A month or so ago I happened up on Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative when it was marked down for Kindle. I finally got a chance to read it this week, and it has me thinking. I really wanted to get it for my son, but when I texted him about it, he told me he’d recently read and enjoyed it, too.
So I’m passing the tip along to you. Here are a few bits that I highlighted:
The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original,” nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved. What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original. It’s right there in the Bible: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Some people find this idea depressing, but it fills me with hope. As the French writer André Gide put it, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” —William Ralph Inge
…chew on one thinker—writer, artist, activist, role model—you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.
You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called “impostor syndrome.” The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing. Guess what: None of us do. Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.