Thursday, July 02, 2015

Query Question: so, you think publishing is a small world?

Bob and I have been sharing works forever. Bob hates my writing but loves my ideas. I guess one day Bob loved an idea so much Bob decided to write it better. I'm afraid to share my most recent work with Bob now. Bob really wants it.

Here in my little suburb everyone is friends and knows everyone. You can't have a critique partner that's not someone you sit with at church. For example, I sent my kids to a sleep away camp two hours away. I didn't tell a soul and fifteen people from my writing group and church told me how much fun the twins were having. Then they all sent pictures.

This isn't a writing problem. This is a people problem. I'm probably not the right person to ask about people problems because I've long believed the world would be better off if I was in charge and everyone had to do what I say. Not for nutthin' does my nameplate say Queen of the Known Universe

I often hear that writing is a solitary pursuit. It seems like you need more of the solitary and less of the pursuit. 

While it is true that everyone executes ideas in their own way and what Bob writes will be very different than what you write, even if you start with the same idea, it's just plain rude to ask a writer to see their work in progress. Of course, he's gotten in the habit of doing so because you've let him.

As to how you change this long standing practice of sharing, I do not know. My way would involve something that would probably get you shunned by the community, bless their hearts.

On the other hand, the readers of this blog often demonstrate they are very nice people. I'll bet they have some dandy ideas.



Unknown said...

First? ;)

Unknown said...


I'm all for being blunt. No way to confuse things. Start off with a compliment (I think what you did with my latest idea was just plain wonderful, you old back-stabbing son of a bitch, you), and then let him know it's the last one he'll ever see.

Unknown said...

I've never feared people taking my ideas. My theory has always been this -

I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and better than anyone who can write faster.

Using this theory and Janet's comment, the chances of Bob coming up with anything even remotely worthwhile is pretty slim. That's like having a vivid dream and sharing it with someone while expecting they'll have the exact same dream even more vividly than you.

I've had plenty of lyrics ripped off as well as concepts for albums in my backstabbing bottom-feeding musicians community, and I still love them to death. It's the ultimate compliment really, someone wanting to copy your work because they like your ideas so much. But at the end of the day, they are your ideas, and only you can execute them... And hats the most important part.

Linda Strader said...

I learned the hard way that if you share your writing with friends and family, you will NOT get back what you were hoping for. Some will love it, some hate it, some will tell you to write it differently. So I don't share with them anymore. The best critiques will come from those who don't know you very well.

So in this case, thank "Bob" for his input, and never ask again. If he wonders why, tell him you're not ready to show him anything. Or tell him he can read it when it's published and comment as much as he wants.

Tony Clavelli said...

A good, trusted reader is golden. Bob is not the good trusted reader. Bob kind of sucks. If he really wants to see your work, ask him to proofread finished stuff only. If he's totally insufferable (he sounds maybe awful--he steals ideas and then is all fragile about his feelings?), and telling the truth will cause a town-wide problem, then tell him you quit writing and just keep doing it! You only owe your writing to yourself. Not the Bobs.

Not that finding a quality reader is easy. Living abroad as long as I have has dampened some of the relationships I made during my MFA, and websites like Scribophile offer very limited help. It's like being single, but without any of positives. Actually, I kind of wish there was a sort of dating site for readers: I'm into literary-leaning sci-fi, new weird (if that's a real genre?), looking for a good eye, not-gentle critiques, but still encouraging. Preferably one who accepts rambling emails.
You could post sentences in lieu of pictures. Swipe left for the Bobs.

Tony Clavelli said...

Brian--that's a really cool theory! I wish I could say the same, but my confidence only allows the first three words of it: "I can write." But what if you weren't really ready to write the story, just tossing it out as a possibility, verbally, and then wrote something else first.

There was a great post on Neil Gaiman's blog many years ago that I just failed to find about how he is constantly approached by people who say that have really amazing ideas, guaranteed to be huge best sellers. Then they mention how they can't write, but it would be perfect for Gaiman, and they can split the millions fairly. And Mr. Gaiman posted (and I'm paraphrasing over years, and filtering it with my own philosophies...) about how ideas are sort of valueless--that it's really all in the execution. I still think Bob has to go, but I agree with the concept that the idea isn't really the hard part.

Unknown said...

I agree with Tony. You should not share your unfinished work with someone you don't trust. The Lord's Prayer says keep me from temptation, not don't let me sin. There's a reason for that.

There are also great reasons for not sharing your WIP even to close people you do trust and love, but talking about that could go on and on for a very long time. Suffice it to say that a good cp, someone you can trust, cheers you on, AND gives you useful and honest advice, is very hard to find.

french sojourn said...

"pssst Sharque"


"can you at least supply us with something?"


"oh, I don't know....something like a mailbox address, street intersection....last name, facsimile?"

"doesn't work that way."

"gotta do the legwork huh?"

"pretty much." *turns and does a lazy chandelle side flip back into the cold Atlantic and fades from view.*

"critics...everyone's a critic." *lights a cigarette and walks off into the darkness.*

Rakie said...

Tony, i would love to sign up for a dating site for readers! Instead of selfies would everyone put up a profile picture of their current to-read pile of books?

Kitty said...

Buzz off, Bob.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Like Brian I've had people copy my artwork. It sucks when they steal it and that has happened to me more than once. I don't agree that copying is the best compliment I think that is pure envy.

When I learned to say no to people I was forty. I found I spent all my time doing things for friends and didn't have time to paint. I decided that for the entire month of May, I would say 'no' to everyone. I lost some friends but then realized they were not friends. This may have brought on my divorce.

One Bob was incredible. He asked if he could plug his computer into my telephone line at my 'gallery' just for ten minutes so he could download his email. He had the habit of standing one foot in the door and one on the sidewalk so he wasn't really in my space but didn't consider he blocked the door to possible clients. Everyone knows that computer tasks never take ten minutes. He used to ask if I would feed his 19 year old cat then would tell me friends were coming, would I mind showing them how the washing machine worked. Turns out they were renting from him and I had to scoop the poop.

I told Bob he could take his computer down the street to a internet cafe. I wasn't rude but he never talked to me again. it felt good.

There is only one way to say no. It's a two letter word.

Kitty said...

This reminds me of that hilarious movie WHAT ABOUT BOB? Poor Dr. Leo Marvin couldn't ditch Bob, not even on vacation. He's never gone! And to make matters worse, everyone loves Bob.

Colin Smith said...

What Neil Gaiman said via Tony is true: ideas are a dime-a-dozen. I've had loads of ideas for great novels. And let me tell you about my agent and the multi-million dollar publishing deal I DON'T have... because agents are not interested in a good idea, and I can't put a good idea on the shelf in B&N. They want NOVELS. STORIES. It's in the execution, as the paraphrased Gaiman says.

What to do about Bob? "Bob hates my writing but loves my ideas."--has this always been the case? Why share your work with someone who doesn't like your writing? I presume his dislike is based on style and/or voice, and not something you ought to fix? I'm sure Janet receives plenty of pages from good writers whose writing just doesn't do it for her. I'm sure you've read plenty of well-written books whose prose just doesn't *zing* for you. That's not something any beta reader or CP would change. So, I would tell Bob: "I think I need to find a CP who can actually stand to read my writing. That's the only way my novels are going to improve." Or words to that effect. And walk away. Don't beat him up over stealing your ideas. Like paraphrased-Gaiman said, ideas are cheap. Bob might not execute them any better than you--worse, perhaps!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hmm, small communities and habitual patterns of behavior? And FIFTEEN people in your writing group?!! holymoly. That's way too many from my perspective. I'm a pastor and when I lived for 11+ years in a small town, I guarded whatever privacy I could find like a little dog with a treasured bone.

Opie, it's hard to change behavior patterns but it sounds like that's what you want to do. Hold firm. Linda and Amanda give you two different approaches. AND, as QOTKU wrote already your writing voice will be unique. Bob cannot write a story in your voice. And I agree with Brian and Tony, you don't need to fear Bob taking ideas. Unless of course, you're giving Bob the minutest minuscule details? If so, you need to change that behavior.

Linda: I gave my WIP to a friend. She had been a wonderful critique partner for my nonfiction book. NOT so much with fiction. She wants me to hurry this baby up! But my fiction writing is fermenting very nicely. I just I'm making sourdough bread rather than sauerkale!

DeadSpiderEye said...

'Remember that story you wrote? I've written it again, only better than you'.

