By John Nedwill
There is a saying I come across with regards to writing:
“Bad writers plagiarize.
“Good writers pay homage.
“Great writers steal.”
At first, I thought it was one of those irregular verbs. After all, it is just the same thing said in three different ways; the sort of thing that is intended as a comment on writers and how they are regarded. But, more and more, I am convinced that it is valid advice for any writer.
When I started writing, I copied the styles and themes of the writers I was familiar with. After all, we are meant to learn how to write from good examples; and surely a published writer must be one of the best exemplars? However, if someone way back then had confronted me with the statement, “Hey! Your story is exactly like X!”, I would have felt as if I had been caught cheating and changed the subject.
Later, as I became more skilled at writing, I learnt what was good about an author’s work. So, instead of copying an author wholesale, I would consciously select a piece of work that I wanted to emulate the style of. I would pick out what I thought were the key pieces. Was it the way the author constructed their sentences? Perhaps it was the dialogue. Maybe it was the plot structure that I was interested in. Whatever it was, I would take what I wanted and use it to improve my work. Then, if anybody said, “Hey! You’re just like Y!”, I would smile and say,”Exactly.”
Now that I am a more confident writer, if I see something that I like about an author’s style or a story, I have no qualms about lifting it. The difference is that now I make it my own, twisting it to my needs, and hopefully producing something that is new and uniquely mine.
So, what’s the lesson from this? If you’re a writer, then you should not be afraid to admit your influences. You are a part of the culture. Even better – you are someone who expands that culture, adding to it with every word you write. Do not be afraid to embrace that culture and take what you want from it.
OMP Admin Note: John Nedwill is a writer and OMP Network member, who will be blogging on a regular basis on various issues and causes. His work can be found on Wattpad.com and in the OMP short story anthologies which will be published by Dark Ink Press this fall.