Lind­say Woods

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside - @the­girlinthep­a­per

RE­CENTLY, Elena Fer­rante, best­selling nov­el­ist and colum­nist for The Guardian wrote: “There was a phase — for­tu­nately long past — when I was con­vinced that a story ei­ther had to be ab­so­lutely new, com­pa­ra­ble to noth­ing but it­self, or it must be dis­carded. This was a very pre­sump­tu­ous and at the same time naïve at­ti­tude.”

In an age of con­sump­tion, when most con­tent is la­belled as the next best thing, well, this was a reve­la­tion to hear. Be­cause of what we con­sume and the lev­els at which we do, there is a ten­dency to feel a de­gree of same­ness as peo­ple strive to brand their con­tent as ‘fresh’ and ‘new’. Yet, some­times, it does not feel like that which inevitably leads the con­sumer to in­dulge in a bit of head scratch­ing as to when and how they have seen sim­i­lar ideas prior?

Time was when peo­ple were lauded for tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from their men­tors, who they duly ref­er­enced and ac­cred­ited. Now, in an age where in­for­ma­tion is ac­ces­si­ble in­stan­ta­neously, it ap­pears that in our race to cre­ate what we deem ‘new’ con­tent, we know­ingly — or some­times un­know­ingly — pig­gy­back on the ideas of other cre­ators. Thus, the vol­ume of such be­gins to take on that same­ness which leads to said head scratch­ing.

As Fer­rante dis­cusses, we are ‘…im­mersed in what has pre­ceded us’. How free­ing to know that words can be in­flu­enced by the sto­ry­tellers be­fore us and in­ter­preted into our own ver­sion to there­fore cre­ate some­thing new. Does that in­val­i­date the idea be­cause we have de­rived in­spi­ra­tion or does it al­low for a new per­spec­tive?

I am not cre­ative. I can­not be­gin to imag­ine the in­ten­sity of labour in­volved for true artists and the frus­tra­tions at hours upon hours spent hon­ing their craft only to have some­one in­stantly pla­gia­rise their ideas. But, I have known the tor­ture of in­vest­ing your­self and time into a project only to see a sim­i­lar one be­ing touted as ‘new and in­no­va­tive’. So, what do you do? Throw in the towel or press on?

I have pre­vi­ously shared my thoughts on the cu­ri­ous mod­ern-day af­flic­tion of ‘Im­pos­tor Syn­drome’, where an in­di­vid­ual doubts their ac­com­plish­ments and has a per­sis­tent in­ter­nalised fear of be­ing ex­posed as a ‘fraud’. I can­not help but feel that this is ex­as­per­ated even more in to­day’s so­ci­ety. I strug­gle to be­lieve that Beead­opt thoven binned an en­tire sym­phony as he felt Mozart was just knock­ing the hits out of the park. So, why to­day, do we feel that the worth of our work has to be de­fined as ‘unique’ or ‘new’ to war­rant recog­ni­tion or praise.

As Fer­rante says, in re­la­tion to writ­ing: ‘No au­thor pro­duces texts with­out debts. There are no works that make a clean break with the past, works that ex­clude it...’ This, could in fact be ap­plied to most dis­ci­plines how­ever, in a dig­i­tal age it be­comes all the more poignant. We can edit, delete, bend, twist and mould ev­ery­thing we cre­ate. In essence, we can oblit­er­ate our mis­takes; our past. There­fore, is it in­deed ar­ro­gance to deny the in­flu­ence of oth­ers upon our work sim­ply be­cause we now have the lux­ury of amend­ing same at our very fin­ger­tips? Yet, given the fact that we have the lux­ury of in­stan­ta­neous edit­ing, how has it re­sulted in that dreaded ‘same­ness’ amongst cre­ators?

I have sev­eral note­books filled with be­gin­nings. Those same pages are never privy to a mid­dle or an end. Just be­gin­nings. Be­cause try as I might, I am in­flu­enced, some­times sub­con­sciously, by other work around me. I fre­quently

‘In our race to cre­ate what we deem ‘new’ con­tent, we know­ingly — or some­times un­know­ingly — pig­gy­back on the ideas of other cre­ators

el­e­ments of a char­ac­ter which I have read so whole­heart­edly, it in­fil­trates my own writ­ing.

Case in point, a re­cent col­umn, who the won­der­ful (and in­fin­itely pa­tient) ed­i­tor of this very pub­li­ca­tion was sub­ject to as a sub­mis­sion on my part. I had cre­ated two char­ac­ters which I had worked into my piece. As I wrote, I read the lines in a thick, ru­ral ac­cent. At that time, I had been read­ing, Oh My God, What a Com­plete Ais­ling, and had been ap­ply­ing a sim­i­lar ac­cent to the char­ac­ter in my head. As a re­sult, this spilled over into my own piece which quickly took on all the fe­roc­ity and oblique tan­gents of the Leav­ing Cert ex­am­iner an­nounc­ing the 30 min­utes re­main­ing as the blank page stared back at you.

Yet, I had the lux­ury (which was af­forded me by the afore­men­tioned pa­tient ed­i­tor) of edit­ing and re-sub­mit­ting. I am very grate­ful for that lux­ury; the same one which those be­fore me may not have had. But I also in­tend to pay more at­ten­tion to those very cre­ators and al­low my­self to draw in­spi­ra­tion from their work whilst ac­knowl­edg­ing their in­flu­ence. Be­cause, if I can­not say, ‘thank you’ for that, then surely it is the very def­i­ni­tion of ar­ro­gance?

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