Monday, February 04, 2013

Being Influenced

You should be writing. I will haunt your
dreams.
There are so many people who have contributed to who I am and how I do things today. Many, many of them don't know but some do. If you look closely you may be able to discern for yourself just who's given me what.

This goes back to having read Austin Kleon's rather inspiring book Steal Like An Artist. In that book he challenges that nothing is original, that the sheer act of 'stealing' from multiple sources/influences is what makes a work original. Neil Gaiman's assertions, too, that each of us should "do the work that only you can do" is important. In fact, I think Kleon's book is on a parallel track with Gaiman's ideas.

Did he steal from Gaiman? Or the other way around? Or were they both influenced by the same things?

I can't honestly say. It doesn't matter.

Maybe they're both tapped into a collective unconscious and they hit at the same time. The world, the universe, is filled with the possibility of coincidence, isn't it?

Knowing a little about the vagaries of publishing, I suspect that they were both influenced by something similar and they'd both been thinking about it long enough to come to the same (sort of) conclusions.

That happens to me and it's probably happened to you, too. I will admit here that I've been influenced by conversations amongst the members of my writer's group, by my friends in other parts of the entertainment industry, and by people at work. I have been influenced by reading, seeing films, listening to music and watching TV. Haven't we all?

Kleon, in his book, exhorts me (not me, in particular, but the readers) to embrace all the diversity that filters into my consciousness, write it down and save it for a time when I'm open to the ideas, when I can use them the best. Frankly, I've been doing that for a lot of years now but it's never been said quite so convincingly that I'm on the right track by doing this. I've gotten the idea from reading about the processes of other writers to keep a notebook - or at least scraps of paper - and a pen mostly handy. I've got dozens upon dozens of sticky notes with cryptic sentences or quotes or a song lyric or a movie title on them in my bag. Periodically I sort them out, transfer them to my idea dump and toss 'em.

When I'm looking for an idea to pursue in writing a story or a blog post, even, I will open the idea dump and peruse. Once I've used the idea, I cross it off without deleting it. There have been times when I've used the same idea in a different way because something else has come along and a new insight has been achieved.

So that's what influence is really about: making original work with the ideas of others having run through filters and being combined in ways original to me.

That's the most important part. My perceptions are what make my work MY work. I'm pretty sure everyone understands that. It's like seeing John Romita's Spider-Man next to Steve Ditko's Spider-Man next to Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man: the character is recognizable but definitely not drawn in the same way.

The act of writing this post has inspired me, in fact, to think about why plagiarism isn't a bigger deal; why the threat of lawsuits keeps writers and other creatives from helping more people for fear of being sued for 'stealing' someone's idea.

I suppose it's simple jealousy. It couldn't possibly be the collective unconscious reaching out to two separate people having somehow experienced the same things.

Can it?