You Can’t Steal Ideas

New writers are often paranoid writers. All too often they believe their idea is gold, the likes of which has never, EVER been done before. This makes their idea valuable and, as we all know, people like to steal what’s valuable.

Except, you can’t really steal an idea.

Let’s clear something up right now – ideas cannot be copyrighted. Ideas for novels are a dime a dozen. They are quite literally anywhere and everywhere in the world. And it’s very easy for people to come up with similar ideas.

A few years ago I had an idea for a book that I got really excited about. A few days after I started writing it, I found myself on Amazon, searching their recommendations for books I might like. By chance I stumbled upon a recommendation for a book that was to be released the following year. I read the blurb and…it was, quite literally, the same idea I’d had. I was stunned. I had not told one single person – not even my cat – about the idea. The author in question was a debut novelist who lived on the other side of the planet. There was no possible way I could have ‘stolen’ the idea from her.  I have no doubt that if I’d gone ahead and finished my book it would have turned out very differently to the one on Amazon. But the core idea, the concept at the heart of the novel was the same.

The idea probably represents about 1% of the work involved in writing a book. If anyone wants to copy an idea they are free to do so. But they still have the other 99% of the book to write. Even if they copied the core idea from someone or something else, by the time they finished that other 99% of the book, it would be completely different to the original source.
More than once I have heard people accusing JK Rowling of ‘copying’ Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch series. There may be similarities in the basic ideas behind the books, but the books themselves are completely different. There are countless books out there that have similar core ideas, but the characters and the plots are completely different.
Here’s the thing, Ramblers – the idea doesn’t make the story. The execution of the story does. How many of you have ever picked up a book thinking it sounds really good, only to hate it once you start reading? I’ll bet it’s happened to all of us. You don’t automatically like a book just because you like the idea behind it.
It’s easy to get excited about ideas – I do it all the time – but do not forget that they are only a tiny part of writing a novel. They are nowhere near as valuable as some people think.

And to the people who still don’t want to believe this, who jealously guard their Fantastic Ideas like Smaug perched on his treasure-hoard, ask yourself what will you do if your book ever hits the shelves? Any of those sneaky idea-thieves could read your book and decide to ‘steal’ your idea. It’s not like having your book published means people can’t and won’t write something similar.

Paranoia is a chain you need to chuck off. The idea is not what matters, the finished product is. The best idea in the world could be butchered by an untalented writer, and the dullest idea could be rendered magical by someone skilled.

So ditch this silly notion that everyone’s out to steal your ideas and just focus on actually writing them.

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