I hesitate to draw firm conclusions on scant awareness but that's what it sounds like to me and now he's pestering you for your latest ideas? Those ostensibly conscientious folk, so concerned about whatever: social issues, climate change, the price of bananas; when they find a convenient doormat, they never seem hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity to clomp their muddy boots down do they?

You're annoyed at him, obviously, you stated it, stop behaving like a doormat and tell him, politely and without fear or favour, that ripping off someone's work without consultation, is inconsiderate and his behaviour makes you feel circumspect about the prospect of sharing your work with him again. That's a perfectly acceptable attitude to adopt and if he's sincere he'll accept it, he should apologise too. If he objects to it, then you can draw your own conclusion about the quality of his friendship.

DLM said...

If you are brave enough to nab someone else's idea after telling them pointblank you don't like their writing, you had better damned well be stoic enough to take it when their response to that is "You know, after the last time you made such a point of one-upping me, I'm not comfortable sharing with you anymore."

Nothing more.

And NOTHING less.

Dude's a tool.

I actually disagree with Amanda and Brian (with adoration and respect).

Firstly, there is zero need here for honeying the vinegar this other guy poured. No need to be as much of a jerk as he is, but certainly no need for compliments or patting his head after he's punched YOU, OP.

And this scenario falls well outside the inexperienced author who fears someone will steal their bestseller, so they ostentatiously KEEP IT A SEEKRIT. This is just plain old ordinary asshattery. I don't hide My Precious ideas away like I used to either - but this isn't a Gollum problem. This is a jerk who's whistling while you're trying to putt.

Don't play the course beside him. Clearly: he CAN interfere with the incredibly intimate mental space where you do what is after all YOUR writing. You are not obligated to play with him, no matter how small the town y'all share. (Let the town know what the putz did, and he'll be the one shunned, not you - if anyone was to be, in this situation.)

And this is not about racing. It does not MATTER who writes "Idea A" faster. What matters is that this is a proven tool who's looking to hang in someone else's workshop.

Get. Him. Out. No sugar, and no starter's pistol. Just lock the door on your workshop and know that it is YOURS alone.

The guy broke this OP's trust. He doesn't get to whinge to get that back.

Jamie Kress said...

Well, if Bob actually does hate the letter writer's writing, in not her ideas, perhaps there is a simple solution as others have suggested. Letter writer could always, when next Bob asks, say politely, "While I appreciate your willingness to help, given my style isn't one you like, I've decided to branch out and find other readers to critique this work. That way I can determine if our differences are in taste or if there is a problem in my work more people are finding." This happens a lot in writer's groups (at least in my experience) because taste can be subjective, and sometimes two people simply are not on the same wavelength. If he persists, I'd follow up with, "It's nice of you to offer, but at this point in my process, I'm looking for a different perspective." Repeat as politely as possible until he stops.

DLM said...

Okay, and I JUST got another email from Curtis Brown Creative. The spamming, it is official. And I am blocking them.

Susan Bonifant said...

If I'm pressed to share that I'm writing something or starting a book (because there are situations when it's more awkward not to share that) the response is, of course, going to be "Wow! Really? What's it about?"

I used to get ridiculously balled up at this point, trying to "explain" something I had only started envisioning myself. So this is what I do now: I make an apologetic face and say, "I actually can't talk about it at this point." I say it as if I am obeying a secret writer-law. ALWAYS, the response is: "Oh! Oh, okay, I get that."

But, let's say you're at a party and some emboldened person says, "No, seriously, what's it about?" Try this: lean in and say, "Let me explain. A book idea is extremely exciting but very fragile for a writer. It's the way children feel who have a pretty butterfly very gently cupped in their little hands. If you ask them to show you and they open their hands, it goes away, and it might not come back."

If they're still listening, they'll probably "get it" at that point and go find an engineer or attorney to talk to.

DLM said...

Hee. I do feel compelled to observe: nobody EVER presses me to share my work about an ancient Frankish king or (as in the case of the WIP) an Ostrogothic queen regnant who was murdered in her bath at the dawn of the Dark Ages ...

Huh. Go figure.

*Giant wink*

Colin Smith said...

Diane: You had a couple of requests from folks here, didn't you? :)

DLM said...

Angie has been my wonderful first reader. But nobody was clamoring for the thing before it was ever finished!

And, at least for now, this concludes the ME ME ME ME ME ME ME portion of your morning ...

Dena Pawling said...

I am writing this comment like my cross-examination style. Sorry, but this is how it's coming out.

>>Bob and I have been sharing works forever. Bob hates my writing but loves my ideas.

I haven't been seriously writing long enough to say I've been sharing works with anyone *forever*, but one of my original CPs has wonderful ideas and I don't really care for her writing style. It's not bad, but it's just not what I prefer.

>>I guess one day Bob loved an idea so much Bob decided to write it better.

Is this Bob talking? “I can write it better.” Or is this you talking? “Bob wrote it better.” If you're talking, be sure to analyze why you think his writing is better. If it's him talking, then consider the source.

>>I'm afraid to share my most recent work with Bob now. Bob really wants it.

Is that because Bob loves your ideas? Or because of Bob's lack of good/original ideas? Remember, (1) ideas can't be copyrighted, and (2) there's no such thing as a unique idea. My guess is what you're trying to say is that Bob's stuff is starting to “look and feel” [a phrase I stole from IP/legal issues regarding websites and computer programming] like yours. This is theoretically supposed to be the highest compliment, but I agree with you. I certainly wouldn't like it. On the other hand, if I tried to write like Stephen King, I'm sure people wouldn't mistake my stuff for his. On the third hand [a phrase relevant to my current WIP], the thought of Stephen King writing women's fiction gives me the shudders.

>>Here in my little suburb everyone is friends and knows everyone.

There is a BIG difference between “everyone is friends” and “everyone knows everyone.” Based on what you wrote, the second phrase may be true, but the first phrase certainly doesn't sound true.

>>You can't have a critique partner that's not someone you sit with at church.

I beg to differ. When I started getting serious about my writing, I found CPs from my local RWA meeting and my church. One I still have, the others left for various reasons. We're still friends, but we don't critique each other. I found more CPs from commenters on this blog. You can trust me when I tell you that all of them are located at least 2000 miles away from me. Now of course everyone agrees that my SoCal location is much preferable to where these other poor deprived folks are forced against their will to live, but the point is that you don't have to have CPs that you've ever met in person. Computers and Microsoft Word can really open things up for you.

>>For example, I sent my kids to a sleep away camp two hours away. I didn't tell a soul and fifteen people from my writing group and church told me how much fun the twins were having. Then they all sent pictures.

This is either creepy or really nice. Glad your kids had fun and that you have friends who aren't like Bob. In one respect, I like being an attorney. I can be obnoxious in telling someone to bug off, and no one really expected me to be nice about it in the first place =)

Tell Bob you need some fresh eyes. Then work at finding some. Good luck.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

all right Dena; FORCED to live elsewhere!? Sorry but I do happen to prefer Minnesota's blizzards and mosquitoes to the wildfires that roar around in California. With apologies to Christina in Alaska, who was so recently on tenterhooks, I can still sit in the comfort of my own home to avoid those catastrophes. Although tornadoes...well, I have a decent basement in my current living situation.

However, I do enjoy visiting other areas and SoCal has areas that appeal.

Unknown said...

"I actually disagree with Amanda and Brian (with adoration and respect)"

LOL..THAT:S the way to do it!

DLM said...

Amanda: proving my mamma taught me when you DO use honey instead of vinegar. :)

Matt Adams said...

I'm sure the link won't work, but if you want to read Gaiman's masterpiece on this, here's the address:

My dad had a lot of great advice, but one of them was the -- don't talk about your problems at work while your at home, because then you have two problems. I think that's what is going on with Opie -- s/he is talking to people in her social circle about writing.


The process is too slow for most people to understand, so they'll perceive your year of querying as a failure of some sort. They don't know that sometimes when you're bouncing around the kitchen, you're working a new scene through in your head. They don't get that rewriting the same thing for the fourth time isn't wasted effort, nor do they understand that not every success is shown on the shelves. They'll hit you with stories of 50 Shades or (this will be heard a lot in the next six months) The Martian as to maybe you should be self publishing. They'll hit you with ideas; they'll hit you with whatever they can think of. What they see is someone who does what they are sure they could do, too, if they really wanted.

I'm in the process of reactivating my real estate license just so I can have that answer to the question of "what do you do for a living?" when someone asks. The next time I tell someone I'm a writer will be on publication day. Not before.

