1. Ari
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    Ari New Member

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    Not Writer's Block, but Worse!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ari, Sep 12, 2013.

    I've got this terrible affliction in my writing, and it's getting downright irritating. I pen some paragraphs of my latest attempt at writing a hardboiled short story, only to realize within minutes, "Hey! I've read this before!" and a quick search reveals that what I THOUGHT was a brilliant original opener or a tightly-written action scene has already been done- and even more shockingly, my writing mirrors the old masters almost exactly. The ink will be barely dry on my paper before I look at it and it's one of those hey-wait-a-minute moments and I realize Raymond Chandler said the same thing in this or that story decades ago. While I know the value of studying other authors and their methods, this is making me paranoid that EVERYTHING I write is going to turn out to be accidental plagiarism from something I've forgotten that I read long ago.

    What to do? It's frustrating having the feeling that I'm not having many- if any- original thoughts in my meager works.
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's a tough one. How exactly does your work mirror the masters? It might look too close to you, but other might think you're just writing in the same tradition, and that's completely valid.

    One thing you might try is a drastic change of genre. Try science fiction or fantasy, or maybe a historical piece about Alexander the Great conquering somebody. Challenge yourself with something outside your comfort zone. I'm not saying you should build your career doing this, because it's clearly not the kind of fiction you want to write, but just try a short story or three this way as an experiment, just to break yourself of some habits. Once you've found a voice of your own, you can go back to your hard-boiled stories and write confidently as yourself, not as an imitator of Chandler or anyone else.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Are you using the exact phrases and sentences they're using? Having the same idea (i.e., the same action scene) or writing in the same style isn't plagiarism. You may want to look up plagiarism and see how it applies to creative writing to make sure you understand the nuances.
     
  4. Ari
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    Ari New Member

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    @minstrel ~ Yes, I've tried writing in the fantasy fiction genre to see what would happen and sadly it all looked like a bad rendition of Tolkien. The words were different, but the imagery and descriptions were straight from Middle Eart (and I read the LotR series decades ago). Maybe something else next time!

    @thirdwind ~ At times I've written out an almost verbatim copy of something that I had read before and forgotten about, and I just sit there feeling like an idiot who played a joke on himself.

    I should explain, though, that I have no illusions of becoming a published writer any time soon (if ever); my poor efforts have seen more of the inside of a desk drawer than they have the light. I'm just wanting to be able to write decent stories for my own enjoyment of the process, and for a very small circle of friends should they be interested. All the same, though, I'd like to think that what I *do* write are my own inventions!
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This may be way off base given it's a shot in the dark, but have you considered fan fiction, not as an ultimate goal, but as a writing prompt to find your own voice? Take a piece you like or find yourself mirroring, and see what you'd do with it differently if it was your piece. If you start with the original and change it, maybe you won't find yourself ending with the original.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Based on what you've written here, I'm still not convinced it's plagiarism. Can you post a short example (a paragraph perhaps) of your work and then of the similar passage in LoTR?
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "(The short-piece writer) is aware that billions of dollars are stolen every year by bankers and politicians, and that thousands of people are out of work, but these conditions do not worry him a tenth as much as the conviction that he has wasted three months on a stupid psychoanalyst or the suspicion that a piece he has been working on for two long days was done much better and probably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924." - James Thurber, "Preface to a Life", 1933.

    So, your problem is not new.

    I think we all mirror writers who have made an impression on us. I think it's impossible not to. It's probably a necessary part of the process of finding your own voice. Moreover, the very elements that draw one to writing in the first place - the compelling characters, the irresistible stories, the gut-wrenching dilemmas - stay with us. There are certain stories I read in my youth that produced images that stay with me to this day, and even if I have reread those stories, the images I see are the first ones. Those of us with a long held desire to write probably cleave to those images even more. We could not leave the fingerprints of those things out of our writings if we tried.

    Likewise, there are only so many kinds of story, only so many types of conflict, that can be written (I've heard the number as low as three, but it depends on how finely one wants to slice it). So, in a sense, everything you write is like something that has been written before. But we keep writing them because there are so many different ways in which to express the same elemental truths. Right now, you are looking for yours.

    Only by writing and critiquing do we learn to differentiate our own voice from the voices we admire. So, I'm going to respectfully disagree with minstrel's suggestion that you try sci fi or fantasy, because you will spend an inordinate amount of time seeking to create worlds and conflicts that are original and if you don't have a passion for the genre, you are likely to grow more frustrated and probably veer into duplicating what has been done before. I'm also going to respectfully disagree with GingerCoffee's fan fic suggestion because your scope of originality is already constricted when you do that. Pick something from the news - world news, local news, politics, entertainment, sports, even the weather - doesn't matter. Pick something on which you have a lot of information readily at hand. Invent a simple character and thrust him/her into the middle of it. And then write.

    If you find yourself channeling certain writers you've read in the past, don't worry about it. Finish the story, and then go back and change what you think is not yours. Then, pick another topic, create some more characters, and keep writing. At this point, you're not looking to publish, you're searching for your voice. It takes time. And you never really completely finish.

    Good luck.
     
    Thomas Kitchen and minstrel like this.

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