Learning to Steal

There are days when I try to write a single paragraph, and I get into a hole where I doubt every word, every comma, and the keyboard feels like hammers pummeling my fingers and breaking my joints. Sometimes I think that it comes from trying to write something perfectly original, but still looking like a good writing.

What’s good writing?

Well, in fiction we’re told that good writing is made up of a lot of scenes where stuff happens. Usually bad stuff to the characters who are out to get something and they feel like it’s life and death. We’re also told to use active verbs, not passive, and to have our own voice, and to have dialog with characters with their own voices, and to… well, do everything right while still doing something new and original.

Sometimes the worry to write well gets so crippling, the churning in the pit of my stomach is a carbon copy to the feeling I had when I was waiting in a chair outside of the principle’s office as a child.

But recently I picked up Steal Like an Artist from Austin Kleon.

It’s a good book because it’s honest about one thing: there’s no such thing as a truly original artist. Artists steal and build from what has come before, mix it together and spit it out in a new flavor.

Here’s a quote that I read from the book  that gave me a bit of comfort:

The songwriter Nick Lowe says, “You start out by rewriting your hero’s catalog.” And you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them.

That’s the kind of quote that wraps you up in blanket and tells you, yeah that isn’t the most original paragraph, but it’ll do. And off I go to the next thing.

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