Creative Meditation: On Originality (and Stealing)
Most of us start our artistic endeavors wanting to create something completely original. But then, in the process of creating, we tend to imitate as much or more than we originate. We write with our favorite authors looking over our shoulders, hearing the rhythms of their sentences, the timbre of their stories.
The danger is that if we privilege imitation, we form ourselves around others’ identities, and we become a version of them, not what we know ourselves to be. We surrender the power of our voice because it becomes easier to fit in than to break out.
When T.S Eliot said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” he wasn’t talking about the ethics of plagiarism. When you imitate, your work is weakened by its derivation, by its need to match another. Stealing, however, is taking, and in the taking, taking for oneself, claiming and recreating. Stealing in such a way is a transformation without apology.
“An original artist is unable to copy,” said Jean Cocteau. “So he has only to copy in order to be original.”
It’s a paradox. Most people only find their own voice after spending some time sounding like others. Yet an original artist can never be otherwise. For even in the process of sounding like others, cloaking yourself in their identities, you’re searching for yourself, making yourself.
Originality is a fresh view of the world, not necessarily a “new” view of the world.
So instead of being original, be authentic. Always hold your own pen and let it hover over your truth.
Grant Faulkner is the author of Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo and the co-host of the podcast Write-minded. His essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.
For more, go to grantfaulkner.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @grantfaulkner.