Source for the Goose

By K. M. Lockwood @lockwoodwriter
The title of this month's Inspiration Piece is not misspelled. In a change from the usual, this article focuses on creators and their sources of inspiration. Where you get your ideas from can be contentious . . .

In January, I was astonished by an exchange on Twitter between Louise O'Neill and Alexia Casale.

Louise O'Neill: Once again, met someone who wants to be a writer but who 'doesn't have time for reading'. Lads...... No.

Alexia Casale replied:
Knew an MA student who didn't read at all 'because it sullied the purity of his unique voice' & was most offended when I laughed in his face.

Not reading for a writer seems like not visiting art galleries for an illustrator. Hard to imagine how you could improve your practise without it. [To clarify, listening to audio-books is an entirely valid method and essential for those with visual disabilities.]

There are also some genuine reasons for doubting the wisdom of reading whilst writing. I expect most writers have worried about inadvertent plagiarism - and I expect there are similar concerns for illustrators. I'd suggest a twin approach: on one hand, acknowledge the debt you owe. Be conscious of engaging with others - I highly recommend Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. On the other, read so much that no one source can dominate. Read outside your genre, your age group, your culture.

Another valid concern is being overly influenced by the 'voice' of another creator. The late and much-lamented Terry Pratchett would read non-fiction when drafting for that reason, and many of my colleagues do too (it's more difficult for an editor and book reviewer). Remember, there will always be traces of what you have read - but those unique combinations make up your distinctive voice.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.
Jim Jarmusch - American independent filmmaker

It was almost certainly the love of stories or art or both that got you creating. This is the wellspring of your authenticity - not some desperate striving for originality or novelty. So bathe in it - especially when stymied or weary.

Quotation from Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)

And if, like me or the students cited above, you suffer from your ego piping up, then remind it that J.M.W. Turner copied.

Suggestions for your work

  • Could your main character imitate someone in order to learn - in her own unique way? (Picture-book writers, you are at an advantage here - small children do it instinctively.)
  • Might an older character be concerned about copying?
  • Can we see the protagonist going to different sources to learn a skill? 
  • Might they struggle to do it their own way?
  • As for antagonists, could ego, and a refusal to admit to mimicry lead to defeat?
    by K.M.Lockwood  
    Golden Egg Academy accredited Editor
    Chief, cook and bottle-washer at Peacehaven B&B


    1. Thank you for reminding me about that Francine Prose book. I think it's probably time I read it again.

    2. The harshest word my inner critic utters is this: Pedestrian. Oh, the pain of hearing this! My fingers slow on the keyboard. I cringe as I reflect on what is already written. My solution? I flip the inner critic's word to my favor. I become a pedestrian and walk away--stomp away--from the lie. And I keep writing, reading, and being inspired by what others have written, to include thoughtful blog posts such as this one. Many thanks for sharing it with us.

      1. Thank you Claire & Ogarita for your kind comments.


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