Sunday, April 15, 2012

Incorrigible Thieves

Writers are incorrigible thieves. We steal every chance we get.

Let me explain what I don't mean. I don't mean that we plagiarize. Some do, but reputable writers don't do that. It's a writer's deadly sin. And it's illegal. And it's lazy.

One way writers become incorrigible thieves is that we gather what we call "material" wherever we are. What's material? It's something that sparks a creative thought we capture to use sometime in the future. It can be the way a man walks through a crowd. It can be a child puzzling over that keeps air in a balloon. It can be  half a sentence overheard in line at Starbucks or at the grocery. Material for a writer is everywhere. Sometimes we are receptive. Sometimes we are incredibly dense, but when we are in our receptive mode, watch out. Anything we see or hear is fair game.

Last week I nipped out to a local shop that sells decent coffee. I needed to get away from my desk for an hour. I needed to turn off my brain and let it rest. I needed to leave my keyboard behind.

Luckily for me, I had a small notebook in my purse, along with a pen. Conversations bubbling around the cafe were too interesting to ignore. So I shamelessly eavesdropped. I heard great phrases I will use with a minor character in Max 2 to give him more flesh. I saw a colorful combination on a tyke who had obviously dressed herself that day. I gave the mother credit for letting the little girl create her own look and wear it proudly in public.

I overheard half an argument. From the half I heard, the person on the other end of the cell phone wasn't in a kind mood. Many bad words used in creative ways. Hmm, I can use these. Into the notebook they went.

If you see me sitting quietly, real book in hand, notebook and pen at the ready, beware. I could easily be stealing your words, your look or just the way you smell. You'll never recognize yourself in a final work, but I will be forever grateful for your inspiration. Thank you.


  1. Just the other day I heard a wonderful phrase that I wanted to use and worried that it wasn't an 'original' could I take credit? Then I began to see that so much of what any of us come up with is a reflection of what we chance to come upon in going through life. The challenge is to word it or set it or describe it in an interesting new way. But the seedlings have to come from somewhere. After reading your blog, I won't feel like such a thief from now on!

    1. Donna, I don't worry about stealing something I hear, because 1) I will never write the situation and quote verbatim, 2) I will always put my own spin on the quote, and 3) there is nothing really new under the sun. There are only new spins on what we see and hear.