The P-word, and How To Avoid It
And then someone else came along and took your joy by saying you didn't think of it yourself.
Yeah, THAT P-word.
The very nature of what we do (you can take that "we" to mean creative types or the Royal We as makes you comfortable - either one is accurate) is to translate the world around us and how we interact with it, or don't. We use languages we think will come close to our interpretation - spoken word, written, paint, texture, song, or sounds - in an effort to pin down the butterfly. We hope you find something in our message that speaks to you.
I've been stepping outside my comfort zone in all directions and mostly liking what I discover. I'll intentionally do things on my own because I fear the P-word-demon. I want to ensure that what I'm doing is truly me, and this is silly.
Yes, it is. If what I say is true and the world is my inspiration, then all the other creative-types are tapping into the same inspiration. There are times, like working on a commissioned series, when I should avoid new input to maintain the integrity of the original vision. You want a series to present as a uniform set. The same theory is behind my practice of listening to a particular song over and over until a piece is done. Life intervenes and the tone of a painting's message changes.
My all-time favorite thing is collaboration. There is no greater joy to my crazy brain that working with other brains to build something bigger than the sum total of what we each create separately. Hence my dream of deb-numbers - I have faith in myself and also my friends that we will keep expanding, colliding, collaborating, joyfully.
I've recently been asked to work on a project with poets I greatly admire, and I'm over the moon about it with gratitude and anticipation. My crazy brain is hugely analytical. Suddenly the collision I love becomes the enemy: look at what so-and-so just wrote, those conjoined words. Did they get that trend from me? Did I get it from them?
OF COURSE WE DID. We are, this group of writers, complicit in our influence on one another. It's exactly why we want to collaborate. Society makes us proprietary; capitalism does. Society says, "You could sell this," and we want to believe. My poet-guru Peter Kidd says there's maybe 12 jobs that will provide full-time sustenance to a poet in their craft, and he means literal job openings. Worldwide. The rest of us are doing it for love. Give us a dollar.
This brings me around to the reality of plagiarism. My poet-heart does not want to believe it, but there are people in the world who will present someone else's work as their own. This is not the same as being inspired. My first experience was in middle school, when someone liked the way I drew a mushroom and asked for a picture. She turned in that picture as her assignment. I never said or did anything about it because I felt the reality was obvious. I could draw another one; she couldn't.
Over the weekend I found one of my original works mislabeled as someone else's on a website. Once I got over the initial OH H***NO, I realised it was an error on the part of the company managing the art, and sent an email asking it be corrected. It will be fixed, but the reminder was good for me. It's exactly why I pay to be copyrighted. Still, I'm unafraid, because I can draw another one. I will push my Trabbi over a cliff without a second thought.
There is a world of difference between influence and plagiarism. Things you observe around you are affordances; take them. Translate them in your unique voice. If your affordance is another creative person, be grateful for the opportunity and credit where due, but take the time to observe your own voice in what's been influenced. If your voice isn't strong enough, work on it. Give yourself credit, too.