Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Plagiarism vs. Inspiration

Last week when my friend and fellow fiction instructor Dan Kitrosser and I passed each other in the halls of Writopia, we commended each other for beginning our journey as "bloggers". When I expressed ambivalence, as in . . . if I'm gonna write every day, what the hey do I blog about? . . . he suggested that I write about plagiarism vs. inspiration, a topic frequently brought up by our workshoppers. Hmmmm, I thought. Yes, intriguing . . . then my friend Steve from Harlem Links Charter School (See Snow Day post) challenged me to share my thoughts on this issue by sending me a provocative article from the New York Times:


Did you just read it? No? Well, I'll synopsize (I'm making up words here!) It's pretty fascinating - a 17 year old girl named Helene Hegemann in Germany wrote a book about Berlin's drug scene that is a bestseller despite the fact that it has been grossly plagiarized by a lesser-known author. Not just sentences, but whole pages have been lifted from this other author's work.

What is interesting to me is the author's defense of her work, that it is merely the modern way, like in music when artists "sample" work by other musicians."It's not plagiarism, it's mixing," she says. But can authors "sample" from other authors without giving them credit? Isn't that called "stealing"? Musicians certainly give each other credit, so her defense doesn't quite work for me. It is interesting that she isn't horrified, which, I think, is what most writers would be.

What if I memorized a whole paragraph from something and my unconscious retrieved it ten years later?

People on FanStory use writing prompts and famous plots to have fun with writing, but they aren't trying to sell off work as their own.

The kids I work with often bring up concerns of originality, but I tell them that I am more concerned that they find their own creative expression. Harry Potter-esque plots abound amongst the tween set. Imitation is a form of flattery, and it is also a form of learning, and taking risks with finding your own voice.

When I was a teenager, everything I wrote had a tinge of existentialism to it, having been struck by Sartre and Camus. Then there was my magical realism phase after reading everything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Isn't this the way that we learn? That we internalize universal themes and the way to plot and character arcs? That's how I have certainly learned; from reading widely and voraciously.

This topic is HUGE, Dan and Steve. I've barely touched upon it, or done it justice in the short time that I have to blog today.

I have written about 20,000 words about taking care of my grandmother, and her descent into "old-age." Could it turn into a book? No - it's already been written, and by her, my grandmother, Maadeleine L'Engle. It's called The Summer of the Great Grandmother and it's a beautiful book!


  1. What a great post! I worry that sometimes my own writing will dig up soemthing deep in my mind,but it won't be my own original thought.

    Love the way you explain how we learn from patterning after the work of others. I often had my students in writing lab "copy" a poem or paragraph with changes of their own while finding their own voice.

    Summer of Great Grandmother is a beautiful book! Yes! I have read it twice, and it is due another reading. However, right now in the cold and snow I need other, "warmer" books!

  2. Thanks Bookie! I'm realizing that I should have called this post Inspiration vs. Plagiarism, instead of the other way around!

  3. I don't understand students that plagiarize others' works. It must be so humiliating for them. Usually I use www.plagtracker.com to check papers for duplications. Sometimes even good students copy someone else's works. So sad

  4. Inspiration is always a great factor for our life because in this way we can make our life great. We should know about the great british essay because they also inspire a lot of people with their written essays and articles.


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