Stealing Like a Creative Pirate

I love watching shows like VH1’s “Behind the Music” and reading about how bands developed their original sound. Usually it’s nothing more than a band member being exposed to a certain type of music at an early age. Other times it’s an event, like being at a concert and something striking a chord. (Wow. Awful pun.) It turns out that what influences a band is incredibly important to the sound they develop on their own.

stealing like a creative pirate

Masters” that create amazing work almost always quote their inspirations. Other writers, musicians, pieces of art… something is always inspiring their output.

The Web has created a massive platform for finding inspiration. There is no shortage of creativity that can be gleaned from different online sources. In fact, if you’re going to create amazing things, learning how to plunder inspiration and ideas is going to be an important part of growth.

Learning the Art of Plunder

I would be a lousy writer without the Web. Clarification: I’m still not very good. But I’d be much worse. Thank your lucky stars I’ve had inspiration from a cadre of better wordsmiths.

In fact, I openly plunder other writer’s works all the time. The best part of the Internet is that stealing is encouraged, provided there’s attribution. Blogs aren’t a static medium and perfect for conversation and responses. Here’s a few recent articles I’ve stolen ideas from:

It’s safe to say that if it wasn’t for other writers, this blog wouldn’t exist. Before you grab the pitchforks and round up the posse to run my unoriginal arse out of town, consider this: I’m not alone. In fact, snagging inspiration is a major part of how we learn and improve.

Fledgling artists are often taught to mimic the style of the Greats as closely as possible, to learn different styles. It’s not uncommon for art professors to assign direct copying of masterpieces for learning purposes. As one art professor I’ve chatted with put it, copying is “the quickest way to learn best practices from the best artists”. These students are trying to replicate the greatest painters in history, and by doing so they’ll learn more than any textbook or lecture.

These students can’t learn how to create their own style without learning the best practices first. It’s not copying, it’s learning.

Plundering Resources

Finding sources of inspiration is going to be crucial to any creative endeavor. Don’t be afraid to start “stealing” inspiration from other sources.

Teddy Roosevelt once said “do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. We live in an age where information and inspiration has never been more free and available. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Here’s a collection of previous writings that show how I steal inspiration from others online.

The important thing isn’t where your inspiration comes from, but the fact that you’re actually inspired.


So where do you find inspiration to create? Let us know below… I’m sure we can all learn from it. As this community grows daily, the discussions have become more and more interesting and thoughtful. I’ve learned a ton from you guys, and am totally in your debt. You guys are incredible.

Photo by ste3ve

Leave a Comment

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • fabian August 19, 2010, 5:11 pm

    Like the old cliché goes, nothing under the sun is new. But what makes life fun and interesting is making things under the sun unique! Nothing is gonna be per say invented out of nowhere, everything has a source of inspiration and motivation that was created already. But imagination and creativity comes from a place that can’t be explained and from there we individuals get our uniqueness.

  • Ramblings of a Woman August 11, 2010, 5:24 pm

    I am so glad you wrote this! I do get inspiration from many places and I was beginning to feel like a plagerist(sp?) even though I am not copying! I am glad to know that this is okay and that other successful bloggers do it too!

    My latest post-

  • Albert van Zyl August 3, 2010, 12:57 am

    My favorite line from you post is: “The important thing isn’t where your inspiration comes from, but the fact that you’re actually inspired.”

    To me finding inspiration seems like the first step in any action. And the quality of that inspiration is also critical. Low quality inspiration would be something like “my boss asked me to”. Higher quality inspiration normally comes from connecting the action at hand with one of my personal goals.

    • glen August 3, 2010, 9:02 pm

      I agree. The quality and type of inspiration is critical.

      Higher quality inspiration normally comes from connecting the action at hand with one of my personal goals.


      • Zaar August 9, 2010, 12:35 am

        this sort of reminds of a youtube clip:

        “Overprotecting intellectual property, is as harmfull as under protecting it. Culture is impossible without a rich public domain. Nothing today, like nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new. Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion. Each new creator building on the works of those who came before. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it’s supposed to nurture…”

        this one:

      • glen August 9, 2010, 8:06 am

        Man, that’s an awesome quote. Nice addition!

  • mp August 1, 2010, 5:10 pm

    I used to work in a place where I was taught that “recycling” existing content is sometimes the best way to go. If it has served its purpose the first time around, and your current goal is closely related, there is no problem in re-using what’s been done, even more so if it’s your own stuff.

    What I have found through recycling is that while using existing content and tweaking and turning it upside down until it looked nothing like the original allowed me to write something new about a topic the audience was already a little bit knowledgeable about. That meant that for our readers, there was a continuity on what they read, while for us, the writers, we had a starting point.

    After all, no one tried to re-invent the wheel (as far as I know). They may have improved it, made it with different materials and in different sizes, but at it’s base, a wheel is a wheel and no one has complained about that.

    • glen August 2, 2010, 10:01 pm

      Yeah, and oftentimes repetition is a fantastic tool for teaching as well. I think Godin wrote a post about this at some point. Good stuff.

      Hrm, after thinking about this I wonder if the post should have been geared towards a green initiative towards content? :)

  • Leah McClellan July 29, 2010, 3:18 pm

    I’m a thief! I confess! lol This makes me remember some papers in college. I almost blush to remember how I sounded like freakin Emerson and Thoreau; I wasn’t even trying. I just didn’t have my voice yet, writing was still awkward for me, and the class was American Lit so I was absorbing.

    If I listed all my inspirations I’d be here for a week and crash your site :) I pick up new expressions from everywhere–come to think of it, the “Sure, sure” in my most recent blog post is a total rip off–10 points to anyone who knows where I got it lol. I picked up a new. punctuation. style. from that author as well, though it’s not uncommon. I just like how she uses it and suddenly it was the right thing in some other piece of writing awhile back.

    I get lots of inspiration from music. Not so much the lyrics, though that’s part of it, but the beat, the rhythm. Bowie was and has been huge in my life since the beginning of time. Old stuff, mostly. SO many bands. Just now Jane’s Addiction “Of Course” from way back popped in…lol Those violins…

    Lots of stuff on the web! Music, for example :::puts headphones on:::

    • glen August 2, 2010, 9:58 pm

      Who hasn’t tried to sound like Thoreau in a college paper? Guilty as charged! ;)

  • Penelope J. July 29, 2010, 3:07 pm

    Glen, So what’s new? Nothing is new, just rephrased or repeated in another, sometimes better, way. What you wrote is true not only on the web but also for books, articles, poetry, speeches, etc. I can’t count the really good, even great, books that have borrowed plots from other books and made them their own. Actually, your post is full of interesting and challenging ideas, and borrowing or appropriating someone else’s words or material seems like a great idea especially when it gives your readers a chance to explore a wider variety.

    • glen August 2, 2010, 9:57 pm

      I’m glad you brought this up.

      I can’t count the really good, even great, books that have borrowed plots from other books and made them their own.

      I love mashups and remixes of songs, for the most part. Or books, or songs, etc. After all, there are only so many romance plots, chord progressions, etc. Good thoughts!

  • Jennifer @ LifeNickel July 29, 2010, 12:46 pm

    Glen – Great post! Inspiration is the source of all great creations. Artsists have their muse and bloggers have other bloggers. You made the perfect point when you said “provided there’s attribution.” There is little that is more frustrating than seeing your words regurgitated on another site with no credit.

    • glen August 2, 2010, 9:54 pm

      Hey Jennifer,

      Yeah, stealing sucks. Especially for the content creator. But, I still think it’s a small price to pay for being able to publish on such an incredible platform like the Internet. Still, it sucks :)