work. Only share with someone you trust. It’s not a good idea for this person to be a family member or friend as we rarely receive honest feedback in this situation. Your mum probably doesn’t want to tell you that your work isn’t outstanding. Find someone who understands the value of constructive criticism.
There’s so much to be gained from sharing your work and (in my opinion) a relatively low risk of theft. It’s like many things in life — You wouldn’t stop eating food because there’s a chance you might choke!
And if you’re still worried, think about it this way. It’s your idea. No-one knows your idea better than yourself, and so it follows that no-one can write your idea as well as you.