On Writing: The Thin Line Between Inspiration and Imitation

inspiration and imitation

It’s happened a lot as of late. I’ll read the title of someone’s latest blog post and my eyebrow will raise. This little part of me will suggest that I do not click the link knowing that what I’m about to read is only going to confirm my suspicion. But, I always click. I’m a byproduct of my millennial generation, so I am greedy for click bait and insatiable in the worst ways.┬áThen I begin reading the post and the paragraphs sound oddly familiar. The rhythm of the sentences seems oddly familiar. How the words dance and play with one another seems oddly familiar. The tone. The alliteration. The style. The voice. All far too oddly familiar.

Maybe this is an open letter of sorts. Or maybe it’s a rant. Maybe it’s part plea and part petty. But if there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that this sentiment is real and it’s begging to get off of my chest. It’s been gnawing away at me and filling my insides with nothing but nastiness. These are feelings I’ve voiced to friends who have convinced me I should not email to the suspected offenders. They’ve told me I should steer clear of calling people out or breathing fire. So instead I’m turning to my own blog, a place both personal and wildly public. A platform I trust. A space where I can express freely. A place I know people visit. And a post I know people will read and wonder about.

“What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” That’s Ecclesiastes 1:9, and though I hardly ever quote Bible verses here, it’s fitting. It’s the perfect counter argument to my scrunched up face and my raised brows when it comes to reading work that I feel is a direct imitation of my own. Perhaps it’s self-righteous and off base to believe I’m creating anything new or original or fresh.┬áBut, for all intents and purposes, and for all of the unrest stirred up inside of me when it comes to this topic, I will own being self-righteous and off base.

The writer in me understands that very thin line between inspiration and imitation. I love reading work that’s inspired. Inspired work is beautiful. Colorful. Full. Inspired work is derived from all sorts of experiences. The smallest details. The tiny things. Inspired work pulls from a plethora of sources, and every source informs what the writer creates. Inspired work collects all of the minutiae and turns it into something grand. I’m moved even more when I read work that feels inspired by my own journey. It tugs at my heartstrings to know something I shared ignited something else within another writer.

I am not moved, however, when I read work that feels like an apparent knock off of my own. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Imitation is flat. Obvious. Cheap. It’s taking entire paragraphs and changing a few words without bothering to infuse a new voice. It’s forgetting that writing is not just words, but it is rhythm. It is beat. It is flow. It is style and it is flair. Writing is about one person taking all of their mess and idiosyncrasies and spilling them madly onto a page. However, imitation is like putting on your mother’s shoes as a little girl, when they are six times too big, but walking around like you own the place anyway.

And maybe the kicker is the insult to my intelligence. To my craft. To the unbridled amount of energy I put into spending time with myself and my work to create meaningful art. There are seven times each month when I hold myself accountable for crafting something original for public consumption. One blog post each week. Two newsletter notes every other week. A snail mail letter once a month. Seven times a month when I open myself up to whatever inspires me, let it marinate, digest it, make sense of it, quiet the noise, prove writers block wrong, sit down to write, reread, revise, and publish. Seven times. Seven times when I put something new and personal and vulnerable out into the cosmos. Seven times when I challenge myself to stay authentic, but somehow remain universal. Seven times when I distribute something that I hope speaks to someone else’s plight or happiness or hell or sheer wonder.

Seven times a month. That means 84 times this year.

So, it’s strange and downright sad to me that anyone would think I do not know the sound of my writing voice like the back of my own hand. Its rhythm. Its beat. Its evolution. The words that have been cemented forever in my book. It’s hurtful that anyone would assume I’m not acute, aware, or observant enough to recognize a knock off. And it’s completely foolish to think I wouldn’t get fed up enough to at least write about it.

I’ve always said I am a writer first and a blogger second. Blogging is the science, but writing is the art. And it took hell and high water to get here, to this point, where I believe in the resounding power of my writing and have worked for hours to refine it. So, maybe that’s my plea. Maybe that’s my ask. That we all take the hell and the high water. That we each spend the time to hear the sounds of our own voices instead of singing the tunes we studied so gingerly from others. Maybe we should each put in the work and do the heavy lifting to figure out what we want to sound like. Who we want to be. How we want to write. Maybe we should save up for the real thing instead of shamelessly buying the knock off.


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