So, back to Opie because I've digressed. Tell Bob that what you're working on sucks and you're trunking it. The next time he asks, tell him that you're just tossing some stuff around, that nothing is really sticking, that you're mostly dealing with rewriting and outlining, and how 'bout those Cubs, huh? If Bob hates your writing, then it doesn't help you to share your writing with Bob. If you think Bob steals your ideas, then it doesn't help you to read him, either.

One of my favorite books a not-widely-read book called Face Time. It doesn't matter what it's about, and I mostly only like it for the last page -- where one MC tells the other that the world conspires to tell us we're nothing, that there's always someone better out there. As writers we get this maybe even more than most, because we're told of how many queries come in, how many books are rejected, how much crap there is. Even QOTKU -- who, by any definition is a wonderful, kind and caring person for no other reason than she runs this blog in order to help people -- tells us we've only got the hook -- 30 or so words --to convince her our the book we've spent years on is worth reading. We're told we have to wait months for replies, months to review our partials or full, months to wait for editors and so on and so on.

So, the MC of Face Time says if you love someone, what you owe them is that you make them feel significant. And that's what we (as writers) find ourselves looking desperately for -- someone to tell us what we are doing matters. That's why every form rejection is taken as an affront, why we show strangers our best efforts. We want someone to tell us what we are doing is good, worthwhile, because we don't always feel that way. A lot of what we writers seem to want is validation; validation for our ideas, for our talent, for our hard work.

And in the end, I think, that's what we have to get past, because it never really comes. Finished MSes begets form rejections, agented works beget passes, published works beget bad reviews, second novels beget unfavorable comparisons to the first. Ten bestsellers begets being called a hack by MFA students. So stop talking to Bob about your work -- it doesn't sound like you get much out of anyway.

Sorry for the long and rambling rant, everyone, Please feel free to tell me how great I am :)

Theresa said...

These questions made me think of two things:

1. I never have a good, quick come-back. I think of my best lines way after the initial encounter. Sort of like George and the shrimp-eating incident on Seinfeld. So I wouldn't have responded to Bob and then would have avoided sharing anything in the future by saying I wasn't writing any more.

2. A good CP is hard to find. There was a song written about that a few decades ago, wasn't there? I've just begun the process of getting feedback on my WIP by signing up for classes and workshops, and hope some day to find a CP. I agree, there's a need for a for writers.

DLM said...

Matt, you're SUPERDUPER! You are even neato-spedito, and I reserve that for special occasions.

Also, Dena is a flippin' genius.

Elissa M said...

I can't really tell from the OP's letter if Bob actually stepped over the line or if OP is super sensitive and is jumping to conclusions. There's no commentary on Bob's work or ideas other than he took one of OP's ideas and wrote it "better" (a subjective assessment if I ever saw one).

While there's not enough info to truly assess Bob's motives or intentions, OP is upset, and that's the issue. If I'd known a critique partner "forever", I'm pretty sure I'd have no problem saying straight out, "Bob, I don't appreciate that you took my idea and ran with it. While I'm grateful for the feedback you've provided, I don't feel I can trust you as a critique partner any longer. I think it's best that we stop sharing work until after its published."

If you think you really can't lay it on the line about why you're ticked off, just use the "I need fresh eyes" excuse.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably the wrong reader to ask for ideas on how to handle Bob.

I hate rude behavior in a man. Won't tolerate it.

Yes, ideas are a dime a dozen, but I would be mad if this idiot was reading my material just so he could get ideas he is too dull to get on his own. We all know of stories where books have been turned down because they're too similar to something else they have. I had a major agent turn down Far Rider because it was too similar to something he repped. Ideas do matter.

Granted, no two writers are going to write the same story, but if I write a story about an eleven-year-old orphan who gets an invitation to go to a wizarding school where they play a game of catch on flying broomsticks, most agents are probably going to pass.

Tell your "friend" no. Stop calling him your friend. Friends don't do that. Find crit partners you can trust. I think you could probably trust crit partners who are strangers more than him. Don't apologize. Just because you're in a small community, doesn't mean you have to be a doormat.

Pretend you're Ouiser Boudreaux if you have to. Pretend she's your aunt and told you not to show that darned story to anyone else or she was going to jerk you bald headed.

Tell him a writing professional told you not to show it. That's true. I'm telling you not to show it to him.

Megan V said...

Ha! Dena, I went through Opie's post in much the same way; there must be something in the water they give out to attorneys.

In any case, without rehashing everything Dena said and did, my advice Opie is to take the direct approach. Just say no and give them your reasons.

Of course, I once had a pal who told me to treat a CP break up like the hour after couples' therapy.

Bob: "Can I see your work? Please! Oh Please!"
Response: "When you ask to read my WIP, I am glad. But I don't feel comfortable sharing it right now."
Bob: "But why? I love your ideas!"
Response: "I understand you like my ideas, but you also don't like my writing style. I feel I need someone who works better with the way I write."
Bob: "I write better than you, that's all."
Response: "When you say you write better than me, I get upset."

And so flows the awkward discourse.

Of course you could always combine directness with the couples therapy approach.

You: "Hey Bob! I wanted to talk to you. By doing XY and Z, you've made me feel uncomfortable about sharing my writing with you. I understand that this may upset you, but I don't want to share with you anymore. That said, I am grateful for all of the help you've given me!"

But I vote for just plain no.

Ashes said...

I also live in the middle of nowhere. Population 2.2k and sleepover camp is an hour and a half away.

I'm pretty sure there are no suitable critique partners in town. There are a few non-fiction writers and historians, but I would be shocked to find someone else working on genre fiction (let alone fiction in my specific genre).

For a long time, writing was, as Janet suggests, a solitary pursuit.

Then I joined an online writing community and things got so much better. I met people who had opinions on everything from point of view to process. Yes, I learned a lot, but I also became part of a community and the biggest benefits haven't been the lessons learnt, the critiques exchanged, or the advice given. The biggest benefits have been encouragement from other writers and being able to talk about writing with peers.

Two of my critique partners live on the other side of Canada. One is just a province away. I've never met any of them in person. Last year I had weekly Skype meetings with two of them and my manuscript is better for it.

If you live in a small town and have limited contact with other writers, my advice is to get online. You can tell from Janet's wonderful blog commenters that the caliber of writers you'll meet online is superb. There are a bunch of active writing communities and writers networking through facebook and blogging and twitter besides. Don't limit yourself to people you can meet in person. Time to move on.

LynnRodz said...

I love the nameplate, Janet!

OP, I'm not going to be a good person to give you an answer because you seem too sweet and sweet is not how I would react. Then again, I've never had to live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else so that may make a difference.

As for that no good, Bob. I'm too much like Janet and her cat in the second photo. I would smack Bob across the side of the head for even suggesting to look at my most recent WIP after what he did. It's the whole, "fool me once..." quote.

I agree with Diane, no sugar coating is needed, but then again, I like Susan's answer about the butterfly. Sooo, you just have to do what Angie said, and say no. If you lose Bob as a friend, you really didn't lose much, did you?

Theresa, isn't it terrible to always think of your best lines afterwards? I'm like that too.

Sorry Dena, they couldn't pay me enough to live in California. I know what I'm talking about. I spent time back in my hippie days living on the Sunset Strip. It was great fun at the time, and I still enjoy visiting from time to time, but too many loonies to ever want to live there again.

Brian, who knew hats are the most important part? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I don't want to actively dissuade Ms. Sharque et al from thinking I'm a nice person; I'm quite good at doing that inadvertently. But. The lack of respect and privacy Opie describes are the right buttons to press to make me very thorny indeed. And when I feel thorny enough, the filter between what I'm thinking and what I'm saying wears gossamer thin (not to be confused with the lovely feline of the same name).

At the very least, Opie seems as though s/he would in fact be better off without Bob. It's a hard thing to consider, especially if Bob is a friend-friend in addition to being a writing friend. But sometimes....a friendship isn't what you thought it was, when you examine the evidence. And you don't need to worry about both your writing and protecting it from Bob. If he wants to know your next idea, he can wait 'til it has an ISBN.

Adib Khorram said...

I have found online critique partners to be a huge blessing. I've had real-life ones in the past, and several of my best friends are writers, too, but we just don't click. We come at ideas in different ways and we need different things.

I know that's different than the situation with Bob, but I think the same tactic might prove helpful:

I just don't talk about my writing anymore, except in the vaguest generalities. Because these people are my friends and I want us to do friendly things together.

