Week 2 began with some wonderfully sinister keywords; steal like an artist, good theft vs. bad theft, and ideas are everywhere. Even before the week got going, those words had my mind thinking all manner of things.
The underlying themes question whether stealing is ever acceptable and am I able to give myself permission to remix, rehash or modify something that someone else has written? Furthermore, this week delved into those particular processes that I could adopt if I wished to do such a thing.
I think it’s fair to point out that we’re not talking about plagurism here. The idea wasn’t to take a piece of writing by somebody else and simply pop your name at the top instead of theirs. No, this idea was to something already written and modify it in your own way to produce something new, yet still respects and celebrates the original author. A much better explanation of this can be found in this seminal talk from Austin Kleon, “Steal like an Artist.”
The writing exercises for this week provided me with different ways in which I could also ‘steal’ something and use it to make something else. Examples of this were ‘blackout’ (taking a newspaper cutting and blacking out words to project your own view or ‘cut-up’ (cutting up a newspaper cutting and re-arranging the words in a random order). I have to admit that I found the blackout exercise much more fulfilling by being able to take a piece on football and changing it into a piece of weather by blacking out certain words. A great example of this type of work was presented as Tom Phillip’s “Humument”. Here, Tom took a book called The Human Document and altered every page until he’d created something completely different. He’s been working on this project for decades now and his works are very much sought after.
The ‘cut-up’ exercise was somewhat interesting but I found it too random and more often than not came up with something that sounds like gibberish. Interestingly, there are some people who enjoy this type of writing as was presented further by William S Burroughs. Whilst I do respect anyone who has gone on to actually write a novel, I spent a few hours working through some of Burrough’s work and I’ve concluded that it isn’t for me.
Unfortunately, no writing exercises from this week as my wife found the newspaper I’d been using for blackout / cutout and threw it away as it was over a week old 😦
What was really interesting in this week was the amount of different responses I saw in the discussion forums. Here, there were all manner of strange and wonderful pieces of writing that had almost all originated from something written by somebody else. It really did show that ideas for writing can come from anywhere. Unfortunately, I would consider myself one of those writers that never really has problems coming up with the ideas – it’s taking them and putting them on the page that I always have trouble with.