Thirty years ago, a novelist with no experience writing screenplays wrote an unsolicited script for a popular television show and mailed it to that show’s writing staff. Usually such a script would be ignored, for all kinds of good and bad reasons. But I wouldn’t be telling you this story if there was anything usual about it. Not only was that script read, but the executive producer purchased the script, produced it, and hired the writer to join the show’s writing staff full-time, thus launching a successful career.
The writer’s name is Melinda M. Snodgrass and the show was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Incidentally, the script she wrote turned out to be one the series’ most popular episodes (“The Measure of a Man”). Snodgrass went on to work in television for another fifteen years, and she is still publishing novels today.
But all of this almost never happened. Why? Because Snodgrass almost decided to keep her big idea to herself.
As the story goes, she had a number of ideas for that script before she wrote it—but only one of them was a home run, a story which came from a lifetime of passion and expertise. She was afraid of submitting that great idea, though, because she was worried the show might steal it—or that if she wasted her best idea on this unsolicited script, she wouldn’t be able to use it again later, for an even better opportunity.
At that point, she got the best advice she ever received: “Don’t hoard your silver bullet.” And the rest is history.
Most writers experience similar fears at one point or another. We want to save our best ideas for the best opportunities. We think to ourselves, Once I’m already successful, I’ll finally write that great novel I’ve wanted to write since I was a child. Like Snodgrass, we’re afraid of sending our best ideas to agents and editors and publishers and other writers, because what if they steal it for themselves? What if we get screwed over?
But here’s the thing: your best idea is your calling card. It represents your best work, and therefore it’s your best chance to close a sale or make a name for yourself. And really, the vast majority of those agents and editors and publishers and other writers are swamped with potential clients and ideas of their own, enough that they’re not remotely in the market to steal anything.
Don’t hoard your silver bullet.
I think this is important advice. If we keep the best of ourselves hidden away inside for fear-based reasons, we will be making the critical mistake of trying to succeed with only our second-best ideas. But nobody wants to read your second-best ideas; they want to read the very best you have to offer. That’s what’s going to make you rise to the top.
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.