There’s a sentence that writers encounter in any written contract they sign that goes something in the sense “Any copying of other texts, will immediately…”. There’s nothing debatable there. And there shouldn’t be. Copying is cheating in any shape or form, sometimes even with quotes. But what about originality? It certainly isn’t the same thing as copying, and can it occur every single time you commit words to paper/word processor?
It can’t and in these modern times, it certainly doesn’t happen. In any art form. And sometimes for the ‘writing customer’ originality is certainly the one thing he doesn’t want — it is a well-trodden formula with certain thematic and stylistic patterns that is exactly what he needs and wants.
But what happens when that ’customer’ is a very undefined reader you as a writer want to reach and you don’t want to conform to any pre-set formats?
I’m afraid that there, again, particularly in these modern times when you are able to receive practically any piece of information almost instantly, there isn’t much space for true, unique originality. It usually turns out that somebody has already done it before you. Often, even better than you would have done it.
But is that a reason to exclude yourself from everything in hope that that spark of originality will suddenly hit you? Not really. Actually, it is more often the case that the more you inform yourself, the more you read, better words, better ideas will come out of you as a writer.
The key point there as far as I’m concerned lies in the following — when you encounter an original idea, style that suits you, do you simply slavishly copy it or used as some sort of a springboard, inspiration that will enable you as a writer to enrich an existing idea, give it another outlook, add to it if you will?
Examples of music prove that it is possible. Back in 1980, David Bowie came up with “Ashes to Ashes”, one of the best songs in his opus, with so many musical elements that did not crop up in that shop and form until then. In 1982 The Psychedelic Furs came up with one of their better songs in “Love My Way” and in 1985 Bryan Ferry recorded the excellent “Don’t Stop The Dance”.
Consciously or unconsciously, both the Furs and Ferry used elements of Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” to come up with their gems, The Furs gave it an additional rock touch, Ferry gave it a bit of (then) slow, modern dancehall touch. Sure, both of these two songs had melodic and rhythmical touches Bowie already used in his. But neither Richard Butler nor Bryan Ferry could be labeled copycats — they just gave Bowie’s ideas new touches and shapes and made two great songs in the process.
Why should there be a difference when writers use already existing ideas as their springboard, inspiration, to give them yet another angle? Probably not, just as long as it is not copying, and that can be easily detected and almost always is.
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