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“Do Great Writers Steal?” Yes, And That’s OK. Here’s Why

“Do Great Writers Steal?” Yes, And That’s OK. Here’s Why

It’s true: great writers are serial thieves. So are successful entrepreneurs, artists and change makers.

That sounds wrong, I know. But it’s totally fine.

And rather than get mad at how I glorify their theft, you should understand why and how they steal, and how you, too, can and should start ‘stealing’ your way to success.

People call it different names: learning, imitation, emulation, copying … they’re all the same thing, in this context.

Fact is, great writers always steal

What do Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso and Michael Angelo have in common? They were great thieves, and they all changed the world, in their own ways.

They not only used all the brains and resources they had. They also learned, applied and transformed great ideas from their forebears and peers. This idea of stealing all sounds unethical, but Picasso admitted it:

Art is theft.

So did Newton:

If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

But why did they steal?

Because they understood that learning from successful action takers is smarter than learning by trial and error. You’re only as good (or as terrible) as the blogs and books you read, the movies and shows you watch, and the folks you hang out with.

In other words, they appreciated that wisdom is plagiarism. Only foolishness is original. In his book, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon makes a case for smart stealing and says why:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

When we appreciate this, we can stop agonizing over trying to be completely original. We can focus on building on existing knowledge and open up to influence.

So don’t resist it. Get ready to start stealing your way to success. It’s nothing illegal or unethical, provided you know how the process works.

The right way to steal: 5 steps

1. Whom should you tap from?

Whom you love. Your hero whose ideas shine and inspire you. Read his books and articles, subscribe to his blogs, watch his interviews and attend his webinars and seminars.

2. What should you emulate?

What you love. Your hero is human. He has flaws. So don’t absorb every of his ideas. Some of them might be worthless. Emulate only his worthy ideas, his writing styles and his thinking. Those that inspire you. I should warn you though – and this is a serious warning – don’t steal his words or works. Not even a single sentence, unless you properly quote him and give credit.

3. Hunt for more heroes

Don’t imitate just one person, or you might become dogmatic to his ideas and thinking. And like Wilson Mizner said, copying one person is plagiarism; copying many is research. Go for more heroes you have, and even your peers, and maybe promising protégés. Tap into their ideas, absorb the worthy ones and move on.

4. Remix and transform

This is one great distinction between plagiarism and artistic stealing. Your job is to amass good ideas, incubate them and make them into something different. Something better.

5. Encourage others to use your ideas

I often come across people who would not dare open a blog because they fear their ideas would be stolen. In my view, that’s a grave mistake.  If anything, you should be proud and even strive to publish your ideas, because ideas that spread, win.

Yes, some bad folks will pass them off as theirs but you can always demand them to respect your intellectual rights. Some will listen and quickly give credits. But even if they don’t, the gains in shipping your work and letting it spread far outweighs the pains.

Great Writers Steal

Credit: Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist.

Stop chasing complete originality

Whether you’re an artist, a businessman, a student or an engineer, don’t get stuck trying to be completely original. No one ever was original, who achieved true greatness. Because something great cannot stand on nothing.

Instead, steal rightly. And build on it.

Go!

If you want to buy Steal Like An Artist, which inspired this piece, check out how to buy Amazon books without shipping

How will you start ‘stealing’ today and stop chasing originality? C’mon let’s talk in the comments by clicking here. Your ideas count.

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-- Dr. Mahfouz A. Adedimeji | Fulbright scholar | Senior Lecturer, Unilorin | newspaper columnist

About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.

Comments

  1. Love this. Glad you also read the book (Steal Like An Artist). People still don’t understand that stealing rightly is the only way to being unique and successful. “If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!” –Gary Panter

  2. Ayeyemi Taofeek Aswagaawy says:

    Awe-inspiring and mind blowing piece. I don’t mind being an intellectual thief. Its good to be. Its a learning process.

  3. Samuel Edet says:

    wow,Its the only form of theft that doesn’t fetch a ‘jail-term’

  4. CURIOUSER says:

    Time to start stealing.
    First from you and Farooq Kperogi.
    Thanks.

  5. Gershon moses says:

    This is a great piece. Most times if am reading books journals magazines and newspapers, i always ask isn’t anything original. The only try to build on what others did. Even Auguste comte who is the founding father of sociology was once accused of plagiarising the work of his friend St. Simon

  6. It is instructive all that have being said. But here’s a caveat: To be a good writer indeed one just have to develop voracious appetite for reading just about any text rather than being straightjacketed, pardon the coinage.
    I recall some decades ago how l used to be a sucker for certain writers like Dr. Reuben Abati. But as l got matured, his writings seized to have the kind of appeal for me as always because he began to sound rather ridiculous to me a lot of the time.
    But that doesn’t mean l don’t respect him anymore as a wordsmith. No.
    Writing just like other human endeavour can improve with time.

  7. Abdulahi, u are very right from the A to the B down to the C and all the way to Z. No one does what has never been down in life. If you want to Sing somebody has sang even better, if you wanna dance… Someone somewhere has danced his way to fortune b4 u even dream of dancing. Like Yorubas will say: “Ko s’ohun tuntun labe orun mon’
    All that makes u stand out is ur creativity and thinkability to transform a piece to a brand new innovation. Thumbs up tosin. My websites are unilaghowfar.com and tyfresh.blogspot.com

  8. this is an eye opener. thanks alot

  9. osiki odion says:

    Well there is no harm in trying

  10. wow not bad

  11. Charles says:

    Affirmative to what Tosin shared. I have always looked for what I can call “totally me” in writing an in my speaking endeavor but I soon realized that every of my thought is and was influenced by something I learnt somewhere, somehow. What makes the difference is the creativity of the idea I am trying to “birth”.

  12. I love this; smiled down to the end of the post! Isn’t it what we call “smartness”?
    Nice article, Coach. But I think it also pays to be original, at least so that you can defend/express what you’ve stolen!

  13. Osho tunde says:

    I love this! I am an intellectual thief already. But you have actually taught me how to expand my stealing business. Thanks!

  14. I totally disagree with your write-up, it simply means you are discouraging. originality which is wrong., piracy is criminal remember. Thank you

  15. MD ZAMANI says:

    Thanks coach. i’ve learnt alot. i used to be skeptical about this ‘intellectual thiefry’ but you’ve cleared my doubts. THANKS ALOT

  16. wow….. one of the best piece I ve read in a long while…. kudos tosin, this post earned my first share. It sure is awe-inspiring and thought provoking….. keep the gud work buzzing bro

  17. this little piece is awesome and mind blowing. It’s coming at the right time for me after deciding to stir up the gift in me and start earning my right to write as you taught us. I have learnt so much from you in such a short time coach.

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