Copying is Not a Bad Thing

On Neil Gaiman, Blogging and Influence.

Ever since I’ve seen Neil Gaiman’s commencement address for the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia two years back—an address that will become enormously influential in my life and one that I’ll revisit time and again—I cannot not constantly ruminate on the wisdom it delivers. And among these many enduring lessons in creativity and art, and in life, one that particularly and often pervaded my mind is: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”

I was in the early stages of the inception of my first blog and I didn’t know what I was doing—in fact if you ask me now, I still don’t know. And here was a guy. A guy who’s been prolific and successful for years and he’s telling me it’s okay to find my voice in the words of another. I can tell you that was and is a strong message.

Just last month, two friends asked me separately who I look up to when it comes to blogging. In both instances I wasn’t able to name names right away; I had to think it through. And while on the process, because blogging is essentially writing, I returned to Gaiman’s dictum.

Before I go further, I would like to establish my interpretation of to copy in the sense that it was used by the English author. Gaiman, I’m most certainly confident, does not advocate plagiarism. In this case, “to copy” is to feel the style of another artist by writing (or whatever verb that matches your field of artistic endeavor) as closely as possible to his voice.

If my work—that is, my blog—is any evidence, it is safe to say that I still struggle with finding my own voice. Originality is, after all, a steady process of constant borrowing and repurposing. For a while I toyed with the idea that I can be as fun and funny as Cait of Paper Fury or as carefree and articulate as Elena of the now defunct Novel Sounds. I wanted to have provocative, in depth discussions worthy of Joey’s of Thoughts and Afterthoughts and to incorporate my personal life into my writing just as easily as Jamie of The Perpetual Page-Turner does. But all of these don’t come naturally to me, which is not to say that these people don’t influence me all the same, because they do. And lately, the necessity to self-examine is more timely than ever, as I muse over what I thrive to accomplish with Bookish and Awesome.

I am nowhere near having my answer. But I feel like I’ve stumbled upon the beginning of a thread.

Jen of Pop! Goes The Reader and Shannon of Awash With Wonder are two ladies who write with eloquence and sensitivity I deeply admire. The ease with which they choose their words is something I aim for. And while both are equally thoughtful, each write disparately, in subject and in style, from the other. You can accuse my reviews of being stiff, but I exert effort into producing them as thoughtful and sensitive as best I can. So I guess Jen and Shannon are my main influences. They definitely make me aspire to write better.

Is it okay then that I grapple with my own voice? We all go through it; the process has been humbling thus far. Is it okay to copy and be influenced by other artists? Yes. Because as Austin Kleon affirmed, “you are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

Who are your influences?

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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22 thoughts on “Copying is Not a Bad Thing

    1. YES. I just want this message to reach someone who’s struggling with the same thing, I guess. Coz I’ve had to pore over this again and again and again when I was starting out. And like I fully expressed in my article, it’s something I still think about frequently.

      Thank you for commenting on this!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have had the same thoughts when I am told that copying is good, but it is bad so I just wanted to see your take on it!
        And it was my pleasure to comment!😉

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  1. I love this. It’s certainly true that we all have a tendency to copy people, whether consciously or otherwise, when we’re trying to find our way around a new hobby or activity. I’m not really sure who my influences are because I’m often influenced by many things and people, so just narrowing down my list to a few people is really hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. By channeling your pot-stirring from DMs to posts, like this one perhaps, you too have reached provocative acclaim…

    Also, was it purposeful that your tagline was [Reading is ALWAYS “beter than.”]? — I have just noticed it (or maybe I have before but forgot to mention it). Now there is a Mr. Red Squiggly Line in this comment as I type this.

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    1. I don’t know what you’re getting at with your first paragraph(ish?) so I’ll comment on the second one instead. Okay, a) “Reading is ALWAYS “better than”” was purposeful, like “Reading is ALWAYS better than, say, sleeping” or something, and b) I don’t recognize Mr. Red Squiggly Line.

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  3. SO I BASICALLY JUST ADORE THIS POST. And I 100% agree. I think everyone starts by “copying” or I guess a good word is also “emulating” the ones we look up to. ME TOO. When I started blogging I was like a little robot. But then I kind of just started piecing together what I wanted to read. I’m not really sure I can name who I look up to in blogging. I ADORE everyone, but I think I’m very crazy and just do whatever and ignore all the rules.

    But omg your reviews aren’t STIFF. I think your blog has incredible voice!! Their are some bloggers who have just 100% epic voice and I know I’m reading their post from the first sentence. Yours is one of them. Never generic. YOU ARE CLEARLY AWESOME AS YOUR BLOG TITLE IMPLIES.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. IF THIS ISN’T THE BEST COMMENT I READ TODAY, I KNOW NOTHING (JON SNOW). HA. Thank you so much, Awesome-Cait! I always try to play it cool when I receive nice, generous comments but your words mean a good deal to me so, just this moment, I won’t. Thank you thank you THANK YOU! 🙂

      Yeah, I guess a lot of us in the creative field go through this. We start as toddlers, toddlering (this word is legit; I’m making it legit) around, emulating (yes, that’s a good word) people we think are doing awesome stuff. And it doesn’t even matter if we know consciously who we look up to. As long as we know we have inspirations and we can channel this positive energy, I think then, we’re doing something right.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OH YES. Voice is really hard to nail, whether in blog posts or in writing, and I confess freely I definitely tried to mimic other people’s voices — most notably George RR Martin and a few Chinese authors. And in terms of blogging, Christina @ fairy skeletons inspired me SO MUCH, and I can’t deny that Cait’s caps and excitement have rubbed off on me a little.

    And since we’re on the subject of quotes, I’m just going to throw out Newton’s “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” I mean, like 99% of the way we were just climbing up our giants. But the view we see, what we achieve at the end — if that’s different from what others have seen, that is already enough. And that is what we strive for, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, obviously, your giant quotation is more poetic than what I used. Thank you, Alyssa! I put so much of me into this article (more than I was aware maybe?) and I’m glad it resonated with you. I feel like Gaiman captured it so vividly when he said “Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.” Because I’m thinking, whether we’re conscious of it or not, our works are echoes of our attempts to emulate our heroes. Or idols. Or giants.

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  5. Whoops, I read this post a couple of days ago, but I was on my phone, so I must have forgot to comment. Basically, I absolutely agree! Nothing is really original, so you’re bound to copy someone whether you like it or not, but I think when you’re really new and starting out at something, it’s just instinct to imitate what you like. It also paves the way for you finding your own voice, so it’s not a bad thing – it just gives you a frame of reference until you make up your own. Great post! I’ve struggled with this in the past, so I really needed to read this. Also, for what it’s worth, from what I’ve read I’m really enjoying your writing voice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is one lovely comment to read on a Monday morning. ❤ Thank you, Vlora! Yes, I feel like every artist has to grapple with this at one point in their lives, and so I wanted to talk about it. I especially put my heart into this article and it's really heartening that it resonated with fellow bloggers/artists.

      Like

  6. I think I’m always evolving as a blogger, trying to find my voice even after 5 years! I’ve tried many styles and ideals of blogging, fallen in love with many different bloggers because of their uniqueness and emulated them from time to time. Now I just do what I want. I mix it up, I just go with the flow of ever changing ideas. 🙂

    Honestly, you inspire me a lot and I am so happy to have found your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chrystal! You are very sweet! ❤ Thank you thank you! Your comment means more than I can say as this topic is especially close to me. I'm glad that you're already in a place where you're comfortable to just do whatever you want to. Go you!

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