There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Ernest Hemingway
I started writing shortly after finishing reading my first hardbound book by Lewis Carroll. I fancied his words so much, both familiar and unfamiliar, that I begun writing what I thought were poems. Soon enough, I was able to compile a collection of short “poems” about hermit crabs, blooming blossoms, and my mother, on scented stationary pads.
When I entered the world of formal education, I’ve had one of my greatest feats to boast: qualifying for the National Schools Press Conference for Feature Writing category. I was in sixth grade when I had my first plane ride going to the contest venue. Said achievement plus championing essay and poem writing competitions in high school made me think I was pretty good. However, in college, upon joining the university paper, I discovered just how badly the editor needed to extricate my work from the bowels of mediocrity.
Apparently, writing is not that simple.
Writings on the wall
In my own ivory tower, writing provides the best of both worlds. It is a give-and-take relationship because it is both a therapy and a duty. When human joys and pains are released and expressed through this process, the spirit is renewed. If wisdom and ideas are shared through this tool, life is enriched.
As a therapy, it provides a sanctuary to the writer. In the BBC series Sherlock, when Dr. John Watson started documenting their exploits in his blog, Sherlock Holmes told him to stop inflicting the world with his opinions. Well, on one hand, there is a degree of validity in this unsolicited advice. But on the other hand, if you write about something you want to write about, so bad that you just can’t help yourself, it doesn’t even matter how many people are going to read it.
When talking about writing as a duty, it’s inevitable to tackle the age-old question: for whom do we write? Different schools of thought, of course, provide different answers. Some of the greatest forerunners and advocates of writing as a duty believed and urged that it is for the people, the masses, and the proletarian that we must write. Whomever it may be, it is always going to be our worldview and values system that will dictate the purpose of our writing.
Mightier than the sword
One of the most precise expositions of the value of literature can be found in the book An Approach to Literature by Cleanth Brooks, et.al, and it goes like this: “Literature is a reflection of life. It appeals to us because it enlarges our experience of the world and of our selves. Because even though the facts and characters of a literary piece may not exist as specific people in real life, they live in literature as people who stand for the generality of men.”
While it is true that literature is a reflection of life, it is worth pointing out that words also give life. Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist shared the most difficult challenge in all his storytelling life: he visited the Bolivian town of Llallagua where the people lived from the mine and the miners die, and they begged him to tell them about the sea. He said, “None of these miners would ever know the sea; each was doomed to die young. And I had no choice but to bring them the sea, the sea that was so far away, discovering words that could drench them to the bone.”
Ultimately, more than just a life-giver, words are life, as expounded by the fictional character Professor John Keating from the movie Dead Poets Society: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Now that we have established just how powerful decent writing can be, let’s talk about how we can avoid dishonoring this noble craft.
In other(s’) words
We all have done it before: copying a perfectly-phrased paragraph that we’ve read, imitating our favorite author’s writing style, getting ideas and inspiration from other writers’ work, and the list goes on. But when does copying become morally and legally wrong? It is when we practice plagiarism, or the use of someone else’s work or a part of the work without consent, and passing it as our own.
A year ago, as I was going through a typical work day, I received notifications in my WordPress mobile app indicating that a blogger linked my posts to her blog. As a neophyte blogger, I was delighted, only to discover that a newly-created blog contained three of my original blog posts and some parts of my About page. The content in question were unlawfully copied and reproduced without my permission by someone I do not personally know. As it turned out, she unwittingly included the links embedded in my posts when she copied them, that was why I received said notifications.
My blog is simply a personal hobby and an online diary where I practice my writing and share content that may be helpful to others. I have never deemed it as something worthy to be plagiarized. I am not a even good writer; I merely chanced upon the path of writing and fortunately grew fond of it.
But stealing is stealing. With the advent of technology, stealing is a click away. And although it has become a common thing that even well-known personalities and politicians do it, it is quite alarming when we experience it firsthand.
After sending my copyright infringement complaint to my host site and reaching out to the blogger, the serial plagiarist apologized through email, only to repeat it thrice in her other blogs. Frankly, it was a disheartening experience, but it also served as a warning to be more careful in posting online. It also made me more grateful for the readers of my blog who express their kind support and appreciation and give proper credit.
It’s easy to give in to the temptation of copying. But if we have a high regard for the discipline of writing and respect for other writers, we will strive to bleed our own words and sew them together into what we think are pretty good pieces.
Cover photo: Royalty-free image from StockSnap
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