Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sock Fairy

A Sock Fairy has always haunted our family. He comes in the middle of the night and takes one sock from each matched pair. And he won’t give it back until we give up and finally throw the other one away. Then he comes back the next night, sure as sunrise, triumphantly waving the vanished sock.
Much to my dismay, he then progressed to stealing my bright ideas. The ones that will ensure my rise to fame and fortune. He collects my little slips of paper and secrets them away to heaven knows where. Worse, he’s after my brain now. When he gives back the slips of paper, I stare at them in wonder. What was that all about? If it ever was about anything.

But over the years, I’ve outwitted the Sock Fairy. I’ve found there are some ideas that simply bubble back to consciousness. Sometimes it’s the image of a face, an emotion, a song, a bit of poetry. When the idea or image persists I have little choice but to write about it.

One of the questions that comes up repeatedly in classes or courses I teach is “will an editor or an agent steal my idea?” This is highly unlikely although it has been known to happen. The merit of a written work lies in its unique execution.

There is an creepy aspect to creation, however. If you have a great idea, or even a pretty good idea, the chances are sky high that it’s occurring to someone else at the same time.

This was brought home to me very vividly at a recent writer’s conference. I had helped a student develop a cross-genre vampire mystery (Names and genre changed to protect the innocent). An agent with whom I’m well acquainted read his manuscript, had him revise it, and then didn’t accept it. At the conference I overheard her mention receiving a book from one of her authors. It sounded like my student’s and she was marketing it. Dismayed, I asked her about it. Of course it looked like she might have swiped this idea and turned it over to a more skillful author.

I took great care to phrase my question just right. (No way this would not sound stupid, but never mind. I did it anyway.) I overheard you talking to _____, “ I began bravely. “Is there any chance you accepted ________manuscript after all?” “No” she explained easily, “One of my author’s submitted a book that was based on the same idea and I sent it to ______.  But the house didn’t take it.” She shrugged. I suspect the manuscript from her established author was better written than my student’s anyway.

Later at this same conference, at the editor’s panel, we learned there was a WHOLE NEW GENRE being developed around this theme. Everyone in the whole known universe was thinking of this idea at about the same time. Naturally, I contacted my student at once and told him to submit the manuscript to this particular editor. Without an agent, it’s safe to assume the manuscript hit the slush pile and I don’t believe he’s had any luck so far. But who knows? He might get lucky.

Write it now. It’s demoralizing to put off writing and then have someone beat you to the punch. Write it before the Sock Fairy comes in the night and whispers in your ear that there’s no need to rush.


Donis Casey said...

Oh, my gosh, my entry for Saturday is about how generations of people all have the same ideas at exactly the same time. Charlotte, we are obviously generation-mates.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, I just read your post, and can't believe we were zeroing in on the exact same point. No, I'm probably much older than you! On the other hand, I could relate to every one of the decades you mentioned, included the all-white walls.