Stephen King and I have a problem. He keeps stealing my ideas.
This has been happening since I was a teenager. Every time I came up with a great story idea, Mr. King has written it ten years earlier. I am sure he is not aware of it but it is very disheartening for a young writer.
King describes in his book On Writing that stories are fossils that must be unearthed with care.
I was thinking about this when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s article In the Air in The New Yorker. Gladwell writes how Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures and dinosaur enthusiast, discovered that:
Ideas weren’t precious. They were everywhere, which suggested that maybe the extraordinary process that we thought was necessary for invention—genius, obsession, serendipity, epiphany—wasn’t necessary at all.
He realized that ideas, like fossils, are abundant and they only must be looked for. But this causes an issue.
From the same article:
“This phenomenon of simultaneous discovery—what science historians call “multiples”—turns out to be extremely common… the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. “
I had unearthed my problem with Mr. King.
The fact is story ideas are abundant and people will discover them at a similar time but the distance between an idea and a complete story is measured by months and years of hard work. Mr. King and I both had the same idea but he saw it to completion.
There is the experiment of giving a detailed story idea out to a group of writers. Each person takes it away, writes something, and returns. Often, the result is that each of the stories is different: different tones, different genres, different characters, different plots, and different voices. The reason is that what you bring will be unique.
This is the reason why I put importance on process over product and focus on the work. I hope a prolific writer such as Stephen King would agree.