Who owns an idea?
Hi everybody, I had a baby! But enough about that. Women be havin’ babies every day. But I have an idea. I want to talk about ideas.
“Authorship is censorship.” Shia LaBouf via Bleeding Cool.
So, we can all agree that thespian Shia LaBouf is acting like a total jerk, right? He got caught plagiarizing, issued an apology (that seemed ok at first but turns out was also partially plagiarized, quite the easter egg) then decided to double-down on his arrogant nonsense in the name of art, excuse me, Art. I would call this some high-level trolling except he seems genuinely angry and hurt by all the kerfuffle he’s caused. Okay, let’s have Shia take a seat for a second.
My laptop pooped out on me two days ago. There’s something wrong with the power supply. I am about 80% done with a final revision of a novel that is overdue to be submitted, and the laptop was my main machine. Am I screwed? Not at all. Not only did I not lose a word, but I haven’t lost any writing time waiting for a new power supply, because I use a cloud service to store my files, so I just moved to my slightly-less-convenient desktop and voila! here I am. I have, in the past, encouraged my writer friends to use cloud storage, but many of them refuse. They all say one of two things: what if the cloud storage service loses my files? or What if someone steals my ideas? And that second one, no offense, is hilarious.
What my nervous friends mean is: what if someone steals my words?
No one wants our smelly old words, friends, and on the extremely off chance someone does steal some words and manages to make a profit on it, it is headline-making news, because it’s so darn preposterous. If someone does somehow spy on you and steal your money-making words, you sue them, but also let me know what it is like surviving a shark attack, because you’re probably looking at the same odds. (Caveat – publishing things on the internet is a whole other ball game, for what is the internet but an endlessly expanding spiral-arm of copypasta?)
This past Thursday in my writing class, we were critiquing a story about a woman who is spiritually possessed. One of my classmates, Nanor, admired the creativity of the story’s central conceit, and said she wished she had ideas like the author’s, that she wanted to write stories like this one.
“And you should,” our instructor, Jim, said immediately.
He often encourages us to take ideas, to use anything that inspires us. And he’s right. I would kill to read Nanor’s story of a woman possessed, because she’s a damn fine writer and that particular idea is well outside her wheelhouse so it’d be interesting as hell. And it would be very different than the original story. And my story of a woman possessed would be different from both of those. Why? Because Nanor likes the idea (as do I), but she would never use the idea…AND the setting…AND the plot…AND the characters….AND the dialogue. She’d tell her own story, using her own words, as would I, as would anyone with half a lick of common sense. If, say, it was the setting she fell in love with, she’d write her version of that setting and use it to anchor a completely different and original story.
Ideas are cheap, free, a dime a dozen. All you have to do is have confidence in your own unique voice as a writer. If Shia LaBouf had examined what moved him about Daniel Clowes’s comics and used that as a jumping-off point for his own screenplay, he wouldn’t be busy digging himself deeper right now.
As an exercise, think about the last book or short story you read that really blew your head off. If you had to pick the one element you loved most about that story, what would it be? Take that element, and really think about it. Let it inspire you. Let it sink into your bones. Now go do some work.