If Bob is your friend outside of writing pursuits, then I'd say just redirect the friendship along those lines. And if he's only a buddy because of the writing...well, all good things must come to an end. Especially if they're not so good anymore.

Incidentally, there are lots of ways to find online critique partners these days. In fact, I think there's a #CPMatch on Twitter on July 11th. Maggie Stiefvater has a Critique Partner Love Connection on her websites. There's always Absolute Write. I met my own fabulous critique partner through WriteOnCon last year.

Scott Sloan said...

To add my quite worthless two pennies to the tip jar:

I tend to be rather blunt in instances like this. If 'Bob' were to treat me in this manner, and then want to see my next WIP, I think I would explain the consequences of his previous actions to him.

"You take my ideas, and use them as your own. You say you don't like my style of writing. That's not a critiquing partner, that's a fashion consultant. Since you seem incapable of discerning the outcome of your own actions, I no longer have faith in your ability to discern much of anything, at all."

I understand the whole 'small town thing'. I really do. But you're either committed to the process of writing, or you're not. Either bite the bullet and jerk a knot in this jerks' ego, or admit that you prefer his continued 'friendship' to you're own growth as a writer, and be done with it.

The ideas that pass for 'friendship' these days…

Laura said...

I took a writing class in which, for the duration (twelve weeks), we were not allowed to speak about our work outside of class. The teacher said it dissipated the work, talking about it instead of doing it and opening it up to people who would muck us up - not on purpose, but because they couldn't see it as we could.

Bob, thank you for your support but I've decided not to talk about or share my work. Please don't ask me about it again.

Telling him why only invites him to argue with you.

Jenz said...

Small town people a frequently all up in each other's business. They know this, and because of that they expect people set their own boundaries. If you don't do that, they'll assume you have none. That might earn you pity, but it won't get you any respect.

Learning to set boundaries isn't easy, but it's a by-god necessity if you want to keep living in a small town.

Anonymous said...

A good hat is important. I have a 75x now. Someday I'm going to have a good 100x. I had one I wore to one conference and didn't like it because it was too stiff. I sold it. I need the cashmere one.

Craig F said...

I know BOB (Boring old Bastard, Borrowing Old Bastard...). In fact I know a bunch of BOBs. They are everywhere. It would be nice to say they are lazy but they are not. They just like what you are doing more than what they are doing. At times it seems easy to pity their lack of self confidence but then they piss you off again and you stomp that pity. They are harder to get rid of than Remoras.

Yes ideas are a dime a dozen for many writers. An idea you can really sink your teeth into and develop into a concept, outline and a manuscript are priceless. They are priceless because you have confidence in them. Bob does not have that confidence in their ideas.

I have almost come close to becoming a BOB. A young lady on a forum loves to write queries. She pumps out four to six a year. Rarely does she develop their story line. I don't think she ever finished one. The story was about a girl who survived a massacre. She had only a series of cuts.

I suggested turning it into a thriller. The cuts would scar into a clue but not for ten more years. When it happened again. By then the girl was lost in the foster system.

She decided that she could not write a thriller, only fantasies. It got dropped. I almost stole it but refrained.

I refrained because the timeline I made for my series doesn't have a place for it to fit and that series will take most of the rest of my life to write.

By the way I have decided to go the Lucas path and have shelved Taint. I made it too complex for my limited query skills to encompass in a writerly fashion.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Capt. BS first, congrats.

Janet says there's some nice people on this blog, ha, who is she kidding :)
At work, no time to read, battery is almost dead, lunch almost over. Have a nice day boys and girls, see ya later.

Lizzie said...

DLM -- the literary agency is spamming people? Gross.

Bob sounds really lame. Maybe quit the army-sized crit group for a while and see where your writing takes you when you're writing just for you.

S.D.King said...

Jamie Kress - I think you hit the nail on the head. (I think I want to have you for a friend - you're nice)

Polite. Firm. Repeat.

I found two wonderful critique partners online through SCBWI. If you are not a children's book writer (I think I am the only one on this forum), I know that Miss Snark's First Victim just held a critique partner dating event. There have to be others. The distance did not hurt the critique process. It in fact, helped.

Sorry that Bob was a toad.

Unknown said...

There's the temptation to be hyperblunt: "Oh, you want more samples of my work to make your forgeries more convincing? Sure, let me hand those right off to you." If you can find a way to literally drip sarcasm from your dainty fangs, I award you forty bonus points.

In the interest of exhibiting social graces, though, something more along the lines of "Thanks for your support, but I've realized that this process isn't working for me as a writer, and I've decided to keep my work to myself until it's completely done/publication-ready/actually published."

I'm very lucky in that my critique group won't even allow works through until they're finished and as good as the author can make them, so we steer miles clear of this particular trap.

{{Incidentally, Captcha and I disagree on what one might call a "birthday cake" and what is clearly just "I stopped by the bakery after sewing for ten hours straight."}}

Anonymous said...

I think the OP ought to tell Bob, "I'll let you know where you can buy it when it's published. Thanks so much for letting me know I can count on your support!"

Adele said...

"Here in my little suburb everyone is friends and knows everyone." (Fabulous jump line.)

As I see it the important thing here is that Opie can't figure out how to stick up for herself and keep that world view alive, so what we need here is something non-confrontational. Think of it like a writing exercise. Here are three scenarios off the top of my head, to get you going:

- just change your own behaviour and stick to it. Bob says "Hi! I've been working on my spy story!" and you say "Oh!" and smile and tell him you've been working on your garden. He goes back to his writing, you discover you need another cup of coffee. Somehow you two just never get into the cosy chats you used to have. If he asks you "What do I do about xxxx?" you say you have no idea but you are sure he'll come up with something good. Then you change the subject. This method requires patience, but it will work in the end.

- or, gently tell Bob that you've decided to stop sharing writing with him because you realize their chats are just confusing your own writing. So you have to back away, and you know that Bob, being a writer himself, will understand. He will still have the habit of talking writing to you, but you don't let yourself get drawn in.

- or if you want, you gently tell Bob that you have to back away from sharing writing because you're afraid that one day you will inadvertently use one of his ideas, and you don't want such a black spot on your conscience. Then you back away and stay backed away. Trust that if he thinks about this turn of events at all, he'll figure it out.

Bob could retaliate but all you have to do is keep on keeping on. No need to not be friends, no need for a nasty disagreement to ripple through the community.

Mister Furkles said...

So I confess to having a devious mind. Warped really. It wasn’t always thus. It’s Janet’s fault really; she got me into reading thrillers and mysteries full of devious, evil people. So after a few dozen novels by folks like DeMille, Lee Child, Jeff Somers, Sanford, Pat Lee, Preston & Child, and others, …well, I just don’t think the right thing anymore.

(1) No more friends or family in your critique group. Get an online critique group. But first research them. Try several. Find two: One you like and join it, another that’s not so good.

(2) Drive to a distant library with public computers where nobody knows you. Wear latex gloves and a medical mask. Keep your hat on and wear dark glasses. Don’t park in the library lot but a couple of blocks away. You get the idea.

(3) At the library, join the bad CG using somebody else’s name; I recommend Bob’s name. Find a story in your genre that is not too good. You want something that is moderately well written and with a good idea that’s executed poorly. Copy it to a thumb drive. Remove the writer’s name and give it to Bob.

Anonymous said...

And Adele wins the internet today.

Matt Adams said...

I'm going to jump back in and defend Bob a bit. While we don't have enough information, the idea of being vilified for stealing someone else's ideas is a tough one to swallow because it's what we all do to an extent. It's what you do with the idea that matters.

Bob many have taken a broad concept and turned it into something Opie's definition of "idea" may be overly broad, too. If Opie's idea was what would happen if the mitochondria in a penguin got transposed and it turned them into a super-intelligent Antarctic empire, that's one thing. But if it's two people from different world's falling in love, that's another.

Again, we don't know the details, but there's a level of sensitivity and protection about our ideas that we might not be entitled to -- Google searches of almost any topic can show that a lot of ideas have been written before, and I think it's hard to condemn someone for "stealing" an idea, when it might not be as clear cut as it originally sounds.

That said, if he's vocal about hating Opie's writing, that's jerky behavior. But one person's hating might be another's attempt at constructive criticism, and I think that has to be considered as well.

DLM said...

I have to be honest, the overwhelming exhortation to be gentle and sweet with Bob confounds me. There is, and I acknowledge it, no reason for rudeness, but ... Bob has committed intellectual theft here.

