Elysha and I stepped into a bookstore a couple years ago, looking to spend a little time browsing before heading home. As we entered, I noticed an author standing in the cafe to the right, speaking to a small audience of readers. He stopped speaking for a moment as I passed through the doorway, and for the briefest of seconds, we made eye contact.
Then he turned and resumed his talk, and I turned left to begin browsing.
A minute later, I couldn’t help but become curious about the subject of the author’s talk. He had written a book on the writing of memoir – sort of a how-to for the fledgling memoirist. Being someone who makes a living sharing his life onstage, and also being in the midst of writing a memoir myself, I was interested in what this author had to say.
Then it became apparent to me that what he had to say was also what I have to say. This author was describing the strategies that I teach in workshops and write about in Storyworthy, including Homework for Life, in great detail.
Really, really great detail.
A second later, Elysha was standing beside me. “Can you believe this?” she whispered. “He’s stealing all of your stuff!”
“Kind of,” I thought. “It’s absolutely my content, but he’s butchering the hell out of it.”
Still, I couldn’t believe it. It was like listening to a less articulate, less impassioned, less effective version of myself, trying to teach storytelling in the way I’ve been doing for years. It was my strategies for sure, but they were coming out all wrong.
I felt the sudden urge to shout out and correct him.
As he continued to speak, I made my way over to the display of his books to see if he had also included my content in his own book.
As I began flipping through the pages, the author spotted me again. He stopped speak, started again, and then stopped and said, “This is kind of crazy, folks, but Matthew Dicks is actually here right now. The creator of Homework for Life and the author of a great book on storytelling is in the house.”
He pointed, and heads turned. I waved.
The author continued. “Much of what I’ve learned about storytelling has come from Matthew. I can’t believe he’s here right now.”
I pushed away the compliment, wished the author luck, and retreated to the stacks to further examine his book. To my relief, it was absent of my content. While his book was about the writing of memoir, his talk did not match the material in his book at all.
He might be stealing my content in his talk, but he had at least left it out of his book.
Then again, I’ve trademarked Homework for Life, so if he had stolen my content and published it, I could’ve sued for trademark infringement.
That would’ve been fun!
Elysha and I often wonder what that author must’ve been thinking that day. In the midst of a talk on storytelling – one that presents many of my strategies as his own – I suddenly walk into the store.
What was he thinking?
“Oh my God. Someone told Matthew Dicks that I’m stealing his content, and now he’s here to bust me.”
“That’s Matthew Dicks. How is this possible? Matthew Dicks just walked into the store. What the hell am I going to do?”
“Am I the unluckiest person on the planet right now, or is this just karma biting me in the ass?”
It must’ve been quite the moment for him as the bell above the door tinkled and I walked in.
Many people – professors, teachers, social workers, psychologists, storytelling and speaking coaches, and clergy members – have written to me, asking if they can use Storyworthy and my methods when teaching their classes and working with their clients. My response is always, “Yes, by all means. Please do.” These folks always offer to credit me, and they often purchase my book for their classes and clients as well. Storyworthy is currently being used at least a dozen universities that I know about around the world as their primary text on public speaking and storytelling, and I couldn’t be more honored.
Use my content. Please. Just don’t steal it. Don’t pass it off as your own. And for God’s sake, don’t butcher it.
It’s also come to my attention that at least one teacher of storytelling is using some of my content when teaching workshops, but like this author, this person is also passing off my methods as their own. More importantly, this person is also doing a terrible job at presenting it.
“Your stuff for sure,” in the words of one of this person’s former students. “But not entertaining and not compelling and not engaging. Just not the same.”
That’s the thing:
You can steal someone’s methods and strategies, but it’s more than just the content. Unless you can teach or write about these methods and strategies in an entertaining, engaging, and authentic way, you’re going to sound like a cardboard version of me. Unless you live and breathe this methodology – utilizing it everyday to great success – you’re just a fraud, and probably an uninteresting one at that.
They say that imitation is one of the best forms of flattery, and I agree. The problem is that imitation is hard. Maybe impossible.
And if uncredited, it’s also a lousy thing to do.