Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Worried that someone will steal your work? Here's why you shouldn't be concerned.

Over the weekend, I was talking with one of my writing buddies. They were telling me about how they wanted to post their writing online for feedback, but were worried that someone would steal their work or their idea. I’ve had similar conversations with other writers in the past, and I wanted to address this because it’s probably not as likely as you’d think.

Posting your work online can be a really useful way to get feedback. You can be anonymous and get people’s honest opinions, as opposed to asking your mom who…might not be unbiased. But the possibility of someone lurking in forums waiting for the perfect scrap of writing to steal discourages a lot of people. The thing is, when you think about it, this kind of theft is extremely unlikely, and here are three reasons why.

Most people who see your idea are writers

Probably 99% of the people who would look at your work and offer feedback are writers just like you. They’re just as nervous and just as eager to give and receive feedback. You know how a writer’s brain is: we've got a million ideas bouncing around in our heads and not nearly enough time to explore them all. I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly trawling the internet for more plot ideas. I already have far more ideas than I know what to do with, and the thing is, I want to tell that story the way I think about it. Which leads me to my second point:

People don’t think alike

Let’s take an example. I used to do writing competitions where I’d be in a room with five other people, and we’d have 40 minutes to write on a prompt like “___ Left ___: Fill in the blanks and use this as the title for your story.” I wrote about an immigrant family; someone else in the room wrote from the point of view of a piece of gum stuck to a shoe. So even with the same source material or the same base, no two people are going to write the same thing. If you post your short story that you’re planning to turn into a full-length novel and someone steals your idea, odds are they’re going to end up so different that you wouldn’t be able to relate them anyway. And on that note:

It’s just plain difficult to steal someone else’s idea

It seems like it should be easy, right? You go online and someone has already done all the hard work for you, and now you can just reap the rewards. Well, not so fast. Think about all the background info you have in your head that doesn’t end up on the page. Think about all the little details that make the story make sense, that knit all the words together. If you don’t write them into your work, how is a thief going to be able to do anything with that story? For that matter, do you really think someone who steals other people’s ideas on the internet can be creative enough to do something meaningful with that idea? If they were that creative, they’d have come up with their own idea in the first place. And even if they do manage to write something halfway decent, they’d still have to query or submit their work and somehow be faster than you.

So…what can you do?

It’s definitely worth it to be cautious about posting your work online. It’s true that you never know who’s looking at it or what their intentions are. If you still need feedback but aren’t willing to post your work on a blog or forum, try to form relationships with other writers and work with trusted CPs and beta readers. If you really must post your work and you’re nervous about theft, consider setting a date when you’ll delete it or take it down. And if any kind of online presence doesn’t feel right to you, check around to see if there are any in-person writing groups where you might get feedback on a hard copy of your work. Best of luck!

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