Originality or Steal?

Ah, yes, originality!

Or, better yet, as listed in my thesaurus: imagination, creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity, cleverness, individuality, freshness, newness, novelty, uniqueness, boldness, daring, unconventionality, unorthodox, singularity.

I have none of those qualities.  And the thing is, I like clichés!  I use them all the time in my day-to-day speech and, of course, in my writing – on purpose.  I rarely come up with an original idea.  Usually, as with these posts, I’ll take something I saw and liked, and try my best to emulate, changing it just enough so that it doesn’t look too much like plagiarism.  It’s sad, I know, but there it is.

So, how, dear reader, is a writer like me supposed to come up with something original?

The fourth piece of writing advice in the Writer’s Digest article titled 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day gives us a bit of direction (though, after trying it, I fail to see the value in this exercise).

4. Originality
It is perhaps ironic that the exercise I consider most useful to spur originality is one I borrowed from another writer (William S. Burroughs). Then again, the best advice I ever received on writing in general was Oakley Hall’s two-word bromide: Steal Wisely.

In truth, originality is like voice, an elusive quality that cannot be created; it exists or it doesn’t, all you can do is hone it. But we can also strive to look at our own world and work in a fresh way. If you’re in a rut, change something in your routine. Write in a different place; write longhand; dictate into a recorder; switch point of view; remove every modifier in your text and start over—something.

Or, try this: Print out a page of your writing, cut it into quarters and rearrange them. Retype the text in this quasi-jumbled state. Where before your logical brain laid things out in an orderly fashion, you’ll now see them in jump cuts and inexplicable juxtapositions. Return to your work and revise with the best of these angularities intact, to the point they serve the piece, without reordering them back into comfortable reasonableness. Honor the deeper, inherent logic of your work by allowing its quirks and hard edges to show.
—David Corbett

Okay, so Mr. Corbett wants me to tear up my work?  Sure!  I do that all the time.  Here’s the page of my WiP I’m currently editing all tore up and rearranged:

Random page from Devil's Blood
Random page from Devil's Blood

Here’s how the first few sentences read after imbuing it with originality:

stare at Trevino baking in the sun, he to Andreas’ reddened neck.  lashings last night, Andreas thought long head before standing up.  He placed his new hunt.  With so many other competing factions, the doing.  This hat will help, though.  He reached the hunt, the risk seemed too great, but the idea to receive the indignity, but only so he could

Yikes.  If you had a hard time reading that, I had a harder time typing it.  I’m not sure that helped me come up with any original ideas.  I think I’ll stick with Hall’s advice: Steal Wisely.

Ah, well.  Maybe I’ll have better luck with the next exercise…


2 thoughts on “Originality or Steal?

  1. I like this — while I try to be original, I find that I’m heavily influenced by the writers I’ve loved reading over the years. There is always that sense of fear that someone would read my work and blow a big raspberry at me and call me unoriginal. That rankles.

    I think there’s pretty much nothing new under the sun — but as long as you look at old things from a new angle, it all seems fresh again.

    1. Hi Emmie,

      I agree. While doing my research for my historical novel, I came across all these fantastical elements I thought I would have to make up – but folks already had! Hundreds of years before me. The sun has seen it all.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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