13 Jun If you want to become a writer, learn to STEAL!
In my first job as a trainee journalist, in 1996, desperate to see my name in print, I headed to the library, cut-out pieces of similar articles of the subject I was planning to write on, selected paragraphs from different writers, strung them together verbatim and gave it a headline.
It was published as a ‘Middle’ the following day. I was over the moon. My parents were over the galaxy. However, after the initial euphoria, I was sick with guilt.
Had it been the Google Age, I would be penalized for plagiarism. But no one got a whiff of what I did.
A week later, I mustered courage and confessed to my Editor. He sat looking me in the eye for long few seconds as my knees buckled. Then I noticed a smile dawning across his face. The first sentence I heard, after I took a breath, was, “Nisha, remember this. Good writers copy. Great writers steal.”
I was flabbergasted!
The quote is a spin-off from the words of the great poet T.S. Eliot who wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
Later that evening, my editor forwarded me an article, which said that Ernest Hemingway typed out whole sections of books by writers he admired, in the initial years of his writing career, to understand how they said their stories.
Well, that was the first and the last time I plagiarized.
The truth is that we are in the 21st century. Everything that we need to know has already been communicated in some form or the other. If we were to write something ‘new’, something hitherto ‘unwritten’, then we need to discover something or invent something or befriend an alien and share stories of another existence. 😉
So do we copy? NO! NO! NO!
Never ever COPY!
Copying others will not make you the next Paulo Coelho. However, stealing can give you the momentum you waited for.
Here’s the thing…
Stealing DOES NOT mean you take credit for others’ work. Stealing, in this context, means you take an idea [already communicated] and develop it into your own. Use your own words, your own explanation, your own examples and experiences, give it your own message.
Cormac McCarthy, author of The Road and All the Pretty Horses, once said, “The ugly fact is books are made out of books.”
So, the one other trait you need to possess if you wish to become a great writer is to be at least a good reader.
Which books are you going to make yours out of?
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