Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No, I don't want to write your idea


Okay, so if you're a writer and you've been doing this for some time, maybe you've noticed that people like to give you ideas. Sometimes they pitch them to you in relaxed ways, like telling you something weird about their life and adding "maybe you'd like to write a book about that!" and laughing good-naturedly when you say thanks but no thanks.

Sometimes you get the people who say they can't write but they thought up this cool plot, and they proceed to tell you about a half-formed idea they have that was probably derived from a movie they saw recently. Sometimes you get people who want you to write about their lives because they believe their personal struggles with addiction, illness, or being bullied in school would make a huge, hard-hitting bestseller (though I am not downplaying the importance of these issues; I'm just saying that unless you have a platform or are a celebrity, it's unlikely a publisher would want to buy that, and it's unlikely anyone who doesn't know you would stampede to purchase it).

And sometimes they just want you to put them in your fiction book because they're such a character.

And the thing is, these folks believe they are doing us a favor. Giving us "ideas."

Ideas. Well, let me tell you about ideas.

By and large, lack of ideas is NOT the problem for writers. When we say we have writer's block (if we get that), we're generally not saying "I just can't think of anything to write about!" We're saying we're struggling with the execution of one of our ideas, usually. And not to sound ungrateful, but the ideas these often well-meaning folks drop upon us are rarely usable or particularly original. Usually, they're not incredibly invested in my writing about their idea and don't mind that I gracefully decline. But what really steams me is that when this happens to me, occasionally I have to deal with a horrible rant from someone who feels entitled to my time and attention and reacts with fury that I would dare to pass up such genius. I'm not kidding! This has happened to me, as a person who writes a lot, identifies as a writer everywhere I exist online, and writes about writing.

One time, a particularly horrible person contacted me on a social site and began rambling somewhat incoherently in his first message. He was attempting to compliment me by saying he could tell I was an intellectual sort who could be trusted with his amazing idea, and then--after several sentences building up how groundbreaking and TOTALLY TRUE it was--he said he had revealed a government conspiracy that no one has ever thought about, which is that apparently we pay for land but nobody knows where that money goes. He smugly described this as "the biggest dirty secret keeping society ignorant and locked into material slavery"--actual quote--and his e-mail of unclear purpose petered out with a few rambles about how the sun is going to give us all cancer and he believes vegetarians like us are superior to others.

Oddly enough, he also told me he objects to my publishing goals because paper kills trees, feeds consumerism with the end product, and forces us into a life of endless slavery. (I'm not exaggerating. A quote: "We are victims, and it's how the world stays corrupt, by forcing us into a life that demands we continue the evil tradition of keeping people fixated on greed of material possessions.") He used to write poetry but now only writes "educational science material."

Understandably confused as to why he was sharing this with me (as he hadn't yet revealed that he supposedly wanted me to write about it), I told him his question about WHERE DOES THE MONEY FOR LAND GO??? was really naïve and I didn't believe he'd uncovered a scandal. This was (part of) his reply:

I brought up the "land" conversation, because you are a writer. I thought you might like a fresh idea to point you in a new direction. You failed to see it for what it really was though. Everything you currently know about paying for land is just what you "think", it's not what actually is. If you were able to turn this into a story (investigative reporting or just a good fictional story even) I think it has grounds for national interest. The government is a scam! It does not work at all, and it functions like a con-artist that tricks people out of their hard earned money just so it can keep the scam going. It would be nice if we could expose it, on a very large scale. 

Here is my reply in all its glory.

I'm sorry, were you under the impression that I am a) a reporter or b) looking for writing ideas? I am not.

The whole "I'm so sorry you can't see that my revolutionary idea is world-shaking and transformative" trope is extremely tired. I don't know where you got the idea that it'd be appropriate to suggest that a novelist (who writes FICTION) would *appreciate* your conspiracy theory and jump at the chance to run with your (presumably, NONfiction) idea. I am not looking for unsolicited writing ideas, and ranting about how the man is keeping us down and taxation is slavery is not hard-hitting subject matter even if I were.

Should you wish to write fiction, there are plenty of "average Joe is somehow partial to dirty political secrets he must expose for the good of mankind" and "government is infiltrated by malevolent poopheads who are trying to destroy the country" thriller novels out there. Should you instead wish to share your "the government is a scam" revelation with the world in bald conspiracy nut format, there are plenty of vanity publishers who have no content restrictions and would be happy to publish a raving manifesto (at your cost, of course).

But I must say I don't appreciate this extremely transparent suggestion of yours that you only shared your "eff the man" sentiments in the hopes that I would surely wish to write about them. Nor do I appreciate your false disappointment over my supposedly limited visionary ability. I've had my share of "too bad you can't see what you're missing" conversations (though admittedly most of them are responses to my rejection of a different sort), and yours is nothing new.

It's a little sad that you've assigned me a myopic outlook because I'm a writer who isn't jazzed at the idea of writing a "you can't trust THE SYSTEM" book from your ideas to EXPOSE THE FAT CATS, but there's not much I can do about it except hope you'll find more effective ways of communicating with others (leaving out condescending platitudes about their responsibility to recognize your never-before-seen investigative genius), and call this conversation unworthy of my time.
If you don't want to get an e-mail like that from me, do me a favor and don't tell me I should write your groundbreaking idea for you. But if you're reading this, I doubt you needed to be told. ;)

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, yes. This is so true. I had a friend who dogged me about this for a while - she had this idea that she was going to give me her earth-shattering, mind-boggling creative ideas that totally weren't ripped from popular TV shows, and then I was going to write them into books with coherent plots and compelling characters, and we'd split the profits 50-50. Needless to say, I wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea as she expected me to be.