Why that act should be stripped of its consequences and treated obliquely or sweetly I simply am unable to (unwilling to?) understand.

Maybe I'm just too much a believer that bad behavior should result in negative consequences (even if such consequences are not rude). But the idea that this must be dealt with by way of euphemism, deflection, and passive resistance confuses me.

Bob was a naughty boy. In my experience, naughty boys have to go in time out, or get their toys taken away for a while, or receive a scolding. Naughtiness is rewarded with punishment.

Again. I'm not advocating for gun violence here, but all this niceness is bewildering me.

For what reason has Bob earned this much deference and charm?

I'm not reading anything into Bob's moustache-twirling villainy. He's stolen before. This is the plain fact. I think Dena is right, that the OP needs to examine "who's saying what" exactly as she's illustrated above.

But ... I mean, one writer nabbing another's idea isn't exceptionally ambiguous, no matter what else is. This is misbehavior.

I literally am unable to understand why that should be overlooked.

REJourneys said...

When people ask me to share my ideas/show my work (and not in the grade school math way), I smile and sing "It's a secret," with an added wink at the end.

What I don't tell them is the inner dialogue of "I don't trust you. You're going to steal my work. You're a good person, but this might be the idea that does you in."

I have an unfortunate distrust of people, all people. Only when I get to know them can I trust them, but even then sometimes your chocolate just disappears.

Anonymous said...

That is a nasty situation.

One one hand, ideas can't be copyrighted, and yes, his book will be quite different from yours.

On the other hand, there's the matter of trust.

The first is a legal and practical standpoint. The second is personal.

Never share your work with someone you don't trust. Don't read his, and don't let him read yours.

Find an online community. I think you'll have a much better experience there. I don't know what genre you write, but if it's science fiction, fantasy, or horror, I'd suggest Critter's Workshop (a free community) or the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror - this one costs (after a free trial) but it's worth it for the value of critiques you get. If you write a different genre, perhaps others will have suggestions for online groups for you to check out.

Then tell Bob that you've found this workshop, and you really enjoy it. You've decided to stick with the forum for your critiques now.

That might not earn you bonus points in your small community, but you'll be less likely to get 'bad neighbour' points than if you simply say, "No, I don't trust you anymore."

Not only has Bob hurt your trust, but he doesn't like your writing, anyway. You don't need a critique partner who doesn't like the way you write. I've had one or two like that, and honestly, they're just not going to be very helpful. There's a difference between 'critiquing' someone and 'being critical'. The first is important; the second is harmful.

Matt: You *are* great!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

As a side note, and I debated mentioning this, "QQ" is Internet/MMO parlance for "crying", "quitting", or "why don't you quit?" I know here it stands for "query question", but for some reason, my brain handles acronyms and abbreviations abnormally, so if I already have one in place, I have to actively switch my usage to a newer one.

(not that I ever told somebody to "QQ" on an MMO, mind you. I just know it's a "thing", perhaps largely in World of Warcraft raiding culture, in which I had no interest. I kind of played WoW like a single player game, which made it very easy to quit when I didn't feel like playing/paying anymore)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Perhaps you could outline a "fake memoir" and give it to Bob. Tell him it's the best idea you've ever thought of.

Jane meets Bob at writing group.
They become crit partners.
Bob likes Jane's ideas.
Jane thinks that's cool.
Jane shares her WIP.
A series of events blocks Jane's attendence to crit group.
Jane returns to crit group to discover Bob has reworked her WIP and is querying it.
Jane has a reaction.

Donnaeve said...

I read the OP's statements at face value. The OP says:

1. Bob and I have been sharing works forever.
2. Bob hates my writing but loves my ideas.
3. I guess one day Bob loved an idea so much Bob decided to write it better.
4. I'm afraid to share my most recent work with Bob now.
5. Bob really wants it.

I'm late but I agree with Diane. I don't understand the "be nice to Bob" position. This would be my response:

1. Bob and I have been sharing works forever. NOT ANYMORE.
2. Bob hates my writing but loves my ideas. 2a. TOO BAD. 2b. TOUGH SHIT.
3. I guess one day Bob loved an idea so much Bob decided to write it better. SAYS WHO?
4. I'm afraid to share my most recent work with Bob now. AFRAID? Have mercy.If you're afraid of what "everyone" will think/say, I could NOT live that way. I live in a small town. I used to worry about what everyone thought. NOT ANYMORE.
5. Bob really wants it. See 2a, and 2B

I don't know what's crawled up my craw on this one, but I hope after reading all the advice, the OP is able to effectively disassociate from good ole Bob.

I bet you ten to one, Bob actually is IMPRESSED with the OP's writing, but GOD FORBID he admit it.

DLM said...

I'm struck by the presumption that our OP is a woman. If we were assuming OP was a man, would there be this insistence upon sweetness and light, on pretending nothing happened, on looking at anything - strategies for how to find a new CP, or just how to exit this non-partnership - other than the problem.

Which is that this guy stole an idea AND has clearly interfered with OP's mental sacred-space, the workshop I was on about above.

Dude's a TOOL. Let him hang on his own pegboard, take down the hook he's using on yours.

Kate Larkindale said...

I can't think of anything more terrifying than having a crit group where I actually knew the people personally. I get squeamish even thinking about people I actually know reading my books when they're published! Knowing my mother read one still makes me uncomfortable. And that was one of my tamer stories….

There are tons of online crit groups, some good, some not so good. When the good one I was in for a while fell apart, I set up a new one of my own and shoulder tapped the writers I'd most liked working with in the old group to join me. Now I have a wonderful group of writers who have been working together for over five years. None of us have met in real life and we live in Australia, Egypt the UK, New Zealand and the US. Almost all of us are now published or agented or both and this was not the case when we started working together.

Theresa said...

Thanks to all who mentioned online critique options. I may look in on the #CPMatch on Twitter. I'd seen some of the pitch events there, which kind of put me in mind of Logan's Run, so I should have figured that the Twitterverse was already practiced at putting CPs together.

I wouldn't mind talking about my writing, but I find those conversations exhausting. I'd rather use that energy for the actual writing. I heard the "Do the Work" command in my head this morning, yelped, and started outlining.

Anonymous said...

Diane: The 'strategies for how to find a new CP' are simply to address this:

"You can't have a critique partner that's not someone you sit with at church."

In this online world, you don't have to have a critique partner that lives anywhere near you.

And once the OP realizes they can find what they need - and better - elsewhere, that eliminates probably the only reason to keep Bob as a friend. And gives a better support for breaking off this harmful relationship. Male or female, we need other opinions besides our own in order to improve our writing, and having a support system in place helps people fix problems with any kind of relationship.

There isn't anything the OP can legally do to Bob. Saying 'No', finding their critique group elsewhere, not allowing Bob to see their work anymore - that's the best they can do. No matter where they live. Block Bob's e-mails. Block Bob, period. Get him out of their life.

Man or woman, the OP's gotta move on. A critique group can help the OP get back that mental space the OP needs, and can help the OP say 'Sorry, Bob. I don't need you.'

Funny how even this bad relationship needs to be dealt with the same way any other bad relationship does. Unfortunately, you can't sue Bob or divorce him. You can only find something better.

Anonymous said...

(I must be seeing things. I just can't, for the life of me, see a letter between the 'b' and the 'i' in 'publishing' in the blog header. Someone please tell me I'm going blind...)

Mark Ellis said...

I never share pre-published intellectual property with anyone I'm not paying for professional editing services, which include a legally enforceable assumption of strict confidentiality--Donald Trump.

Anonymous said...

(And if you have a problem with the 'Sorry' I threw into the 'I don't need you' speech, remember, I'm Canadian. 'Sorry' is simply a term to begin a confrontational sentence in a way to make the other person feel they can't really argue with you.)

Anonymous said...

(Not that I expected anyone to have a problem with 'Sorry', just that I realized that some folks might not think the sentence was strong enough.)

One of these days, I'm going to be able to delete and repost my posts. Until then, I'll just throw out these extra little posts that take up post space but really mean not much at all...

DLM said...

bjmuntain, I know what that stuff is meant to address, what's bewildering me is the general feeling that Bob's infraction must *not* be addressed. As I say, I'm not saying let's gun the guy down, and legal action is not the point either. Just - consequences. My feeling is that people who behave badly should experience consequences for that. Not that OP should dwell and fret and pick the scab. Just - this guy did a crappy thing to someone, and should learn that that isn't the sort of thing every someone he encounters is going to be happy with. I'm honestly not looking for howling public outrage. Just - consequences.

