Good Writers Borrow; Great Writers Steal…Ethically
“Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Wait…what?!, I thought after my Writing for PR Professionals professor quoted legendary poet T. S. Eliot. I was even more confused because she said it after reading aloud a byline assignment that I had written describing how a young boy had found hundreds of dollars in change between his family’s couch cushions to buy a shiny new bicycle. She appeared to like it, but was she accusing me of plagiarism? Was she accusing T.S. Eliot of plagiarism? Was she being facetious?
Turns out, the poet and the professor were referring to drawing inspiration from the past, whether it be written works, word of mouth, wives’ tales, tall tales, or whatever other form of storytelling you interpret as art. I can’t recall what it was that inspired that piece, but the quote stuck with me long after I crossed the stage at Salve Regina University’s 2006 Commencement Ceremony.
Once I became an actual PR professional, another version of this quote kept popping up at every brainstorm: “there are no new ideas.” Does that mean there’s no creativity to be had? Absolutely not! Visionaries, innovators and creators all draw from what the pioneers before them accomplished and strive to improve it. Just because you incorporate elements of works passed, doesn’t mean that you can’t create something different and meaningful. Sometimes all it takes is a simple tweak.
As an industry, PR epitomizes putting Eliot’s words into action. The wordsmiths at the agency pinging you for additional product or service details will turn your marketing collateral into an evocative storyline fit for media and for your customers. They will “steal” from experiences with past clients, pitches, events, meetings as well as by way of endlessly consuming media across numerous verticals.
As for this blog, no need to beg, if you “borrow” or “steal” I’ll take it as a compliment.