Writers are Such Thieves!

Idea thiefThough we’re not plagiarists, we writers are definitely thieves. One of us will come up with a clever turn of phrase or an effective action beat, and next thing you know, it’s everywhere — in every book we read — and we have no clue who was the brain who thought it up to begin with.

Rolling eyes, gazes meeting, and turning on a heel to walk away are all becoming old to me. I see them all the time. And guess what? I use them all the time, too.

It’s frustrating. I’ve seen authors who try something different, and sometimes what they’ve written in their attempt to be fresh and original doesn’t quite work. Not for me, anyway. My mind tends toward the logical. Can a person really feel it in his spleen when he’s afraid? Frankly, I can’t tell you where the spleen is.

Sometimes, we use the familiar phrases because they’re quick and easy. I do. When I’m on a roll–on those rare occasions when my muse is hyped up on Red Bull–I don’t want to stop to figure out a more imaginative way to put something. Especially when it’s just an action beat in an otherwise fast-paced clip of dialogue. Problem is, I don’t keep my promise to myself to come up with something better when I go back and edit. Quick and easy has its perks, and apparently I’m just as content with them as everyone else.

What got me started on this? Well, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to read a lot this year, both published and unpublished works, and one of the phrases that keeps coming up is this: “He raked a hand through his hair.” It’s in almost everything I’ve read in one form or another. “He raked/ran/dragged a hand through his hair.” It’s supposed to be a sign of masculine worry or frustration, although I’ve never seen any man in my life actually do it. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I do see the action portrayed on TV occasionally.

Yesterday, I got my proofs in for The Final Ride. Few things are more exciting than holding your newest in your hands. I fondled it lovingly. Flipped through the pages and whiffed in the smell of paper and ink. Admired the cover Lynnette Bonner designed. I read passages in it and giggled all over again.

Then I flipped to an argument my two characters engaged in and found this: “He raked a hand through his hair.”

I wonder how many times I used it in the same manuscript, but I’m afraid to count. The book is just a few months away from market. I intend to have several printed before public release to sell at festivals and speaking engagements. I don’t have time to go through and try to be “original.”

Best I can do is to promise myself to do better next time. Because, frankly, I’d love to be the first to write some creative turn of phrase that everyone else steals. Imitation is a compliment, right? But if you beat me to it, expect me to steal yours. Me, and every other writer out there who reads your work. Because writers are, after all, a bunch of thieves.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in write tips, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Writers are Such Thieves!

  1. pamelasthibodeaux says:

    So true LOL!
    Great post.
    Good luck and God’s blessings.


  2. Janetta says:

    Great article. When I went back to edit my first draft I was amazed at the duplicate words. One of my biggies – that. I clicked on ‘find’. Well over a 1000 of them. Lots of work to correct, but much tighter when I was done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gay Ingram says:

    You make me feel so much better with your comment – “Best I can do is to promise myself to do better next time.” Even though every book goes throught several edits before publication, invariably you never catch everything. Seems as though a manuscript can never achieve your ideal goal. I need to keep reminding myself – look forward, not backward…and keep working to make the writing better. Thanks for the reminder.


    • I remember getting dinged for typos and such after Give the Lady a Ride came out. It had so many critiques, proofreads, editors, and *still* had mistakes! Insane, isn’t it?

      I think that making our writing better is one of the goals of career writers. I keep working at it.


  4. Ah, now I know! Being a newbie, I didn’t think of it that way, but it’s true. A catchy new phrase, descriptive style, or dialog beat, catches our eye, and off we run. I really like that phrase, try to do better. After all, most of our readers (unless they are highly skilled editors 😉 ) probably pass right over those phrases, too caught up in the story to notice. At least that is our hope, right?

    Love your posts, Linda! I learn so much. 🙂


    • I think you’re right. Most readers would skim over such things. It’s so rare that I get to read something simply as a *reader* that I forget not everyone approaches books the same way I do.


  5. Reblogged this on Steve's Story Place and commented:
    It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We do tend to copy and reshape the things that work in our eyes.


    • As a friend on Facebook reminded me, a little thievery isn’t really a bad thing–depending on what you choose to steal. However, there are some current fads I wish had never picked up steam.


  6. K.M. Weiland says:

    You said “book cover.” For a second, you had me all excited there. But, nope, you’re still teasing us. :p


  7. Lynnette–you’re funny! (And a great cover designer!)


  8. Linda:

    Years ago in a writing class we were assigned to circle all the cliches on a newspaper page. Then we had to make up a nonsense paragraph of them. It taught us to stay away from cliches or if we do use them after considering all other possibilities, then be very concious of we are using them. I’ve used the Beatles song’s words “let it be, let it be” at the end of one of my poems. I was accused once of being a “word thief” by someone in my writing group – of words of a poem I had never heard or read.

    I like this quote by Paulo Coelho:

    Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions. Paulo Coelho
    Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/p/paulo_coelho_3.html


    • Love the cliche assignment–that’s great! It’s true we all steal from each other, but eventually things we steal land in the cliche pile, I said, as I raked a hand through my hair and rolled my eyes. I turned on my heel and left …


  9. Linda:

    It just came to mind I wrote a whole poem of cliches on how we name and view death:

    How to acknowledge death?

    When you reach the end of life’s journey
    having seen your final sunrise and sunset,
    some look for another life anew
    reunited with ones they love,
    reincarnation is what some believe,
    others think it’s the end of all existence.
    How do you prefer to think of this end
    to your time on earth?

    Will they send out change of address cards
    to announce you are gone to meet your maker?
    Or will you have a dirt nap, go in the fertilizer business
    as you decide to push up daisies.
    Will you cross the river, drift to the other shore
    or decide to sleep with the fishes?
    Will you bite the dust or buy the farm,
    having gone farm way?
    Or cash in your chips, give up the ghost,
    or get a one-way ticket to be with the ancestors
    going to the big mansion in the sky?
    Are you going to dance the last dance,
    kicking the bucket as you go?
    Or get a one-way ticket
    get your sprouted wings, joining the choir invisible
    life in the clouds, creating rainbows in the sky?
    Or check out to buy a pine condo,
    pass on, cease to be, rest in peace,
    expire into that good night.

    Death, unmentionable in many circles,
    euphemisms we choose
    express our hopes, faith and fears.

    (This will be part of my book: Vignettes on Life from birth to one hundred and two – when I get to publish it)

    – Christine Guzman


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