I hope you haven't taken me as looking to you personally as answering this post "wrong" in any way; my feeling is absolutely generalized, not a specific complaint about ANY one's responses here. I honestly don't understand why Bob gets a pass. So, no, "sorry" is no problem at all for me. I just am bewildered at the bad guy being petted and not told what he did wrong.

DLM said...

>>Not that I expected anyone to have a problem with 'Sorry'

Oh good - I was worried I was coming off as a bit intransigent and I did NOT want you thinking I was going to take prisoners about this ... :)

Elissa M said...

I've noticed a lot of people questioning why the OP should be at all nice to Bob when disassociating from him. My answer to that is, you aren't polite to Bob for his sake; it's for yourself. "You" are a decent, well mannered person and will behave as such no matter how rabble like Bob choose to behave.

Unwavering manners nearly always have greater impact than blowing off some steam. In the long run, I find extreme satisfaction in remaining polite despite there seemingly being every reason not to.

Anonymous said...

Criminy, I don't care if there's a misspelled word occasionally in a post. I hate for this to turn into a game of gotcha around here.

Janet makes sure no one pounces on commenters, so perhaps we can be gracious enough to extend that courtesy back to her even though she's said you can if you want.

Kara Reynolds said...

You know, both Liane Moriarty and Sophie Kinsella have written books where the MC suffers amnesia and can't remember a significant chunk of life then has to deal with it. The premises are exactly the same, and the executions are completely different. I loved both books, for different reasons.
But, Sophie Kinsella and Liane Moriarty are not CPs (to my knowledge...), and if one of my CPs read my work and then wrote something too similar I'd be hurt. That would be enough for me to stop sharing work with them. I'm way too timid to blow up at someone else, but if they asked for more work I'd just say I didn't have anything until they took the hint.

mhleader said...

If Beloved Bob of Blessed Bastardy hates your writing. WHY would you EVER let him see ANYTHING you write before it comes out from a publisher?

If Dirtbag Bob of Depravity further steals your story ideas, WHY would you EVER even share a cup of coffee with him?

He's a jerk SQUARED. No. He's a SUPER-SLIMY jerk SQUARED.

This is not someone you need in your life. Under any circumstances. Cut him off at the knees.

Refer him to a known malware site where his computer will be infected with "shark-porn" such that no matter what he does, shark-porn shows up on his computer. That's the level of sliminess he deserves for behavior as described. may share your grocery list with him, as long as he's paying at check-out. Otherwise...nope. Not another word.

Matt Adams said...

@DLM -- It's probably not as clear cut as it sounds, and as much as no one wants to be a group with someone who steals ideas, no one wants to be in a group whose members accuse others of stealing. it's not a matter of being nice to Bob, it's a matter of reasonable response.

Again, we don't know the details. But there's very little in literature that isn't plagiarism to one degree or another. Bob may have taken an idea s/he was bullshitting about over coffee and ran with it. That's not immoral or even wrong -- that's the way it works sometimes. S/he didn't say he'd rewritten the novel; he just took an idea and ran with it. Is Bob required to not do so? Is anything they discuss off limits now? if he has a better take on it, is he required to give it to him/her?

I don't ever pass up a story idea. I write them down or file them away somewhere in my head -- I don't care who they came from. Maybe they work -- maybe they don't -- but I'm not going to not pursue an idea simply because it's original genesis came from somewhere else. No West Side Story because of Romeo and Juliet? How many vampire, or dystopian, or romance or Pearl Harbor or alien invasion stories have there been? Not only can't you copyright ideas, you shouldn't claim them. And if yours is soon special, then you ought to recognize that

Writers are thieves; it's what we do. We steal from other people's lives all the time. We watch the people in the park -- maybe hear a snippet of a conversation -- and make up a story about them. We base our characters on bits of real people and real lives. You can't say "these ideas are off limits" any more than anyone can say it to you. It's like Gaiman said -- the genius isn't in the idea, it's in what you do with it. And frankly, Opie seems pretty petty here because s/he's not necessarily mad Bob took his/her idea, it's that s/he thinks Bob did a better job with the idea than s/he did.

Bob could REALLY want to see what s/he's working on because that's what they do. Bob just thinks s/he needs encouragement and feedback. I don't think Bob is prospecting here -- he's just trying to live out the relationship they've established.

All that said, she doesn't trust Bob anymore, and she should find the best way to get out that she can. And if she's going to be this protective of her ideas, she shouldn't share them with anyone. Because the secondary idea s/he comes up with today might turn into someone else's plot point in five years, and if s/he can't accept that, then s/he ought to not risk it.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

mhleader, don't even share your grocery list with him.

When I was young and much cuter, a man kept asking me out to lunch. My boss thought it was funny. Because my boss knew he paid me dirt and was a friend of Bob, he told me to say to tell Bob, "Ask him to buy you groceries." Acting upon my boss's advice I told Bob (in front of my boss) "You can buy me groceries." Bob said without a blink of the eye, "Sure, but then we'll go to my place and you can cook."``

Bob has a bronze mask. He's a vampire.

I agree with who said before that Bob probably admires OP's writing and is chipping away at OP's self esteem.

We all read to learn how others write. We learn their styles. We try to emulate, that's okay. Painters copy other painters to learn craft. But harping on someone's ideas, even if they are a dime a dozen, and then debassing another's craft is wierd.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay, so Bob sux at being a crit-partner, Bob sux at coming up with his own ideas, Bob sux at being a decent human being, so why share anything with him because Bob sux.

All I know, and that's not much, is that a friend of mine, who is at the dream stage of being a writer, came up with an idea that is beyond awesome. I mean it's best seller, movie option, probably win an Oscar awesome. When she told me about her characters, and plot, and title, I drooled, I mean I actually thought of saying screw you and writing the damn thing myself. But, I'm not Bob. It's my friend's baby. But what kills me is that she will probably never finish the book.

BTW, you know you're a writer if someone else's idea becomes the novel you regret not writing.
Wow, golly gee..., I should add that to my latest
"you know you're a writer if:" blog list. Was that shameless pandering for readers? Hey it wasn't my idea, it was Bobs. Blame him, he sux.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Of course ideas are a dime a dozen, and it's execution that matters. We read this time and time again, (or at least I have) in my travels 'round the Internet. My advice to perhaps cut Bob loose has little to do with my perception of Opie's sex/gender (I didn't really worry about it, I don't think), and I had no consideration for Bob's feelings. Really, my consideration was for Opie's feelings.

I mean, we all do writing prompts, yeah? Sometimes take part in writing as a group based on those prompts? And we all come up with very very different final products. It's not my ideas that I guard so rabidly; no, I talk about those with other writers I know, and again, occasionally inspiration within my admittedly small group has sprung from the same source. And again, very different final product.

No, my problem is the way Bob is making Opie feel. You shouldn't be afraid of your friends, or of sharing with your friends. That, to me, is a poisonous situation and it's typically best personally, mentally, emotionally, to avoid and/or end poisonous situations. If I felt sick to my stomach (my words, not Opie's) at the idea of sharing a story with one of my friends, I wouldn't anymore. If I felt like my every move was being scrutinized (and my children STALKED) by my writing group...well, that's a larger situation and perhaps requires some manner of mediation. There's small town and there's actively suffocating.

DLM said...

Elissa M., once again: I am not gunning for rudeness. Have stated precisely this multiple times now, but evidently not well. I have attempted not to produce any rudeness of my own in this thread. My issue is completely genuine bewilderment at the idea that this theft should be pretended away and/or smiled at. I honestly, simply, do not understand that.

This very community, just a few days ago, was publicly and quite enthusiastically shaming an AW member called Newauth for a thread at the AW boards - to the extent of name calling and a GREAT deal more reading-in of motive and intellectual poverty than I have indulged. To me, that was distateful. Yet today, my response that actual wrongdoing earns, not niceness, but punishment has garnered notable negative response. I don't know why it remains unclear, but I will state again. I am not crusading for bitter behavior.

I will explicitly and emphatically apologize for and take back "Dude's a tool" - which was unnecessarily flip and evidently inflammatory.

Matt, I do know that nothing is as clear as it seems, and for all those who've noted (a) that no idea is unique and (b) that no two treatments of one idea are the same, that too is not my point.

