You Did Not Write Your Article

Published on Mar 2nd, 2012 by

It’s easy to write something then sit back and think ‘I did well here, this article of mine is good’. But it’s a little harder to reflect on just how much of this was your own work. It’s a trap I see writers falling into all the time, and I don’t just mean newcomers to the field but seasoned pros as well. Pride comes before a fall, and never has this been more true than in the world of writing. You see, the problem is, that wonderful article you just wrote? You didn’t write it. That amazingly observant critique of the Kaiser Chiefs’ second album? Not yours. The lengthy diatribe on the state of games journalism? Nope.

I don’t blame people for feeling possessive of the articles they create. They can be demanding, time-consuming and close to your hearts. Sometimes minutes of hard work have gone into your essays and thoughts and it’s a bit hard to let go and accept the fact you can’t really take credit for them. You may have thought about them, and your fingers may have typed the words onto the screen, but they’re not yours. Not really.

The problem is, everything you’ve ever written has been lifted directly from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga.

Sure, the words may be in a different order, and sometimes you might use a term he didn’t such as ludonarrative dissonance, aural stimulation or fuck yeah republicans, but you can guarantee the letters were taken from his magnum opus at the very least. Nothing you write is original in any way. You’re just laying down existing words in a different order, but does that really change what they’re saying?

The answer is both yes and no.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga wasn’t the first novel series the world’s ever seen. The one before that was called The Dictionary, and if you compare the two there’s a clear difference in narrative structure, pacing and plot. The Dictionary was written by the person who invented words, Oxford English. Much of what we write today can be attributed to her tirelessly encompassing novel, and it’s almost a shame to give so much credit to Stephen King because of this. The problem with Oxford English’s book is that there’s barely any narrative coherence, and at times it’s very hard to follow just where the plot is going.

There’s no doubt that Stephen King drew inspiration from the aforementioned author’s seminal work, but to state he plagiarised it would be disingenuous. It’s like a builder, taking an architect’s plans and a load of wood and bricks and cement and piping and electrical wire and glass and a carpet and building a house. Would you give the architect credit for that? Hardly. But likewise, you wouldn’t give subsequent builders credit for building their own houses when there already was a house, especially if someone had moved into it and furnished it real nice, maybe with IKEA stuff or a bit of classic Art Deco if they’re flamboyant.

As such, it’s hard to believe that so many writers take credit for their own work when they’re simply appropriating the words of another.

‘But what about if I make up my own words?’ I hear you cry. Shakespeare tried this, as did Stephanie Meyer, and it certainly adds a more unique feel to a piece of work. But is it original? Not entirely. Words are made of letters, and you didn’t invent letters either. Most words are comprised of strings of letters, apart from words like A, I and in some languages F. But does the order you put letters in matter? Not really. A wrod is a word no matter how you say it.

It’s possible, then, to accredit every piece of writing to the person who first created a word using every letter of the alphabet, which according to Wikipedia was John the Baptist. But traditionally this is a footnote in the annals of writing history, rather than a serious consideration. What is interesting, though, is the recent movement of writers who are designing their own letters. Calling themselves ‘artists’, these writers tell stories and compose articles entirely based on unique symbols and designs such as Captain America and the Penny Arcade men. Using these symbols, writers are able to tell a story in their own way. However, the recent discovery of an artifact proved that making up letters has been done before, and the Artist movement is rapidly dwindling away.

Part of the issue here is the digital age. Writing things on a keyboard makes them appear in magazines in the same font, in a uniform style. Up until the 1980s, books and essays were hand-written by a scribe named Charles Dickens and distributed on street corners by urchins. These books possessed a unique quality which, despite being plagiarised, gave readers the impression that the thoughts contained within were unique. Now, not so much. Unless your article is accompanied by a screenshot of something like Citizen Kane or a sneezing panda, it might as well be every other article ever.

So how do you avoid it? You don’t. Just know that anything you write, at all, ever, will be derivative of Stephen King’s seminal work, and to a lesser extent The Dictionary. The sooner you can come to terms with this, the sooner you can start pitching professionally, or at least sticking your work on a Tumblr with gifs from Firefly.

Latest Comments (2)

Emily

I feel like I just ran through a postmodernism unit…

March 7, 2012 4:18 pm Reply

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July 28, 2012 7:16 pm Reply

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