Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to Piss off a Writer

A short cautionary tale about what not to tell a writer, if you don't want to look like a fool.

Yesterday, I met with two friends, and during our chat about life, jobs, and dreams, one of them said to me, "I still can't believe you weren’t just talking about writing, but that you actually wrote books in English, and manage to make money."
"Yeah," I said. "I did it. But it requires a lot of determination and hard work."
"It does," said my other friend. "I once tried to write, but got stuck in the beginning and didn't know what I was doing."
"That's why you might need an outline..." I began when she said:
"I’ve got this great idea. Let me tell it to you and you'll finish my story."

Oh, no. No, no, no. Don't do this. Never ever. We don't need any more ideas, and we don't want to finish them for you.

"I'm not sure," I said, trying to sound as polite as possible. "You see, at the moment I've got 2 unfinished novels, 5 first drafts, 11 outlines, and 40 ideas for books."
"But this is such an outstanding idea," she insisted. "Let me tell you."
"OK, what's the genre?"
"Great," I said. "Are there dragons?"
"I don't really know. You'll have to think of that yourself. I haven't gone that far into the story," she said, and began telling: "So, the hero comes to this castle..."
"A castle! So it's a medieval fantasy?"
"Set in the Middle Ages," I explained.
"No, it's our days."
"Oh, like Harry Potter fantasy?"
"Yes, but I had this idea long before Harry Potter came out."
Here we go, I thought, but said nothing.
"So, in this castle, the hero finds a room, opens it..."
"And appears in Narnia."
"Um, no," she said. I realized she didn't know what Narnia was. "He gets into a room where there is a huge ancient globe."
"Great," I said. "I love huge ancient globes."
"He touches the globe, it opens, and something comes out."
"What?" I asked in naked curiosity.
"I don't know," she said. "The rest you'll have to think yourself."
I stopped in the middle of the street, wondering if she was just making fun of me. "Is that all?"
"Your whole idea?"

"And you suppose I could make a book out of that?"
"That's an idea. You need to work on it and expand it."
"But that's not an idea," I said. "Just a very short scene, with a globe and something that comes out of it."
"Or the globe might be a lever that opens a secret door."
"A secret door?"
"Yes, in the wall."
"Oh, right," I muttered despairingly.
And then she probably realized I wasn't overwhelmed with her fantastic idea. "Never mind," she said. "No need to use it. I better keep my ideas for me and use them myself."
Please do, I thought.

And please, never do this. I know we think our ideas are the best and nothing else could come close or be as original, but we're wrong. Most of the time. We simply have to read 1-2 fantasy books to see that a globe in a castle is neither original, nor exciting. It could be, though, but it would need another 78,450 words to make it an exciting story about a magical globe with outlines of unfamiliar lands that occasionally gleam with silver light each time one of the globe’s portals is opened… But you’ll have to think of it yourself.


  1. This sentiment is very true and even carries over to other areas of thought or action; people seem to get offended when you don't take their half-baked ideas and run with them in most situations...especially if you offer ways to improve their idea, or take their idea to the next level, weeding out its negatives, and honing its point.

    1. So true, Victor. And it didn't happen for the first time. Whenever someone hears that I'm a writer, they consider it their duty to tell me about "a great idea for a book."