Friday, May 29, 2009

Something Else That Keeps Me Awake At Night

It's only in recent months that I've used and become a fan of writing prompts. Prior to that I took my inspiration from art in its various forms and from life, following the energy of whatever phrase, scene, or character would "speak to me" at any given time.

In addition to writing prompts, a couple of my more recent shorts and stories have been inspired by poetry. What I'm finding, though, is that I feel filled with anxiety when my stories are drawn from the inspriation and ideas of these poems, these tiny capsules. What's borrowing? Stealing? And when, if ever, do I need to acknowledge what inspires my work? I recently spoke to a highly respected writer and teacher about this, and he laughed, saying "we all steal, it's our own unique voices that make it ours." Where's the line though? When might another writer be justified in saying "hey, that's mine!"

Here's a specific, and once-off, case for me: I recently turned to Brian Eno's oblique strategy cards for inspiration. After jotting down about thirty of the fifty or so random cards that "spoke to me" I worked my way through the list looking for the seeds of my next story. As I narrowed the list down I realized I had a poem of sorts, and continued to tweak at it until I had ordered twelves lines into a poem that had deep personal meaning for me. I didn't change a word of the random prompts, just ordered them. So my question is: is that my work or Brian Eno's? Do I need to acknowledge Brian Eno and his oblique strategy cards when I show this work?

Am I alone in this? Do other writers also grapple with this? Or do I just like to torture and dis-ease myself?


  1. I think the turning point on the Eno thing is, "that had deep personal meaning for me." THAT Mr. Eno did not do. He did random. You did specific, ordered, tweaked. Yours wins as you, but it's a point of interest to include the background, if you're inclined.

    We do all steal. There are only a few storylines, and we all piece them together differently, with our own threads. We may all embroider, but our knots are our own.

  2. Inspiration comes from any number of places. Creativity is a really fluid thing and boundaries are always being blurred. We read great things and we're inspired so we write and then someone reads those things and is inspired and writes. There are definitely times when credit is due to an inspiration but in thinking about my own writing, if I were to credit every single source of inspiration for my work, that would be significantly longer than most of what I write. I think its a given that there was some source of inspiration. Long story short, it is your work. You are not alone in this. Does any of that make sense?

  3. Ethel,

    Some call those "found" poems and there are tons of articles on them - I've never tried to write one, but it is done frequently. You may want to read through what others who are more versed in that art form to find out where they draw the plagerism lines and so forth. I know Gordon Mason who has the Catapult to Mars blog - writes found poems. He'd know more about it than I do.

    I think sometimes we hear things and see things we steal without even remembering where we saw it or heard it...that is the nature of creativity - we often pull from what we have experienced and churn it around in our imaginations and create a hybrid that is uniquely ours.

    I wanted to tell you - I REALLY REALLY love when you speak of the craft of writing - I've never taken any courses and am trying to educate myself via internet and books, etc - so, when a writer I respect, such as yourself, gives tips in terms I can understand - it helps so very much!

    Thank you for sharing what you have learned.

  4. It makes absolute sense, Roxanne, thank you.

    Tanita, Roxanne, and Paula, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It's very helpful, and reassuring.