I trust our OP to recognize the difference between "I am writing an alt-historical novel, and BOB wrote an alt-historical novel!!!!" and "I wrote an exploration of geriatric Clark Kent's battle with prostate disease, and Bob turned in a work about Peter Perker's issues with ageing and arthritis while trying to climb walls, and ... yeah, that was weird and got to me." I don't see the value here in going into psychological depths here - what we're told is that the situation is hinky. I'm accepting the terms and discussing what I consider the reasonable thing to do in a hinky situation. Just taking the letter at its face value.

I honestly do apologize if my statements are coming off as poorly as clearly they are. I asked what I did out of genuine confusion about why someone should be given a free pass for theft. It was not meant to be a cruel indictment of a stranger without trial. Only the response to the situation ***as described***. Nothing more. Nothing less. In what was described, I see a jerk move; this does not mean I pray to G-d that this jerk needs must suffer everlasting abominations.

Just - consequences.

Bob not only nabbed an idea, which is just rude, but much more fundamentally, Bob messed with OP's head. Interfered with a writer's writing. That is seriously stinky behavior, and THAT was where I thought Bob was most fundamentally a tool.

Whether Bob is jealous of OP or despises them or secretly adores them or any of that makes no odds to me. I'm not even sure there's reason to presume Bob can't come up with his own ideas or that he's a bad guy or that Bob needs to be put in the stocks in the public square. ALL I am trying to respond to is this letter. In which we are told there was a theft. To my mind, theft carries consequences. That really is all I meant.

I'll shut up now. I am sorry to have caused any problems.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Diane!

Maybe it's the Canadian in me, but I think the OP 'leaving' Bob as a CP would be a pretty significant consequence. Especially since, as the OP says, there aren't many others in the area.

Now, I don't know if the OP and Bob actually belong to a critique group. OP doesn't say this, only that they share their works. Chances are, if OP were to quit a group because of it, or if OP were to mention it to such a group, then Bob may find himself without any CPs at all.

(For new folks:

OP = Original Poster
CP = Critique Partner

Check the blog glossary at the top, right-hand spot on Janet's blog for other such short forms)

Bob's not getting away scott free. He's losing a critique partner and probably a friendship. And possibly any other critique partner he could get in his area. I'd say any one of those is a pretty major consequence.

And I didn't take any offense. I hope you didn't, either. I just disagreed, and hoped that I was being polite enough about it that no one would take it the wrong way. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think it matters what Bob actually did or what his motivation was for doing it. The result is that this person no longer trusts him. Add that to the fact that Bob "hates my writing"-- holy guacamole, why are you even asking this question? [I assume your question is "what should I do?"]

I don't think the solution involves either being nice or being mean (although I love that cat pic). Simply tell him you've decided to change your process and have found another CP. Or decided not to use a CP. And then DO IT. Writers change their process all the time. Ditch the writing group if they're making you uncomfortable. You absolutely CAN have a CP who doesn't sit next to you, in church or anywhere else. Thinking you can't is bullshit. Explore the internet; it's awesome and it's full of writers.

You don't owe anyone an explanation or an apology. But you do owe it to yourself to protect the work. That includes removing toxic people and situations from your creative life. Period.

As for living in a small community, just think of them as an eager built-in audience of readers of your published work.

From the last post: Julie H, sending strong healing thoughts your way. Focus on what you need to do to get well. We'll be here when you get back.

Anonymous said...


I disagree.

Tolkien borrowed heavily from mythology and history to create Lord of the Rings mythos, but he created a new world inspired by mythology and history. He didn't sit down with C.S. Lewis one afternoon and have a discussion about what Lewis was writing and say, "Hew, those orc things sound pretty cool, but I really don't like the way you're writing them. I think I can do a better job."

There's a difference.

There has to be a certain amount of trust, a great deal of trust between crit partners. We're laying our souls out to them. We not only trust them not to cut our throats, but we trust them to give us good advice. It takes a long time to find that perfect posse.

Bob fails on both counts. The OP already said Bob hates their writing. Why are you exposing your writing to someone who hates it in the first place? Seriously? I'm not trying to be rude, but that's beyond dumb. Life is hard enough without inviting negativity into your little kingdom. You ought to be surrounding yourself with people who will help you grow and encourage you. This dipstick is only going to drag you down to the pits of despair and come visit every now and then to see if you have any new ideas for him.

It's not ok to use people. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Matt: I understand what you're saying. I was in a writing forum that fell to pieces because one newbie writer accused another of 'stealing her ideas' - ideas which were common fantasy tropes used (created by?) Tolkein, and used by Brooks in his Shannara series. Tropes are used because they work. And people understand tropes. They're more than just ideas. They're like a common knowledge base between various readers and writers of a certain genre.

But I don't think it's necessary to be condescending to the OP. The OP did NOT say anything about Bob's work being better, for one thing. The OP said that 'Bob decided to write it better'. Which sounds like it's more Bob's idea of 'better' than the OP's.

For another thing: Bob is a closer friend to the OP than you are. Bob is in a position of *trust*. As all critique partners are. And it looks like Bob is purposefully using the OP's ideas because he thinks he can do it better than the OP can. That's not illegal. What's bad is that Bob broke the trust they had.

As you say, there's a lot here we don't know. But I think you're taking a lot more out of the OP's post than is there and using it to call the OP a special snowflake. We don't know if Bob's prospecting. We don't know if he's actually rewriting the story in his own style. We don't know Bob. But it seems that, whatever the relationship between these two, Bob took a wrong step and alienated his friend.

Losing trust in a relationship - even a critique partner relationship - happens. But blaming the person whose trust was betrayed just doesn't seem right to me.

Anonymous said...


"This very community, just a few days ago, was publicly and quite enthusiastically shaming an AW member called Newauth for a thread at the AW boards - to the extent of name calling and a GREAT deal more reading-in of motive and intellectual poverty than I have indulged. To me, that was distateful."

I was involved in that. For five pages people tried very patiently to explain to Newauth how publishing really works and why his ideas wouldn't work and why it would be unfair to scam an agent as he was planning. They didn't lose patience until about the middle of the fifth page when he just kept insisting no one had a clue as to his brilliance. Publishers don't know. Agents don't know. Writers don't know. But Newauth has all the answers. Newauth who thinks he's going to get an agent to talk a publisher into giving him 10,000 books free so he can market them as he sees fit and prove publishers don't know how to market.

Frankly, I was amazed everyone was as patient as they were as long as they were. No, I don't have much use for someone who is trying to scam someone and sees nothing wrong with it.

If that's rude, I'll take it.

That guy doesn't have sense enough to pour water out of a boot if the instructions were written on the sole, but he's busy telling everyone else how the cow ate the cabbage. It's no wonder people got irked.

Anonymous said...

Oh. Wow. This is amazing on so many levels:

"That guy doesn't have sense enough to pour water out of a boot if the instructions were written on the sole, but he's busy telling everyone else how the cow ate the cabbage."

Julie, you really do rock.

Pharosian said...

DLM - I totally understood and agree with your point. I agree that being sweet and just hoping he'll go away when he no longer gets what he wants doesn't serve the OP well. . . other than saving the OP from having to express an honest feeling. That's extremely hard for some people to do, but in my opinion, necessary for optimum mental health.

As you say, there's no need to go medieval on his a$$, but he's never going to respect the OP's feelings if he's never made aware that the OP was upset by his actions.

And just to add to the comments about ideas vs treatment of same: A couple of months ago I read a book about a woman who had been abducted by a serial killer and got away--and then several years later, he came back for her. Not long after I read that book, I ran across at least two other books whose blurbs stated the very same general plot!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the phrase "protect the work" -- I'm used to hanging out in online places with people who know exactly where that phrase/concept originated. I don't want anyone to think it's mine. It comes from an excellent essay written by Jenny Crusie many years ago, and even she credits it to someone else.

Here's the link, on her site:

Taking Out the Garbage: How to Protect Your Work and Get Your Life

I'd recommend ALL the writers over here read it, not just the person who posed the question du jour. It's a great essay and a timely reminder about priorities.

DLM said...

I ought to button my lip, but this - Julie, wasn't calling anyone rude, and I know the guy was apparently obstinately stupid. I just find shaming parties as a general category tiresome, there was nothing special in the other day's comments.

And now. < a href="">Lookit! Gossamer!< /a>

DLM said...

Oh to hell with it.

