What’s Really Behind Plagiarism Paranoia?

These three words entered my mind during the absolute last second of a guided meditation I was listening to the other day: “Happen to life.” I loved it. I thought, wow, maybe that should be the name of a book I write someday. This is profound.

Like a good writer, though, I decided to first find out how many others, if anyone, had used this phrase. Certainly, I couldn’t be alone in it. I did a quick search on Google (without even using quotation marks to ensure I got the phrase in the right order), and sure enough, it had been done. Off hand, I discovered it was the name of someone’s “restoration” program, and someone else had written an article with this phrase in the title.

Although I think we could explore this short, but sweet strand of words, I want to go into the act of searching for an original source of something we believe we have come up with ourselves. Had I read it before? Heard it somewhere?

Why I Always Double Check

When I write something really good and move on — not using it for any particular piece at that moment — I tend to second-guess myself when I return to it. Often, I can’t remember writing it and so I wonder whether it’s mine. The words trigger some sentiment in me — they feel strong, I connect with them, yet they are foreign; they lack a timestamp in my mind, a memory of creating them. Is this just an insecurity I need to part with or is there merit to the feeling that it wasn’t me who wrote something so great — especially if I can’t even remember writing it?

The answers are yes and yes.

Exploring Whose is This?

On the one hand, we have to trust ourselves. I mean, come on, this isn’t Memento. I would probably never write a beautiful line right smack in the middle of a bunch of average lines if it wasn’t my own. Among all the garbage, there’s sometimes a small treasure, right?

If I was quoting another, I’d put quotation marks around it. If I was admiring or planning to work off of another’s thought, I’d leave myself a note, like a lover might, upon departing for work early that morning in lieu of waking you. (Yes, I’m that good to myself. At least when it comes to the sticky subject of intellectual property.)

Further, I have dealt with a lot of insecurity in the past of having not read enough books — especially since I studied literature and creative writing in college. What if I title my book with the title of a popular book everyone I know has already read? How embarrassing would that be?! And though it’s highly unlikely, I still hear some of that negative self-talk.


On the other hand, there is a reason I feel a sense of otherness when it comes to my own work, a reason I feel some sort of detachment from the words: It is because I am but a vessel through which life projects its light. And so are you.

Acknowledging the Collaboration

Although the ego likes to take credit for everything noteworthy, we have to be honest with ourselves if we’re going to live out our life’s purpose: This art I breathe for does not come from me alone, but rather is transmitted through me, should I be brave enough to both receive and deliver it.

Ever have a great idea for an invention you didn’t explore and later saw it advertised on TV? What you chose not to pursue was passed on to another.

We call our talents “gifts” for a reason — they have been bestowed upon us.

The universe, life, god, spiritsourceflowenergy — or whatever you choose to call it: It births us with these gifts, and the more we show up for them, the more available they are to us.

Believing you are wholly responsible for your craft is also dangerous territory. I think this notion is best illustrated in Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk regarding creating some distance between ourselves and our output: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (this video never ceases to move me, by which I mean I sob through the whole thing, heh — even after the tenth time I’ve watched it).

If we allow ourselves to feel wholly responsible for our craft, then we not only get to accept all the kisses blown at our cheeks and flowers thrown at our feet, but we must also bear our masterpiece’s potential lack of appreciation or even acceptance — a more painful experience.

No, I think we know better. I think we lose track of time and space when we burrow into our art, and when we finally come up for air, it’s hard to say exactly where we’ve been or for how long. But when we do return from this miniature journey, we may see before us some semblance of magnificence. Some version of perfection, of beauty, of brilliance. And we know we can’t quite pinpoint its origin.

Perhaps we left for a period to another plane or dimension — perhaps the ideas were drawn from an invisible source or place — one in which our souls comfortably navigate, but our minds can’t even begin to imagine.

This is why our own words, when revisited, often seem unfamiliar. This is why we sometimes can’t help but wonder whether someone snuck into our home and added a few great ideas to a work in progress. And this is why we must release our art into the world — without serving our fragile psyche as a cherry on top — and wash our hands of it, and move on. It may be our gift, but it’s our gift to give.

P.S. Since I try to listen to messages from the universe, I wrote to the author of the article with “happen to life” in its title. It was a great piece, and so I shared my anecdote and thanked him for writing it. In fact, its message was exactly what I needed to read at that time, which is enough for me. I’ll let you know if anything more comes of it.

Have you ever had the feeling that something you created came from somewhere or someone else? Like you stole something, but can’t quite place from where? Do you sometimes get lost in your creative work, as if you’ve been transported, and come back to find a glimpse of your own startling brilliance?

If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.

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