In a recurring dream, I see myself writing in an old attic or barn, wood beams above me and panels around me. I don’t know whether I’m writing on a laptop or by hand; all I know is there’s blinding white in front of me and the words have run out. I used to think it was a nightmare about writer’s block, but it’s evolved slowly over the years to a worse fear: There are no words left to say about anything.
Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of books there is no end” (v. 12:12). My dad used to tell me when I whined as a child, “Same song, different verse.” In an anthropology class I read Noam Chomsky saying there are untold numbers of ways to say the same thing without ever using the same words in the same order. The possibilities seem endless.
Why then, the fear of words of running out?
Our fear of finitude of ideas drives writers to steal from others. Austin Kleon writes in his best-selling book, Steal Like an Artist, “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” Unfortunately, though, many copy, copy, copy and instead of finding themselves, they lose themselves.
Seasoned bloggers know that when they press publish, releasing their words into the wild abyss of the Internet, they lose a bit of themselves. Not just because their once-private words have become public, but because they can no longer control where, when, and how those words are used.
Loyal readers flag me about every other month when they notice cut-and-paste hack jobs swiped from my personal blog. I mostly assume that someone’s grandmother doesn’t know Internet protocol or some kid wanted words to put on a stock photo with a hazy Instagram filter. The most recent case was different, though. After the third email came, I clicked through to spot whole paragraphs, paraphrased sentence for sentence, from a few of my own posts. I clicked further to discover this new blogger’s “about” page co-opted my own bio word for word, sandwiched by paragraphs of her own details.
Her words sounded like mine, my readers had said. Well, because they were mine.