Wednesday, May 17, 2006

To write - but how shall I begin? For I fear that I have nothing original in me excepting original sin. - Thomas Campbell (poet)

In this day and age is there still capacity for original thought? Are our thoughts, ideas and inventions not pirated as soon as we have placed them in the public domain? This kind of thought bothers me sometimes.

Having quietly voiced the outline of a new idea at work, I was gobmacked later, at a staff meeting, to find that it was coming out of the mouth of my colleague and she was claiming it as her own!
'Bloody plagiarist' I wanted to scream.
Mine! Mine! Mine!
And then I laughed.
Could I stand up in court saying 'Not guilty m'lud' with hand on heart, swearing that I had never bootlegged, nicked or copied an idea from elsewhere? No, of course I couldn't. I would be lying through my not-quite-so original teeth

Wilson Mizner the playright said: "If you steal from one author it's plagiarism, if you steal from many it's research".

I am, therefore, bereft of original thought, idea or invention. Everything I say, or do, or write, is lovingly swiped from those I admire and wish to emulate. Every word I hear that I like, that I want, is pasted into my 'favourites', to be dug out on a suitable occasion and claimed as my own!

An irritating habit of a recent tutor led him to compare style and content with the masters making one feel inadequate and devoid of any smidge of originality. In passing my (more than) worthy efforts over to him, I began to dread the red scribblings that would adorn my piece in return. In Minx-like frustration I shamelessly took a Seamus Heaney poem, 'Skylight', changed each and every word with my trusty thesaurus and handed it over. Hah! Surprise, surprise not one red dot or squiggle on the whole thing! He called it an 'interesting' and 'origina'l take on a loft hatch!!

And blogging, ideas flow across the blogosphere like an ever-growing patchwork quilt. Read something over there and it will undoubtably pop up over here in the next few days. Not word for word, but the idea is taken, twisted and spat out in a slightly different arrangement. So with this in mind i have decided that my new and totally original idea for a novel is going to stay firmly between my ears, for now.

"The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none" - Francois-Rene Chateaubriand.

15 comments:

skint writer said...

There comes a point where you don't want or need tutors or other authorities to advise you how to write or nitpicking away at your plots and characters. You don't care either.
This isn't arrogance, it's just a sign of your maturity as a writer, you have found your voice.

Of course it's still important that at least some people like what you write, there's no use pretending that it isn't nice to be appreciated and hopefully respected. That's probably more important than making loads of money from your work

When I did my MA we had a visit from Iris Gower - a very successful historical romance novelist. She was very inseure, and very defensive about her writing, she's even gone and done an MA herself to try and validate herself.

So, basically, fuck 'em.

skint writer said...

Sorry, here is the correct link for Iris Gower

Debi said...

Well, I certainly like what you write, Minx. But I know what you mean too.
Just as my 2nd book, Trading Tatiana, was about to come out, Sex Traffic appeared on tv, covering similar ground (though in quite a different way). There was even an image in the series that I had already used in my next book too. Then soon after I handed over my 4th book, Me, John & a Bomb, to my agent I saw there was a kid's tv programme called Johnny & the Bomb ...
There are lots more sundry weirdnesses too and they seem to pop up all the time, sometimes really freaking me out!
I try to see it as being tapped into the zeitgeist ...

Minx said...

Do you Know Debi - I long for those words
"just as my second book was about to come out"
Don't think I'd care if anyone nicked my idea or rewrote the whole novel, just get me an agent!!

Minx said...

And Skint, do I fuck them all? How many is acceptable to getting my novel published??

skint writer said...

is that all you girls ever think about . .

Minx said...

!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Debi said...

It's a really dreadful time for publishing. Authors, independent booksellers, readers who crave diversity ... we're all basically fucked at the moment.
If it's any consolation, I genuinely believe you've got more chance of getting published the first time (at which point you still have the potential to become the 'next best thing') than you have of getting subsequent deals if your first books don't take off seriously big time.
I think I feel a blog rant coming on re the state of publishing ...
Also think we all need to do some lateral thinking in an attempt to wrest back some control. But at present linear thinking isn't coming that easy either ...
Sorry to be so grim. Like I always say, enjoy the writing and view anything that might comes after as scrummy icing on the cake.

Marie said...

It's best to keep any ideas for your new novel to yourself because you either jinx it or someone comes along and steels your idea.

Maxine said...

I think your post is very good, Minx, and touches on some different moral issues.

1. Blogging. Yes I agree that I see the same old idea crop up again and again. But when Blogger 2 sees a comment on Blog 1, he/she tends to link to Blog 1 when posting on Blog 2. Then Blogger 3 comes along and may only link back to Blog 2, but if you are interested in following the chain, it is possible. I quite like this kind of thing, becuase blogging is an informal publishing medium, and it is interesting to read different takes and perspectives.

2. Novels. I agree with Marie that there is no protection of ideas for a novel, or anything genuinely creative, and if I had an idea for a novel I would keep it to myself too. Of course, it may not be a new idea, becuase there are so many novels out there (whether or not published!) and there are bound to be similarites. But it is nice to think that they evolved independently of each other.

3. Academic publishing. In this type of writing, everyone is very strict about attributing previous knowledge with a formal reference to a "hard" (unchangeable) publication. Or should be. Most are. A few are not, and those that are caught are disgraced and would not continue to gain employment in the science world. Nobody would fund them or read their work. However, even here there are grey areas. Actual scientific results or models do tend to be cited rigorously, but review material ("secondary comment") can often contain good novel hypotheses which spring from the mind of the author who is connecting several different scientific results -- and I believe that these often do not get cited.

4. What happened to you at work, Minx, is none of the above and is bloody disgraceful. It is by no means unknown to me either. Someone, some supposed colleague, nicking someone else's ideas for their own advancement, to look good with the boss, or whatever. It makes me seethe!

Blimey, I bet you wish I was having trouble with your comment facility! Sorry for going on for so long. Guess your post touched a nerve!

Minx said...

Maxine gets this month's prize for covering all aspects of a blog post!!
Thank you all for your comments and your advice above. Am now going to go and copy the lot of them and send them off for publication!!

Marie said...

Just noticed a spelling error in my post - I meant 'steal' not steel!

Maxine said...

Oh well, if we are onto spelling...note "because" is spelt "becuase" above -- I always do this typo and when I put a tag cloud on my blog it came up as one of the tag words!

Minx said...

Ah yes, the single word dyslexia - I have lots of those.
'put' instead of 'out'
'nad' instead of 'and'
'abck' instead of 'back'. All down to the wiring in your filo conduberator!!

Debi said...

My first born has dyslexia - or DISKLSEYER as he recently wrote it.