Rich Simons | Upper East 11th Street
Photo illustration Art Olson
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Of course. You would be surprised how many people ask me that question. And the answer is simple: I steal them.
The first idea I ever stole was by accident. I was just a kid, maybe six years old, and it was just sitting out on the table at a friend’s house. It looked like a piece of candy, so I snatched it up in my little fist and shoved it in my pocket. Only later did I discover that it wasn’t candy at all; it was a stupid idea, and it tasted horrible, like an old brussel sprout.
You’d think that would’ve been the end of it, but you’d be wrong. I didn’t steal an idea for many years after that, but sometime in junior high school I saw what looked like a great idea tucked in between the pages of a girl’s science notebook, and I couldn’t resist. After that, all through high school, I stole ideas wherever I could find them—in lockers, on the bus, next to the tennis courts, under the gym bleachers—and hid them in my room at home, in a shoebox I kept in my closet.
Things got bad in college, where I almost got busted. But it’s hard to prove idea theft, so the law was on my side.
Since then, I’ve met many artists who admit that they too steal ideas, most of whom are also quick to point out that they “only steal from the best.” Not me. I’ll steal from anyone, anywhere, anytime. I like to break into people’s houses late at night and steal whatever ideas they’ve left lying around. Malls and grocery stores are good places, too, because hardly anyone is on the lookout for an idea thief when there’s so much other stuff to steal.
Bad ideas. Stupid ideas. Regrettable ideas. I don’t care—I’ll take them all. Once, I saw a homeless guy on the side of the road. I drove up next to him and gave him a
five-dollar bill. What he didn’t know was that as I was handing him the bill, I was using my other hand to steal an idea that was hanging out of his right pants pocket. It turned out to be the worst idea in the world—something about drinking a bottle of Listerine—but I took it anyway.
My advice to anyone interested in writing is simple: do the math. If everyone else is stealing from “the best,” it stands to reason that the best ideas have been picked over pretty thoroughly. It makes much more sense to lower your standards, gather up a bunch of mediocre ideas that no one cares about, and work with those. That way, you’ll never run out of ideas, and you don’t have to fight the crowds for leftover scraps of a “great” idea.
All my stories come from stale, recycled ideas that nobody wants. What’s more, no one is ever going to steal from me, because compared to the best ideas out there, mine really suck. Nobody would ever want them, which means they’re all mine.