Should Great Writers Steal?

You’ve probably heard the famous quote “good artists borrow, great artists steal” (commonly attributed to Pablo Picasso, but most likely originating from T.S. Eliot).

Before you sound the alarms, there is a world of difference between creatively copying and blatantly plagiarizing. Plagiarism, at least in the context of writing, is the act of taking another person’s work, word-for-word, and passing it off as one’s own. It is never acceptable, excusable, or, in the simplest of terms, ok.

What I like to call “creatively copying” would probably make more sense if I used the analogy of walking down an art museum hallway. You’re surrounded on all sides by splendidly crafted paintings of every era, of every classical artist. Clearly, these are all masterpieces. Then, just as you think you’ve seen it all, something catches your eye, something that stands out from the rest. For you, it might be the extraordinary pointillism in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte or that singular, swirling gold moon in Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

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You find an element that speaks to you, and from there are inspired to create your own pointillistic piece or painting themed around that luminous, eternal moon.

I believe that the same principle applies to writing.

For example, I first read George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones three years ago. As I read, I kept coming across small, striking descriptions that arrested me with how vividly they popped off the page into my mental image of the story. Every time I found one of these extraordinary wordings I would dog-ear the page, and by the time I got to the middle of the book I realized that there were just too many gems to continue damaging the paper. So I started to write them down.

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This is just a small sample from my collection of descriptions.

What did I do with these phrases? Many remained untouched, isolated from their original sentences in the crumpled pages of my notebook. But I always kept them in the back of my mind, and as I was writing my novel I would suddenly remember the perfect pair of words for the perfect situation. I wouldn’t copy them directly, of course. “A reptile stare” became “a reptilian glare.” “Pale moon face” became “sunken, moon-shaped cheeks.” “Frog-faced” became “frog-like lips.”

I used the same technique for the rest of The Song of Ice and Fire series, and for many other books that stuck with me: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, Nicola Griffith’s Hild. They were just bite-sized, beautiful phrases, but one by one, they helped me to learn to look for remarkable qualities in simple descriptions.

I’m a firm believer that great writers must be great readers. And, by nature, a writer who reads is a writer who steals.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

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Music Mondays: Part XIV

Fantasy is uni-age. You can start it in the creche, and it follows you to death.

― Terry Pratchett

In honor of Terry Pratchett, I’ve hunted down some of my favorite instrumental fantasy mixes on 8tracks. These three playlists will take you from snow-capped mountains and veiled northern lights to the clink of mugs and smell of woodsmoke in a lonely tavern. As you write, follow the wise words of Mr. Pratchett: start in the creche, and strike your journey until death.


Happy writing!:)

Writing Kindling #7

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today I bring you a list of ten 1-2 sentence writing prompts that will help build up your white blood cells and give writer’s block a good kick in the pants. Copy them, tweak them, consider them, leave them. It’s up to you!


  1. Curiosity carved a nasty scar into her heart.

  2. Shelves covered every bit of the scientist’s walls.

  3. “There are monsters in these elevators,” the receptionist said with an unsettling smile.

  4. He raised his arms to protect his throat.

  5. I was out walking in the frozen swamp when the first boom! sounded.

  6. “That won’t be necessary,” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose.

  7. Certainly he had loved her madly, but none of that mattered anymore.

  8. Her hand was soft and composed of spindly fingers.

  9. The sound of hooves clopping on cobblestones interrupted him.

  10. Firelight danced in her eyes, and the air was warm with singing and laughter.


I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Happy writing!:)

Writing Kindling #6

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today we have the painting “Film Noir” by Jeremy Norton.

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Ask yourself: Who is he? Where is he? What is he feeling? Why is he smoking? Who is the person in the background? Write about who he is, what situation he is in, and what he will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

As a bonus, I’ve compiled a jazzy playlist chock full of gritty, undercover agent, noir music to accompany your writing:

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

The Art of Bleeding Words

hemingway typewriterSometimes, writers get so caught up in the three Ps of prose (prepping, plotting, and plumping)* that they use outlines and character sheets and thesauruses as crutches for creativity. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll be the first to advocate for a little outside assistance when it comes to laying out your story and sparking inspiration. It’s good to do research, to have resources on hand, to feel confident in what you write.

But often, the best way to write free from reservations is to just go for it without fearing run-on sentences or flat adjectives or continuity. I think Ernest Hemingway said it best:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

In less eloquent terms: spew out word vomit.

Find a comfortable space. Listen to some music or hone into the natural noise around you. Take a deep breath. Ready your typewriter (or writing hand or laptop or other device). And write. Don’t look at a thesaurus. Don’t go googling every little thing that pops in your head. Trust your instincts, and write.

You should never write to fill space. Write to fill your thoughts.


*prepping — worldbuilding, character development, establishing setting
  plotting — outlining, structuring of rising and falling events
  plumping — syntax, description, and other word magic.


© 2016 Stellular Scribe
If you’re interested in my illustrations; get this design on a t-shirt or other product at Redbubble! Thanks.:)

Writing Kindling #5

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today we have Francois Schuiten’s depiction of “Pélléas et Mélisande.”

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Ask yourself: Who is she? Where is she going? What is she feeling? Write about who she is, what situation she is in, and what she will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Writing Kindling #4

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today, we have a painting by Randis Albion called “Deep Diver.”13a0d68eb7d6ae145efad58e76e5d6a0

Ask yourself: Who is he? Where is he? What is he doing? What is she feeling? Write about who he is, what situation he is in, and what he will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!