While scrolling my Twitter timeline this weekend, I found myself revisited by a question I asked myself when I first fell in love with a modern poet’s words at a reading: where does inspiration end and plagiarism begin?
Art has a natural evolution, as it inspires other art. And storytelling is no different — almost all stories can fit into a handful of core ideas that have been shuffled around, but are told in a new way. While some works that rehash old concepts can be a draw for some, there’s a big difference between influence and imitation.
Having a similar idea isn’t usually considered plagiarism: writing prompts and photography do serve as adequate inspiration for some, as ideas can generally be approached from countless angles. Unauthorized, unfair, and unaccredited use of another person’s words or ideas with the intention of passing it off as one’s own is plagiarism. Plagiarism can also include rewording a published work by another person, as well.
So, what should you do when you read a poem that inspires you enough to write? Here’s what I usually do:
Take a second to analyze: What about this poem inspired me (i.e. the language, formatting, arch, perspective, etc.)? Is there anything I don’t like, or would change, about the work? If I can’t think of anything I’d alter, researching common cliches or other’s complaints about either the work itself, or the genre or subject can be guiding.
Usually, finding something you don’t like or would change will help you on your quest to come up with something new. In conversation with other writers and poets, I’ve found that concepts and plots that others find intriguing or underutilized and with unsatisfying conclusions also seem to be inspiration points.
Worried about unintentional plagiarism?
Don’t let that stop you from creating.
What you read influences what you write… and all writing responds to something: your creation is just a form of a response. You may not always realize where your influences are coming from but you are allowed to be inspired. You’re just not allowed to steal characters, setting, quotes, or phrasing.
It’s better to focus on your own ideas and edit your works as soon as you find similarities. Whether the similarity is intentional or not, it’s just much easier to avoid the hassle and legalities by just cutting or reworking the section(s — or the entire piece!) to make it more original.
What do you do when you get inspired by another work? Do you have any tricks of your own to avoid imitation?
*** Epigraph Press does not condone or support plagiarism in any way. If you catch an instance of plagiarism in any of our publications, please call us out/let us know so we can fix it. ***