So often the daily practice of writing can seem frustrating and lack purpose. There are the days that the words flow and there are the days that my brain goes missing in action. One of the ways that I jolt my writing into action is by typing up my post it notes from the books I read. The process serves many purposes. I re-engage with the ideas of great authors and do so at a pace that allows the words to percolate as I type them. I start to see patterns between ideas from one author and another and from there I start to create new meaning. I use the great thinking of others to look further.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants
Newton’s statement is pretty famous and one I thought was his own original quote. It comes from the latin “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes“ which means “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries“. This is exactly what I try to do with my writing process. I try to discover truth by building on the previous discoveries of intellectual giants. So much of what we learn starts with riffing on the ideas of others. In education, intellectual giants like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Seymour Papert, still influence modern day thinking on pedagogy, curriculum and technology. This “copying” of thinking is not plagiarism. Austin Kleon calls this “reverse engineering”. There is a reason the words and thinking of giants jump out at us. There is a reason I sticky note particular passages in the books I read. The words are speaking to me. Unpacking the words is the first step towards new truth and discovery. Copying is our mirror neurons in action. We imitate when we first start creating.
“Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
Being a guitar player, I copy riffs that I love. I learn them not to pass them off as my own but to influence my own style. I learn them because they connect with me musically and emotionally. These discoveries are allowing me to discover new truths, and to see further. Once you have seen further, then it is your duty to allow others to stand on your shoulders and see further. This is the often the part where imposter syndrome kicks in and start to think like the two wise men below.
Creating starts with copying. Our influences drive our initial thinking. The key part is to delve deeper and to explore those who influenced your influences. Read the books they quote or the research they highlight. Delve deeper into the giants they stood upon. Doing this will allow you to develop your own voice.
If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, If you copy from many, it’s research.
Enjoy the research. Enjoy the view. You are worthy.