There’s a popular myth I’ve heard for years: don’t tell anyone about your work in progress or it’ll get stolen out from under you. Another variation on this myth is if you’re not first to market with your idea, it’ll never sell. These are kind of like urban legends for writers.
There’s a reason it’s not possible to copyright an idea for fiction. To mangle a quote from the Bard, the execution’s the thing.
If you gave each of the Miss Demeanors an identical writing prompt we would all come up with our own unique spin. Anyone who’s taken a creative writing class or attended a workshop knows this. It’s a common exercise to help writers develop their “voice,” that special perspective that only you can bring to your storytelling.
The fact is, if you work in your own little fortress of solitude you’ll actually lose out on opportunities. Workshopping your idea through writing groups, conferences or even sharing your pages with friends you trust to tell you the truth helps to identify gaps you overlooked, like leaps in logic or flat characters. You learn about tropes and cliches. You may also get ideas or inspiration to take your characters in directions that would never occur to you on your own.
There are other benefits, too. Something I’ve seen several times at workshops that breaks my heart is a direct result of this misguided isolationism. It’s a crestfallen look of someone who hears well-intended (and paid) critiques for the first time on a book they spent 5 or 6 years writing in secret and believed to be a masterpiece. Workshops are also a fantastic way to network with industry professionals, one of whom may one day be your agent or publisher. At the very least, it can help you build a support system of fellow writers that carry you through the dark days, which all of us need in all parts of our lives. This same support system is a cheering chorus to help celebrate the wins.
Does plagiarism happen? Probably. It happens everywhere. In my day job, someone once took credit for my research. Guess what happened next? That person couldn’t live up to the expectations created by that first report and their reputation took a major hit when the truth came out. The same thing happens to plagiarists in the literary world. When they’re uncovered they typically get shunned by their peers and/or dropped by their agents and publishers. They may also get sued.
If you’re in it for the long game, meaning a multi-book publishing contract or screenwriting deal, the rewards from sharing far outweigh the so-called risk. Grab every opportunity with both hands to hone your craft, develop your voice, and build your network. Be what no one else can – be you.