January 4th, 2009


Thoughts on Writing #21: Magpie Moments.

It's time to return to the modern day for the twenty-first essay in my ongoing series of essays on the art and craft of writing. Just in case you're new to the party, there will eventually be fifty essays, all of them based on my fifty thoughts on writing. (Past essays are linked from the list of thoughts as they're finished, thus allowing people to tell me when I contradict myself.) The essays tend to focus on a single aspect of the writing life, whether personal or professional, and then beat it into the ground until it shatters. Fun for the whole family!

Here's our thought for the day:

Thoughts on Writing #21: Magpie Moments.

Look around the room you're in. If you're at work, look around your desk. If you're reading this on the road, look in your purse or backpack. First thing you're going to see is 'my stuff.' That's often what we see when we look around us. 'Well, yes; that's my stuff.' But where did that stuff come from? Where did you acquire the fondness for this, that, and the other thing? We magpie our way through the world -- and yes, I'm aware that verbing weirds language, but I think this is legitimate -- and that leads us to today's expanded topic:

We are all magpies. We are all going to pick up bits of flotsam and jetsam from the cultural void around us. Part of the value of having people edit you is the outside perspective they provide. If I tried to write a book that was a climactic clash of good versus evil following a slatewiper pandemic, there are people who would point out its similarity to The Stand before I managed to hurt myself, and that's gooooooooooood.

The human race -- the portion that I know, anyway; I can't speak for the entire human race, and that's actually a good thing -- is made up entirely of magpies. Some fascinating psychological studies have been done on the matter, but most of them don't apply today. We're going to be looking at influences vs. homage vs. plagiarism, and we're going to start from the position of 'everyone's a magpie.' Because that's what's important here.

Ready? Excellent. Now let's begin.

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