Every so often I read something I’ve written and think, “This is quite good.” It’s an infrequent occurrence and my second thought usually is, “I wonder where I found that?”
When you read enough, certain phrases and images will embed themselves to the point where they become yours.
In the liner notes of the album Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan wrote, “the Great books've been written. / the Great sayings have all been said”
Along the same lines, French writer André Gide said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
Those messages are the same—writers are free of trying to be original. They can and should embrace influence instead trying to insulate themselves from it. (Austin Kleon, paraphrased).
When I wrote the flash fiction short story Choosing Destiny a few weeks ago, I thought I was stealing an idea from a meditation exercise I’d done a few years before. I didn’t know that I was also stealing from Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods.
My short story told of a young man walking down a corridor of doors, trying to pick the one behind which he would spend eternity. This was taken from a meditation practise of imagining a row of doors. Open one and you’re on the edge of a vast sea.
Coincidentally I was reading American Gods at the time of that particular flash fiction challenge. But I was only half-way through the book. Imagine my surprise when I later read this passage where the character Shadow is dead:
“I want to rest now,” said Shadow. “That’s what I want. I want nothing. No heaven, no hell, no anything. Just let it end.”
“You’re certain?” asked Thoth.
“Yes,” said Shadow.
Mr. Jacquel opened the last door for Shadow, and behind that door was nothing. Not darkness. Not even oblivion. Only nothing.
Shadow accepted it, completely and without reservation, and he walked through the door into nothing with a strange fierce joy.
I couldn’t (wouldn’t!) set out to plagiarize anything as blatantly it may appear in comparing my fragment of fiction to that excerpt. But independently from Gaiman’s fabulous story, I stole from his work. In advance of reading it.
Have you ever written something, only to find someone else has said the same thing, used an identical theme, or chosen your title for their book before yours got to press? Did you accept it as what Carl Jung calls synchronicity or did it seem more calculated than that?