As a mere eight-year-old, I remember wanting to send in my artwork for a kids’ art show airing on Nickelodeon to which there was but one hold-up — what should the artwork be? I’d remember seeing an artwork done by another kid on the show, a simple landscape with a pine tree or two, and wanted to create something along similar lines. But having come up with my rendition of a winter landscape, guilt seemed to have overcome me because I felt like I had mindlessly copied that kid’s art. At twenty-one, I still often find myself asking “Am I really inspired or anything I do with this particular idea would be blatant plagiarism?”
For me, the struggle between the two is constant with the forces shifting between them from time to time depending on the situation I am in. When it comes to writing a white paper for a college project, I compartmentalize getting help from other white papers on the topic given that I need to have credible information and a certain level of professionalism in my tone of writing. Hence, a lot of “inspiration” for my academics can be attributed to citing from the best possible sources, a lot of paraphrasing, and running a plagiarism checker to make sure I would be out of the weeds of any potential plagiarism-related lawsuit.
However, my real dilemma with being inspired by someone else’s work is rooted in ethical questions and self-doubt. It is safe to say that in today’s time, there exists not one idea that hasn’t already been executed, by extension of which, there can only be further renditions of the same idea — something the Latin called nihil sole sub novum, that there is “nothing new under the sun” — giving me the idea that all I could possibly do is to make better what already exists. And so I do. But even such a carefully curated system is not entirely foolproof. When I allow myself to ponder over why it is that I have never been able to think outside the boxes of my own creativity when other aspiring writers can build entire fantasy worlds for their stories, self-doubt creeps in without warning. I also wonder if it could be that my sources of inspiration end up demotivating me and throwing me into moral, ethical, and self-critical dilemmas because of the shackles of my very own creative boxes.
Inspiration, however, has stricken me unexpectedly at times. During one of the toughest periods of the lockdown, I had tapped through my classmate’s Instagram stories of sunset pictures. The pictures were taken five minutes apart from the same spot, but the sky seemed to have undergone a phenomenal change. Then I happened to glance at the location stamp and realised that I had been around that place before but never tracked the sunset or the change in the colors of the sky. What began as a feeling of lack of observational skills on my part then quickly changed into a wave of inspiration to discover picturesque skies by myself from the terrace of my roof, miles away from where my classmate had been taking pictures. It is safe to say that this then evolved into a routine and expanded to other arenas. I had also begun to sketch sunsets and write about changing seasons with only a little bit of research and a whole lot of imagination.
So maybe inspiration doesn’t always have to immediately yield tangible results. Maybe it just has to come to me and all I have to do is acknowledge it.
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