The Plagiarism Question: On Originality and Creativity

When I write with pen and paper, I love to watch the words form out of ink. A blank space of white silence becomes filled with combinations of words, which are formed from combinations of letters. The ink falls out of the pen, eager to be on the page.

"Weapons of mass creation" -Bianca Green
“Weapons of mass creation” -Bianca Green

Maybe it is because I am a writer, that I find this so captivating. But then again, maybe not. As I look around my room, it is filled with things that, like pen and paper, create something else: chalk, markers, yarn, hundreds of sheets of patterned paper, the boxes of crafting materials stacked in the corner of my room.  Even my curling iron, the pink cord of which is dangling recklessly from its drawer, creates something.

But does it really? It changes my naturally wavy hair into curls; it creates from something that is already there, not from something that didn’t exist. Does that still mean it creates?

According to dictionary.com, to create is “to cause to come into being”. To me, causing something to come into being means it already exists. It might be a thought – for a blog post, let’s say – running wild in someone’s head. That person creates when they cause the thought to manifest into something physical, or when they write the post based on the thought they had.

This goes hand in hand with the second part of the definition of create: “…as something unique that would not naturally evolve.” An idea for a blog post, on its own, is simply an idea. It’s a thought and, as brilliant as the thought may be, it will not evolve into something else on its own without the act of creating something for the thought to evolve into.

As writers, it is our job to create something. Some would argue that we create something from nothing – but in the dissection of the definition of creation, it seems that what we really do is create something from something.

Writers take a blank page, and the words and ideas we have collected in our minds, and we create something. Creativity is filling a blank page. What do we fill it with, though? Words that we have learned from other places, and ideas that we got from somewhere, or someone.

Browsing Freshly Pressed yesterday, I came across an interesting  and awesome post about plagiarism and ideas, linked here. As an aspiring journalist, I found it intriguing. I had always thought of plagiarism as simply stealing ones direct words – something which, as students, we are warned against doing. Our teachers remind us that an online search can easily prove if we are plagiarizing something or not.

Even as a student I have seen my fair share of plagiarizing from others. I’ve seen presentations from my peers copied straight from Wikipedia, complete with the in-text citations and footnotes. That is blatant plagiarism, and most people know that.

Plagiarizing ideas, though, isn’t so clearly recognized. As mentioned in the aforementioned (afore-linked?) blog post; the definition of plagiarism does not recognize taking someone else’s research, work, or ideas.

Taking someone else’s ideas… hmm. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now, isn’t it? I am writing a blog post based on content that I read in someone else’s blog post. Am I plagiarizing?

Well not really, I suppose. I gave the blog credit. I’m not claiming their work for my own; I am acknowledging their thoughts, and adding my own thoughts and words to the conversation. I am creating something based on something else; I am causing my thoughts (which I had after reading that post) to come into being. And really, at the end of the day, as writers isn’t that really what we are trying to do?

5 thoughts on “The Plagiarism Question: On Originality and Creativity

  1. I may just re log your post, because I enjoy your questions and thoughts. I wonder, though, if I would be creating anything new. Would it be plagiarism? 🙂
    I’m going to think a little more and see if I can add anything original.
    Vincent

  2. I love the beginning of your blog about watching transfer of ink to paper. Your writing is very readable and has a capitative topic. Cudos!

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