Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Story Ideas - When and How to Share Them

I'm in Tucson this weekend, celebrating my mom's birthday. Isn't she fabulous? I'm not allowed to say which birthday this is, but I can tell you it's a prime number greater than 67 and less than 73.

So fun to be here, but that means I'm away from my books and so I can't look up the quote I wanted to use for this week's post. I feel sure I've used it before, but I can't find it now. Alas.

This week's topic is "How soon do you talk about a new story idea: to whom & to what end?" When I run across this particular question, I always think of this quote that goes something like "Be careful of giving your fire away too soon." I'm pretty sure Robert Bly said it.

That resonated with me when I first read it, easily 20 years ago. A new story idea does feel full of fire to me. It burns with its own life energy. That enthusiasm and excitement is key, because it will carry me through the long marathon of actually writing it.

And it's very easy to give it away too soon.

Every time you share the idea, it takes away a little of the fire. I don't really know why this is - just that it's true. Even if you share the idea with someone you totally trust, it diminishes the thriving energy of it, ever so slightly.

I suspect this has something to do with the subconscious, the seat of creativity. Maybe when we move that bubble of idea from the non-linear right-brain world of formless thought and into the left-brain conscious mind, where it gets defined by words, it gets scaled down in size. Just as what we imagine changes forever once we try to make it real - like a song always sounds so much better in my head than when I'm singing it - perhaps ideas suffer a similar reduction in magic, moving from formless to more defined.

So, I'm careful about sharing it too soon.

When I do, I share it with very special people. I did a post a while back where I compared sharing a new story idea with the wrong people to Shaken Baby Syndrome. I still love that analogy. In essence, it comes down to treating a new story idea - or a new story - like a delicate infant. The only people who get to hold your baby are the ones who know how to support her head and will be gentle and nurturing.

I also make sure I'm sharing the new idea for the right reasons. If I'm going to lose a little fire by discussing it, I need to get something back for that. One of my critique partners has a gift for helping me draw out a story. She and I have a certain harmony that gives her insight into my more formless thoughts. She's great at helping me put words to the idea. Another CP is very good at plotting and motivation. She asks me the hard questions. Which means I have to be at a point where I'm ready to think about it the story that way. Another CP challenges me on marketability of the idea - so that's even farther down the path of refining my idea.

When in doubt, I remind myself to say nothing yet.

Be careful of giving away your fire too soon.


  1. I never share my new story ideas, not while they're new LOL. Eventually I need input but there's a lot of words surrounding the fragile idea by then. another good post!

    1. Thanks Veronica! I like that image of the buffering words surrounding the fragile idea.

  2. So true Jeffe. I used to not talk about my stories out of fear of someone stealing them. I know, stupid. But this was 5-6 years ago when I first started writing and I thought I had all these unique, one of a kind ideas. Yeah, I've gotten real since then. Only my voice & style make my stories different, not the plot.

    Since then, I've grown cautious of sharing because, like you mentioned, it seems to kill the excitement & love for the story. After having a few new ideas attacked when I wasn't at the stage to properly defend every nuance, plot hole, & character weakness has taught me to remain mum a bit longer now.

    I have a CP I can share early ideas with because she's an expert at helping me develop my idea without killing my love for it. She asks the tough questions & lets me have it, but is all geared to smooth the idea out.

    And I so remember that whole "shaken baby syndrome" convo. :-)

    1. That was such a fun convo with your chapter - I loved it!

  3. I've learned that I can't share my ideas until the story is written. The whole story. Otherwise, I can't finish it.

    1. ooh - SO interesting, Samantha. and great that you know it now!