Look, not making excuses, but I may be watching someone I love very much dying before my eyes, and I'm just too damned tired to be as good a presence as I should be online. PLEASE do not feel the need to comment on this statement, and please don't make this thread any more about me than I've already trounced around doing all day. I want to apologize, shut up, and just go away. Fist bumps to alla y'all, because I dig ya the mostest, but I clearly need to STFU already.

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful picture of Gossamer. Here's the linkified version:

Lookit! Gossamer!

I'm probably with you in the 'probably should STFU already' category, but ya know what? I think we'll all be okay. That's the nice thing about a community.

Dena Pawling said...

Wow I'm out busting my butt making six families homeless the day before a holiday weekend and this thread takes off........

Lisa - “all right Dena; FORCED to live elsewhere!?”
Yep. I can't help it if you're a few bricks short of a full deck. Blizzards and mosquitoes and tornadoes are not even close to the wonders of fires and earthquakes. But that's why you're such a good writer, right? You don't necessarily live in reality =)

DLM - “Also, Dena is a flippin' genius.”
Sssshhhhh, you're ruining my reputation.

Megan V - “Ha! Dena, I went through Opie's post in much the same way; there must be something in the water they give out to attorneys.”
My class on cross-examination 101. Nit-pick every word. [Sounds like line editing, doesn't it? Why do I like it in law and hate it in writing?] In my trial advocacy class, I was voted the cross-examination queen. This is not to be confused with Queen of the Known Universe, a title which is already taken by someone much more deserving.

LynnRodz - “Sorry Dena, they couldn't pay me enough to live in California.”
You couldn't pay me enough to live in Paris, probably because my law license isn't good in France and I don't speak French. Well actually that's not true. I know how to say the 100% MOST UNHELPFUL French phrase that can ever be known. Je parle fran├žais. How unhelpful is that?

Kara - “You know, both Liane Moriarty and Sophie Kinsella have written books where the MC suffers amnesia and can't remember a significant chunk of life then has to deal with it.”
This sounds like my memoir.

Pharosian - “And just to add to the comments about ideas vs treatment of same: A couple of months ago I read a book about a woman who had been abducted by a serial killer and got away--and then several years later, he came back for her. Not long after I read that book, I ran across at least two other books whose blurbs stated the very same general plot!”
This sounds like a Nora Roberts book I read several months ago.

The typo in “publishing” has been fixed. Yes, I noticed that too, but I make enough typos of my own to stop mentioning other folks' typos. It had been spelled “pubishing” which reminded me of a loooooong time ago when I worked at the county Health Department. We ordered a bunch of routing slips to be printed by the in-house print shop. The list was supposed to read:
_____ Public Health
_____ Mental Health
_____ Environmental Health
_____ etc etc etc
Yes, the l in public at the top of the form was missing. The director did NOT agree to use the defective routing slips until they were gone.......

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

STFU, I love that. I have a lot to say but I'm going to STFU, eat another dish of ice cream, STFU and then go to bed.
Julie I am stealing your water filled boot with the directions on the bottom comment, although I might change it a little. To bad flip flops don't hold water.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dena you always pay such attention. Lawyers are like that I guess. You must be a good one.

Unknown said...

Hey bjmuntain, you still keeping clear of the forest fires? All of Winnipeg is trapped in a haze right now coming down from northern Saskatchewan and our moon is glowing like a neon cantelope. Stay safe.

Matt Adams said...

I know this is late, but I just got back from the daughter's softball game (and consoling her after she struck out to end the game) and I wanted to clarify that I probably misunderstood Opie's statement about Bob writing it better. I thought that's that s/he was saying, but s/he was being sarcastic and I missed it.

I argued this point because I didn't want Opie -- or anyone else -- to get the idea that telling someone an idea is paramount to copyrighting it with that person. If I go to Carolynn's example of telling the plot, characters and such, then of course that's wrong to steal it. But Opie didn't say that; Opie said that he took his/her idea and ran with it. Was it jerky? Probably, and like almost everyone has said, Opie needs a new colleague. But it's not villainous and it's not that unusual for a writer to get inspriration from somewhere other than their own imagination. And we don't know whether Opie told Bob about this yesterday and Bob wrote it today, or whether it was mentioned in passing two yeas ago and Bob finally got it finished. Bob may not even know he stole it -- Bob might not even consider it stolen. I doubt Bob is sitting there twirling his mustache and snarling. There was an idea, he thought it sounded cool, he wrote it down.

Now, if Bob had persuaded Opie not to write it and then stole it, that's slimy. But I don't think there's any evidence of that. Likewise, I don't think there's any evidence that Bob's out to hurt Opie in any way. I'm reminded of the scene in the Cain Mutiny where Greenwald says he isn't accusing Queeg of cowardice, because there's an assumption that no one could rise to be captain of a naval ship who is a coward, so there must be something else going on. I can't imagine that anyone would work for years with someone who openly hated their writing, small town or not. So while we were vilifying Bob, I was just trying to point out that Opie's behavior toward Bob doesn't hold with what i know about people. I think Opie's really mad that Bob -- who has been at least a contributor to his/her writing life for years -- broke some kind of assumed agreement and wants validation that what Bob did was wrong. And I think that whether what Bob did was wrong depends a lot on context we don't have.

So I'll hold with what I said earlier -- tell Bob you don't feel like talking about your writing anymore. Tell him that talking about your writing gets in the way of your actual writing (someone else said that above. Don't think I'm stealing it :) And then stop talking about your writing and fretting about your writing and write. You don't have to share a single thing you don't want to, but realize that if you do share it, at least some of it may hang around in someone else's brain for a while, and then come out on someone else's page.

Pamela Toler said...

I'd say something along the lines of "You've been helpful in the past, but right now I'm at a point in the work where I'm not comfortable sharing it with anything."

You may have to repeat variations on this several times before he stops. He has the right to ask; you have the right to say no.

Writer of Wrongs said...

This may have been brought up before, but join the Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter. This group was originally started as "The Great Unpublished" but has morphed into a training ground that has untold success stories. It is a place (Unlike Carkoon) that nurtures people. It is a safe and friendly environment where people (sisters AND misters) can air any question they want, offer support to others, and pass on valuable information. There are even subgroups within the chapter such as manuscript critique and agent query (where QOTHU routinely gets a shoutout for providing no-nonsense information to the unwashed masses).

Good luck to you.

Kathleea said... Just tell him no.

Patricia Harvey said...

For a master's advice on when and with whom to share your writing, pick up a copy of Stephen King's On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft.

Panda in Chief said...

Wow, There is nothing I can add here, other than that I am going to take all your thoughts and present them as my own.
Ha ha, Just kidding.
Personally, I love the word "no"
Say yes to no! Words to live by.
Ya'll are entertaining, as always!

JEN Garrett said...

I'm comment #96 so I'll just summarize my ideas because it probably has already been said (I didn't read them all, sorry):

1. Bob wants an idea? Give him one. One you're thinking about but couldn't/wouldn't write.

2. Bob hates your writing? Tell him you are looking for fresh eyes, someone who hasn't seen your writing style before.

3. Can't find a CP locally? Join online communities like NaNoWriMo. Also join online organizations that fit your genre, or if you can afford it, take an online writing class with a critique component. My peeps are at SCBWI, but yours might be somewhere else. Consider critiquing online through Google Docs, Facebook, or Skype.

4. Aren't technically savvy? That's OK, many online CPs email back and forth. All you need to have are the same skills you need to query.

5. If possible, stay honest with Bob. Small towns are notorious for catching people in a lie.

Anonymous said...

Regarding pointing out spelling errors:

I honestly wouldn't think twice if it were in the post itself. Normally, I wouldn't mention it at all. But headers are kind of important. Not only are they read more carefully (and by more people) but they affect how search engines see the post. I don't know if search engines or SEO are important to Janet, but maybe they are. So I mentioned it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelsey - I'm getting in here late (like, a day late now) - we don't have fires this far south in Regina, but we've been living in that smokey haze for days now. Folks are volunteering here to help evacuees from the fires. And dog rescue groups I know are up there gathering up abandoned dogs to save them from the fires, too.

Jamie Kress said...

SD King, I'm always happy to make new friends. :)

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Darn it all, I missed a good one! (This is more like a diary entry since no one will probably see it) Oh well, spending July 4 in the U.S. was amazing!!

But in case someone else does see this, Bob sucks BIG TIME. It's like the OP is writing in, asking about this, because she really does know the answer, and maybe just needs confirmation and solidarity to end ALL TIES with BULLCRAP OFFENSIVE BASTARD. BYE-BYE BOB!