18 May 2011

If you want to write, go to the language pool

In Stephen King's book Lisey's Story the main character's husband is a deceased famous writer, and in his books, lectures and every day conversation he mentions the language pool, 'where we all go to drink and cast our nets'. It's not immediately clear what this means, but as the book progresses it makes sense and King is nice enough to include a statement at the end that explains the phrase. In short, the language pool is the collected words and phrases we isolate from stories, articles, song lyrics, poetry and so on, to utilise at a later date.

I have mentioned before the importance of reading for anyone who wants to write - either for leisure or professionally - and the idea of the language pool takes that one step further. Not encouraging plagiarism, what it does encourage is taking inspiration from wherever we find it and not being afraid to use it if it will enhance our own work - and, of course, if you do use something verbatim then a full citation will keep you out of trouble and help others find the original work, which benefits the original author and their potential new fan(s).

The language pool is, to me, for each time you read a book and find a dazzling phrase that just makes you wish you could write like that. While we may have been taught to always be entirely creative and never borrow from someone else, the language pool reminds us that it is perfectly okay to do this, for nothing is 100% unique. What is unique is the stories and ideas, and these must remain so, but the language is no more unique than a song's notes - the order, construction and overall creativity behind each can be entirely your own, but just as an A chord in one song is the same as an A chord in another song, words are also shared in any piece of literature you come across. And by putting favourite words and phrases in the pool, when you cast your net you will remove something that was inspired by someone else but will become entirely your own, either through context, placement or by making a new phrase from new words. Imagine buying a set of Lego and adding to it some Lego bricks from a friend's collection; each time you put your hand in you will take out new pieces, some are yours, some are theirs, but you will not remove the deluxe bungalow they worked hard to create the day before, just as by putting the 12 musical notes in a hat and taking a lucky dip will not yield your favourite song.

Be creative, but take inspriation also. Devour literature and store new words and resonating phrases in your personal pool.

Whether you want to write or not, we all have a language pool - just don't be afraid to visit it.