Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Great Artists (and Writers) Steal

Great Writers Steal

This is Day 6 in the Great Writers series.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but stop trying to be so original. Your genius is hiding in someone else’s ideas, someone else’s project.

You’re so consumed with being creative that you’re neglecting the first rule of creativity:

Just create something.

When a reporter asked Bono how U2 got their unique sound, he replied (to paraphrase), “We were just trying to copy everyone else, but we weren’t good enough. This is what came out.”

Stealing 101

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
—Picasso

A good writer curates. She scoops up all the little pieces of inspiration around her, melding and mashing them, putting it all together in a hodgepodge mosaic that makes something new.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we do this, but we all do it. Great artists borrow from other artists. They meld together pieces of the chaotic mess we all call life, and they end up with a whole new creation.

So today, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to steal.

The challenge

Find a quote or a painting or some form of inspiration — and steal it. Make it your own. Attribute it — give credit where it’s due — but don’t be afraid to use it. Let someone else’s work springboard you into your own.

Give up on your pursuit of originality and genius and just find something that inspires you. Borrow from your friends and heroes and mash it all up into something that looks, feels, and sounds like you.

Who knows? You may find a style all of your own. You may even find — as Bono did — that a whole group of people end up copying you… as you copy someone else.

The irony is thick, ain’t it? Crazy, but it works. This is all art is — piecing together enough random pieces that you eventually have something original.

Professionals are comfortable with this; they embrace it, while amateurs waste their time trying to being creative.

So let’s hear from you: What’s something you’ve stolen recently? Where did you find the inspiration? Share any relevant links, pieces, whatever in the comments.

Update: If you’re blogging through the series and want to share your work each day, you can do that here: Great Writers Link Up.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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