Tags: Steering the Craft

Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 4, 2015
Comments: No Comments
With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)


Now that I have I caught your attention, let’s clarify. I do not want you to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Nope. Not good. A definite no-no.

Still, I offer you this ironic line from an old song by Tom Lehrer about a Russian mathematician. “Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. Only be sure to call it please research.”

Research is exactly what I’m talking about, research into how the best authors craft a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Here’s what Ursula K. Le Guin, writer extraordinaire, says in her “how to” book, Steering the Craft:

A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool…. I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means towards finding one’s own voice as a writer…. What is essential is the consciousness. When imitating, it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.

Thank you, Ursula. Enough said.

The “Futilitarian” Critique

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 3, 2012
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: No Comments

Ursula K. Le Guin, 2004

I am venting. No, it’s not about the Viva Scrivas, but about a recent unnamed critique session. Until now I didn’t have quite the right words to describe how appalled I was at the way a writing colleague was treated by someone who ought to know better.

Then I reread parts of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Ursula’s excellent book about writing has an appendix on “The Peer Group Workshop.” My search was over. Here is what Ursula adds, in a parenthetical “private aside” about critiquing:

Certain “writing teachers” go around the country doing Master Classes that consist of the Master reading the students’ work and trashing it. The idea is, the Master knows what Art is, and the student is a stupid jerk who can only become an artist if abused by a Master. This sadomasochistic teaching technique exists also in some prestigious writing programs. It has no place in a workshop or peer group. As far as I am concerned it has nothing to do with writing at all, but is a cult of ego-exaltation and ego-abasement.

Ursula’s comment brings to mind “futilitarian.” It’s a word I made up, and it describes the critique given by a confidence-bashing person who has neither the inclination, nor perhaps the ability, to offer useful comments. In extreme cases of futilitarianism, one is justified to capitalizing the first two letters of the word.

As I’m already a Scriva and I get free critiques from my group, I cannot enter “futilitarian” in the free critique contest. But you can. It’s not too late (the deadline is July 8th) to come up with a new word that describes the critique or writing process. We’ve got a bunch of great entries so far. Bring it on!

And thanks again, Ursula.


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