An ex-relative of mine recently told me she was working on a non-fiction book. She asked me for advice on how to get it published. I had no idea except that she could buy a market guide and look for a publisher that seemed to fit her book. I also suggested getting a literary agent but really had no information on how to find one or what that involves.
I told her I have been attending writing class, which is more like a formalized writing group than a typical class. I told her how much I liked the class, how it moved me along, and how helpful it has been to read my chapters out loud and get feedback from other people who consider themselves to be writers too.
Her response: "They will steal it!"
I told her I was sure they wouldn't.
Her reply: "They will steal your idea! That's what people do!"
Seriously? Even if someone did use my idea or get an idea from my writing, there is no way anyone could ever replicate my story word for word from a 3 to 15 minute verbal reading of a piece of it.
I think if someone stole my idea and wrote it better than me then maybe they deserve to get it published and I don't. I'm really not worried. I remember some of the stories and poems other people read in class, but there's no way I could ever reproduce someone else's writing. Nor would I want to. As writers, we strive to be unique and speak from our own experiences and point of view.
The benefits to reading my stories out loud to a group of writers are immeasurable. If I hear people laugh and I intended it to be funny, it is very reaffirming and makes me a more confident writer. If I cry unexpectedly when reading something too close to my heart, that tells me maybe I'm not ready to expose that to the whole world quite yet. The feedback in the longer writing sessions with smaller groups is very helpful in fine-tuning individual passages, poems, or chapters.
People who don't know you see things you don't see - lack of clarity in the description of your living room, extraneous information that may seem important to the writer but isn't important to the story line, and repetition of words in a longer work. It is difficult giving other writers constructive feedback while staying positive and supportive. The best thing about writing class may well be the support I give to other people and the realization that other writers need support too. It's not just me.
I have exactly 2.5 hours left to write this morning before I need to pick up my toddler from his little class. I have been up all night and am not feeling particularly eloquent or motivated. Today I will pick up my children's story that I finished last fall. It still needs some edits. I think that is all I am good for this morning.