writing tips

sanctioning plagiarism?

Earlier this morning I found a few articles on the writing routines of great writers. (Mainly because I’m always trying to learn how to write gooder better). The ones on Immanuel Kant and Charles Darwin were rather interesting. Another article, from a different site, was not so much routines but tips for budding writers, offered by W.G. (“Max”) Sebald. What is particularly noteworthy is that the advice Sebald gives transcends the constraints of genre; much of what he has to say applies to all forms of writing.

However, near the end of his categorized advice (in “On Reading and Intertextuality”), I found this disturbing tip:

I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.

If I’m reading this right, and I’d like to think that I am,* Sebald is essentially sanctioning guilt-free plagiarism. (As an aside: when dealing with questions of style, Sebald says, “Avoid sentences that serve only to set up later sentences.” I cannot help but think that the second sentence quoted above [i.e. “No one will ever notice”] sets up what Sebald drives at in the third–especially the promise of guiltlessness). I can neither agree with nor accept this piece of advice as either good or accurate. Plagiarism is literary thievery, and given today’s technology those pillaging another’s ideas can be spotted (and caught). [That means you, Mr Driscoll.]

So, on this point I think I can and will follow Sebald’s final piece of advice: “Don’t listen to anyone. Not us, either. It’s fatal.” Done.

* Props to those who noticed what I’ve done.