This article is excerpted from one that originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Design. It’s taken from an interview with the author Austin Kleon, who wrote Steal Like an Artist. I had to steal his ideas, and then rewrite them to make them my own.
Nothing is really original
Every writer gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest writer answers, “I steal them.” So, figure out what’s worth stealing, and move on to the next idea.
Admit to yourself that nothing is original. If you’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, you can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and you can embrace influence instead of running from it.
People have been swapping ideas for thousands of years. Every new idea is just a mashup of previous ideas. You are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.
A writer is a collector. Not a hoarder, because there’s a difference. Hoarders collect indiscriminately, while a writer collects selectively. They only collect things that they really love. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
What to do when the ideas aren’t coming
If you’ve got a writing block, the vast and wild frontier that is the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Though there’s bound to be something in your infinite scrolling that will spark an idea for a new project, there’s also the overwhelming sense that everything–every single possible thing–has been written before.
Ask any successful writer, and they’ll tell you the truth. They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose what to be influenced by.
Who are your heros? Identify one writer you really love. Find everything they’ve ever written. Then find out what they read. And read all of that. Steal things and save them for later.
“Fake it ’til you make it.” There’s two ways to read this. Fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want. Or, fake it by writing something–until you actually write something.
Write what you want to read. Don’t worry if elements of what you write have been written before. If you come up with a good idea based on what you’ve read, seen, or heard, make it your own by letting it impress and influence you. Therefore, it’s not really a stolen idea, as much as interpreted one.