It could be the style, it could be the subject matter, it could be something that couldn’t be really identified, or it could be all of these things and more in somebody else’s writing that inspires a writer. One that is at his beginnings or another that has already established himself. This inspiration could take you to new writing paths, you can make it a tribute to the inspiring writer or his writings, or it could be plain and simple copying. Or even these days ever ‘popular’ copy/paste.
The line between those could be particularly thin. With visual arts, unless you are copying everything, it is usually considered as an inspiration or a tribute. In music, particularly its modern forms, that line is not considered so problematic — what with all the different song interpretations tribute albums, artists re-doing complete albums of others, or all the samples being used. Actually, it is considered as an art form in itself.
With writing, it is a completely different artistic beast. Being inspired by somebody else’s writing can be heavily scrutinised, what with all the plagiarism checkers who control the word sequences. You can come up with one on your own and it turns out that somebody has already done it before or you can be transformed into a ‘spinner’ since you came up with exactly the same idea but you came up with a slight (or not so slight) wording?
With all those grey areas of being inspired, paying tribute or quoting, there’s always that honest, simple thing of giving credit where its due. You can simply just let your readers guess what the inspiration was, whom you’re paying tribute to, or where the quote is coming from.
Actually, it has less to do with copyrights and acknowledgements and more with your personal clear conscience. In visual arts you may guess, musicians say which song they’re interpreting and who wrote it. The fact that it is more complicated with writing makes crediting a must.
How many times have you heard the phrase, and go as far back as yesterday, “my life is an open book”? So people insist that everything is known about them, that they’re easy to understand, whatever. And how many songs are there with that worn out phrase? Usually it involves a heart, but either way…
It could be true as far as the heart goes, but when life is concerned, it is usually crap. And as far as the songs go, former Dream Syndicate singer and guitarist Steve Wynn got it best, when he went for “If My Life Was An Open Book”. With an accent on the word if.
Nobody tells everybody else all the minute details, let alone secrets of their life, and as far as the writers go, they should tell all, shouldn’t they? Well, there goes that ‘if’ again. Even if you are writing an autobiography, you have to ask yourself a question — should even al the hard facts be included? Of course, that is even physically impossible, you have to ‘round off’ things, and then, are you presenting an accountants or writers outlook?
Writers present their view, their interpretation of things, including their own life. After all, why would be the Chines I Ching, Book of Changes, be the oldest Chinese classic? The facts may not change, but their interpretation will, after all, some of those chapters are yet to evolve and can certainly change the context of the whole story. And as Wynn says,
“And you could try to change the end
But I’d just change it back again”.
And that is what writers do and should do. Their books are made to be opened, so the chapters are re-written, added or dropped. It is their interpretation, their view and it should be taken as such, liked or disliked.
“Lonely days are gone, I’m a goin’ home
My baby jus’ wrote me a letter”
So goes the refrain of that big Sixties hit “The Letter”, Alex Chilton sang for his then band The Box Tops in a raspy voice he had in the studio after a night of wild partying. Of course, the letter he was singing about was that ‘old fashioned” artefact, a handwritten letter…
But then, The Sixties are long gone, and so seem to be the days when we all used to think in detail, sit down and express our thought and emotions in writing with our own hand a letter to practically everybody — from secret love to the water company. Email has taken over.
Sure, it is more convenient, quicker, the mistakes you made, or thoughts and sentences you wanted to change, are simply erased, not be seen even by you. But, is that the ‘true’ letter? Does it really reflect the full spectrum of your emotions, ideas and what you really wanted to convey? Also, should all those misspellings, changed sentences be really erased, and what do they really show?
Through the centuries, handwritten letters developed into an art form in itself. They always had that human touch involved, the capability to present the full spectrum of your thoughts and emotions, including all your frailties expressed in all those mistakes, or change of mind expressed in all those corrected, rephrased or erased sentences. Compared to it, email is exactly what it is — an electronic tool that not only serves to instantly send a message but also as some sort of a shield that is supposed to represent you as somebody you are supposed to be, maybe not always as who you truly are.
Chilton’s ‘letter’ concentrates on one person, it is an artefact, a physical proof of all those emotions that the person who wrote it had to focus on, actually strengthening personal focus on what is written, what is to be conveyed. Isn’t that what writers should really do with their words and what they really want to express?
Maybe each writer should write a handwritten letter once in a while, even if it is just a complaint to the water company for all that mud that is coming out of your faucet. It could certainly have a stronger impact…
So the editor somewhere out there thought your text was up to scratch, or you scribbled down something that sounded great at the moment and just left it there, even forgot about it. For some reason or other, beyond being pissed at the editor, you are revisiting those texts. And yes, you truly messed up. Maybe a bit, maybe it is all ashes. It is not just the pile of spelling errors or grammar mistakes. It is not even the never-ending sentences or paragraphs. It is that most of the stuff either makes no sense or it is just a pile of vapid words and phrases that make those vaping electronic smoking paraphernalia taste like full-flavoured cigars.
It all may be down to the fact that you were rushing to meet a deadline, juggling at least three texts at a time, or maybe you just abandoned the whole thing, letting it lie somewhere.
No wonder reggae songs like the Gregory Isaacs masterpiece “Cool Down The Pace” seem so simple, relaxed and not rushed. When you try to look into their substance you see all their complexities and intricacies that made them sound like that and you realise how hard it is to actually get them right. Yes, cool down the pace!
No big difference if the text was just forgotten, even abandoned. If you did so, somewhere in the back of your mind you knew perfectly well that it is half-baked and not ready to be dealt with seriously. Whether you did it intentionally or not, it needed time to rest, just like that roast you only took out of the oven, needing some time to be properly served.
There always needs a cooling period, both for you and the text, deadline or not. Sometimes you’ll need to give it one more look, sometimes 23. Even you let some other pairs of eyes take a look at your precious text, even if it just seems like a routine email. Forget the deadline, cool down the pace!
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