Monday, 12 December 2011

Don't Beware The Idea Snatcher!

In the latest issue of Writing Magazine there's a great article by Helen Yendall about ideas and the fear of someone 'snatching' your idea. Essentially, her advice is to 'get over it', and I have to agree. For some of my newer students, this may come as a shock.

Idea theft is something that many new writers fear. Indeed, I have had one writer say to me, "I'm not sending off my article in case the editor pinches my idea." Well that's fine, do what you want, but what was the point of writing the article in the first place if you're not going to send it off? If all writers kept their ideas to themselves, fearing the editor would steal their ideas, then nothing would be published!

There is no copyright in ideas. An idea isn't something that is 'tangible'. Not until you write it down. Then it becomes tangible and you own the copyright in the way you have expressed that idea.

It is rare for an exact idea to be copied. It is common for many writers to have similar ideas. The 7th February 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. In the next few weeks we're going to be bombarded with articles, TV programmes, radio programmes, Internet articles about the writer. That's not to say that the writers of these TV and radio programmes, and articles, have stolen the idea from each other. They haven't. They'll have taken the theme of Charles Dickens and applied a different angle to create their idea.

We're all individuals. Our life experiences are unique to us. And it is those unique experiences that enable us to put our own individual twist on those ideas.

If you don't think this is possible, go to a writers' group, creative writing class, or workshop. There, you'll be given an idea. (In fact, you'll probably be given many!) You might have to take it away with you and write it up for the next meeting, or if it's a workshop, you may only have an hour to write something. But remember this: everyone is given the same basic idea. But when it comes to reading them out, every writer will have applied their own experiences and thoughts to the idea, and you'll hear that everyone's final written piece is completely different.

With ideas, it's all about what you do with them. Don't sit on them. Don't hoard them. Do something with them. Get them written and get them out there. And if you find another writer has had a similar idea to you, don't get angry about it. Get over it. Be pleased with yourself, because you're clearly thinking along the right lines!

Good luck!


  1. Hi Simon

    What a great post. I always wondered about my own ideas being poached, then I had a massive realisation... My ideas were new to me, but had already been written about in one form or another during the past few decades!

    Most articles and storylines have been tapped out in one form or another, with very few exceptions! Even Harry Potter, as a storyline, is an example of a basic idea which has been written about many times (wizardry), just with a twist!

    A writer's desire to evolve an idea is what makes it unique to him/her, after all, we may well have the same ideas, but we all have very different imaginations...

  2. Hi Bev,

    Yes, there a few truly original ideas left, but what there are, are many different angles, or slightly different twists. As you say, it's down to our imaginations!

  3. I totally agree,Simon, and, as you say, if everyone worried about editors stealing their ideas and refused to send them off, then nothing would ever get published! I always think that if you see something published that is similiar in idea to yours then at least you know you're on the right track.

    Julie xx

  4. I had a thought about the new Sony Alpha 77 digital camera earlier. They don't have a movable mirror as a normal SLR does and I wondered if there was less chance of dust getting on the cmaera sensor becuase there's no mirror to move. However, I didn't do anything about asking the questions. So when I read that someone else had the same thought, I wasn't surprised at all. BUT ...
    Idea stealing does happen. I had an idea for a business in the 1980s and went to a local traning organisation who provided support to set up such proposals; one of Mad Maggies silly projects. I asked them for a quote on the printing I wold need for it. Anyway,after looking at in greater depth I realized that it was far to expensive and idea for me at that time. But within around a week of my visit, someone form that smae organisation was on the door trying to seel me the product I had thought up in the first place. The skill is knowing when I idea has been stolen or not.

  5. It seems sometimes that all the ideas are floating around, we are all fishing and occassionally two (or more) fish out the same one.

  6. When I think of ideas, I remember a preface to an Isaac Asimov story. He said that he and his colleagues were given the same painting and asked to write up a story. Same painting, apparently, but different takes on it.