The full quote is “Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal.“ T.S.Eliot
There is also a version for visual artists, attributed to Picasso (or Banksy!)
I was asked on a teleconference the other day, “What do I do if I am stuck in writing my book?” and I referred to this quote. I am also making my way to the mid-point of NaNoWriMo and the well is getting a bit dry for my first fiction novel. So what does it actually mean?
- Steal ideas. Read other people’s works, or look at other people’s art work. If you like an idea, ruminate on it, muddle it around in your brain and see where it ends up. Write the same idea in your own words and you can bet it will be a different story or a new angle on it. Steal other people’s experiences and write about them for plot. Steal their words as they speak to help your dialogue. How many books about the end of the world are there? How many unrequited love stories? How many quest adventures?
- Steal words. Stephen King advises writers to read, and presumably most of us love doing just that! I am constantly reading, on the iPhone and physical book and now on the Kindle (I carry all with me!). If you are reading something and find a new word, or a description or phrase, or a poetry line, then write it down. Maybe you can re-use the word in a different context, or it helps you describe something in a better way.
- Steal chunks of work and remix it. There is a lot of work released under Creative Commons licensing now, which means you can legitimately ‘steal’ it and remix it and draw inspiration from it. This is a great source of ideas and content. Remember to check the licensing as to what you can do with the work though. [This blog content is CC licensed as below right].
- Don’t steal chunks of copyrighted work. This is plagiarism! Of course, T.S. Eliot did not mean copy other people’s work and pass it off as your own. Don’t copy down chunks of Wikipedia and claim them as your words.
“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” Isaac Newton
Our brains are a mass of connections and if you add something new into the mix, you will spark new connections. An old idea can be recycled into a new one, with a new twist. Shakespeare took his ideas from so many sources and wouldn’t we all love to write tales like his?
Useful related posts:
- Get some inspiration. 15 ways modern art galleries can inspire writers
- Copyblogger “How to Steal Great Content”
- 5 ideas writers can use from Jungian Psychology
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons ahisgett