Steal like an artist


I use Grammarly’s online proofreader because borrowing is fine for books, a cup of sugar, or for good luck on your wedding day, but you want my work? Pay for it! Don’t copy – steal like an artist. And if you’re going to steal like an artist, please know what you’re doing. Learn about the artful manipulation of awareness.

Where did the idea for my first novel, Dead Weight come from? First, I’d taken scuba diving lessons. In fact, I got carried away and went all the way to divemaster. It was fun. Maybe not so much towing in a puking newbie and hauling him up onto the beach through the surf, but most of it was a lot of fun. Helping a student to overcome their fear and go for it, night dives, seeing an octopus jet off in a cloud of ink, swimming through the kelp forest off Catalina…. We used to joke that the dive store would be a great setting for a sitcom. That part got me thinking about characters. Anyway, there was that, but part of the framework I used – stole like an artist – was from Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The story is different, some of the themes are different. The characters are completely different. But there’s a framework from the last part of the John Huston movie, or perhaps more accurately, from my memory of Huston’s version.

This is one reason we started Annotation Nation. There’s nothing new under the sun. Take a look at other work, great and terrible, and analyze what they did. Don’t copy it. That’s lazy and immoral and plain rude. Figure out how the great ones did what they did. Was it through the musicality of the language? Imagery? Did they mess with your senses? Subvert your expectations? All of the above? Can you “steal” the way in which they used imagery? Again, not copying, but using for inspiration. If they used imagery of the human body in their story, is there a way to translate that effect into, say, the imagery of flowers in yours?

Look at a piece of art, writing, music, an acting performance, etc. that you don’t like, that you find mediocre and figure out where they went wrong. Can you avoid the same pitfalls? What would you do differently? Why? There’s a lot of mediocre stuff out there because people don’t take the time to go deeper either from fear or laziness. Go deeper. Ask the hard questions. Put your characters in scenes that are not in your show or book and see what they do. Make the bold choice, something off the wall and ridiculous. Maybe you’ll fall on your face. But maybe, just maybe, things will open up in a new and exciting way and you’ll hear people say, “I’ve never seen it that way” or “I’ve never thought of that” or just that it was awesome. No matter what your area, if you have trouble with self-consciousness or fear, take improv classes.

I leave you with Apollo Robbin’s TED Talk – I was in the front row in Edinburgh for this and I caught a few things, but certainly not all of it. He is amazing.

2 responses to “Steal like an artist”

  1. Were you the lady in red by the aisle in the front that he interacted with 4 minutes into the video? =)

    1. No, I was off to the side next to a BBC journalist!

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