Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Stealing Really Stealing?

In reading the recent issue of "Writer's Digest" (if you don't subscribe to a writer's trade journal, shame on you!) I came across a piece by David Corbett describing a writing exercise designed to develop "Originality."

I was fascinated by Mr. Corbett's statement, "The best advice I ever received on writing in general was Oakley Hall's two-word bomide: Steal Wisely."

This touched on a subject I'd been thinking about a lot lately.

How far is too far when "borrowing" ideas from other writers or for that matter, from you own previously published work?

It's long been a practice of writers - and encouraged at writing conferences and workshops - to glean material from the ideas of others. You should always read other authors' work in the genre in which you're writing, they say, to keep a steady flow of new ideas sparking your own creativity. Certainly don't plagerize, but take a basic concept and expound upon it using your own voice and flair. There is no copyright on ideas.

I've actually done quite a bit of this, and was delighted to run across Mr. Hall's wonderfully descriptive phrase.

Steal Wisely.

From a perspective of integrity, I don't think of this practice as stealing at all. I wouldn't do it if I did. It only makes sense to me that greater input produces greater output and heaven only knows when you're in the middle of a project, you need all the fresh input you can get.

For instance, I'm currently writing More Beauty, Less Beast, and am reading all the beauty-themed books I can get my hands on. The trick is to not lose your own voice in the voice of another author, but to extract a thought, marinate it in your own juices, and see if something worthwhile (printable) pops out of the pan.

Anyone care to share their thoughts or experience on this subject?