Paul Walters

4 months ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Its Time to Confess. I Am A Thief


 

‘Steal from everywhere and everyone and make it your own.’

Dina Litovsky’s

I have been wrestling with my conscience lately and, for some reason or other, I have developed an overwhelming desire to offload a guilty secret.

You see, the thing is....... I steal.  

There, I’ve said it!

 

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When in her confused dotage, my mother took to shoplifting with gusto and practised her newly discovered hobby with the dedication of a seasoned athlete. The only trouble was, she was not very adept at the art of carrying out her regular heists. In most instances, after having filled the voluminous pockets of an ill-fitting greatcoat with booty, she would be pinched at the checkout at whatever supermarket or department store she was diligently pilfering from.

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Naturally, these indiscretions were hugely embarrassing for the family as week after week, one of us would be summoned to a manager’s office of whatever store my mother had been diligently looting from. Our grovelling apologies and pleading usually resulted in no charges being pressed but, her punishment was to be banned from entering that particular store for life.

While admonishments were being handed out, my mother would loudly protest her innocence, aggrieved that anyone would have the audacity to infer that she was a thief even though her stolen loot was often meticulously laid out on the manager’s desk.

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Her behaviour became increasingly bizarre given that her various hauls would include such items as jumbo packets of birdseed ( she didn’t keep birds), cans of motor oil ( she did not own a car), containers of shaving cream ( my father had been dead for years) as well as other random items that she would never use. Perhaps she did it for the thrill.

Who knows?

At the tail end of her life, these actions led me to wonder whether kleptomania was a genetic imperfection, and I began to fret that this unwanted gene would blossom within me like a garden bursting into life!

Now, a few years later, I have realised that after years of desperately trying to repress the urge to ‘lift’ from other people, I, too, now dabble in the dark arts of thievery.

Just so we are absolutely clear, I don’t actually steal “things” as such, meaning that it's quite safe for you to invite me into your home as the silverware will, I assure you, remain intact. Quite frankly, the fear that goes with stealing an inanimate object and the prospect of being caught terrifies me; thus, I have never been tempted.

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However, I have diligently honed my skills in another devious department, and I am shamelessly proud that I have become what can only be termed a ‘Master Thief.’ Now I nonchalantly go about the business of thieving every day and show not an ounce of remorse.

So, what am I stealing?

You!

I’m stealing you!

When I made the conscious decision to become a full-time writer, it didn’t take me long to realize that my ‘booty bag' of ideas and clever wit was practically empty, and if I were to succeed, I would have to embark on a literary life of crime.

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I am not a plagiarist, although I must admit that sometimes I am sorely tempted to ‘lift’ a word here or a phrase there but, sophisticated technology ensures that doing so would be akin to a shoplifter stuffing his or her bag with bounty in full view of the store detective and being recorded on the store’s surveillance cameras at the same time.

Literary theft is driven by two emotions; envy and covetousness. Envy because some bugger wrote such a wonderful paragraph that you wish you had, and covetousness because you desperately want it to be yours.

However, my current thieving skills have been honed to almost Olympic standards as I become more and more brazen, using the thief’s best disguise, which is to simply hide in plain sight. After years of copywriting and latterly being a novelist, I believe that I have perfected the art of the steal to the point where  I could even make David Sedaris look like an amateur.

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To be a word thief, the only tools one requires are a notebook and a reliable pen coupled with the ability to whip both items out at the drop of a hat to record (read, steal) what you have just seen or heard.

The bountiful hunting grounds where I carry out my devious deeds are the taverns and salubrious bars or coffee shops where all walks of society gather. I sit at beer-stained bar counters, scribbling away, knowing that it won’t take long before someone asks, “ What are you writing there?”

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Right away, if the quarry looks juicy, you’re in, and in no time flat, that curious person will have dropped a ‘gem’ of a phrase or inadvertently given you a great idea. With not a shred of guilt, I will wait for the moment when the ‘victim's attention is distracted and scribble down those rolled-gold words that have innocently tumbled out of his or her mouth.

Describing a character on a page follows a meticulous procedure that involves obtaining vast amounts of data by surreptitiously ‘stalking’ one’s prey, watching and recording every movement and nuance they make. How do they sit, stand, walk, inhale a cigarette, laugh or sometimes cry? I carefully note their style of dress, the way their hair has been fashioned, the colour of a woman's nail polish or their taste in footwear. I steal it all without a shred of remorse.

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I have absolutely no idea who these innocent victims are or indeed what they do; I don’t really care, as they are simply the ‘mark’, and all I want is to take just a little slither of them. As somebody once said, “ Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” Once I had read that, I adopted it as my personal mantra and have, over the years, followed the code to the letter.

So there you have it, a full confession.

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Please note that the next time you invite me into your home, it’s not your precious silverware you should be concerned about; rather, it’s what you say or do for if you provide me with a hint of an idea, I will definitely nick it from you.

Vancouver May 2021.
www.paulvwalters.net

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Comments
Neil Smith

Neil Smith

4 months ago #13

Thanks for the warning Paul. I think Nora Ephron described her writing as stealing other people's crises and turning them into entertainment. You don't even wait for the crisis. :-) 

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 months ago #12

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 months ago #11

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 months ago #10

@John Rylance  Thanks for stopping by John

John Rylance

John Rylance

4 months ago #9

I have always understood using one persons words is plagiarism, while if you use several peoples words its research. 

Mind you its necessary to acknowledge where you “pinched ” the words from, otherwise you may fall foul of copyright.

A warning from Meatloaf “you have taken the words right out of my mouth, it must have been when you were kissing me” 

A case of Kiss and Tell.

Robert Cormack

Robert Cormack

4 months ago #8

Personally, I think “word thieves” enjoy life much more than the purists, Paul. A wonderful book I keep close at hand is Peter Guralnick's “Feel Like Going Home.” Guralnick wrote this as the “definitive study of blues artists going back to the ‘20s.” What’s interesting about this book, Paul, is how every blues artist, whether it was Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines or Muddy Waters, stole lyrical phrases and chord transitions. You could literally hold two songs up (Terraplane Blues, for instance) and see the same phrasing and word play. What differentiated the artists eventually was their interpretation (meaning their personality). I've since realized that there may be only six or seven themes in this world, but the fact that we all have personalities makes for an infinite number of variations. In other words, Paul, steal way. I'm stealing from Kinky Friedman on a regular basis these days (read his Guide to Texas Etiquette) Besides being hilarious, you realize how “infinite” writing can be. Enjoyed your piece (might steal from it).

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

4 months ago #7

I love your prose, Paul, and enjoy reading all your articles. What came to mind while reading this is a question, are you really a word thief if a person from whom you “steal” has already stolen words or phrases from someone else? 😃 In a way, we are all word thieves unless we invented new words. 😎

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 months ago #6

Following on from #5 below, Paul, I also recycle, repurpose and redistribute old jokes. 👍

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 months ago #5

Writers don’t steal, Paul. We salvage ideas and imagery from other people’s throw away lines, imitable character traits, and habits, good and bad. We then freeze them for storage, before repurposing, recycling and then redistributing them as vicarious versions of themselves, which they can then, surprisingly, identify as being oh so familiar. 
Proper stealing is quite different, as an old aunt of mine would submit. My uncle, a road worker, was often accused, but never caught in the act, of pilfering street signs. Yet, every night, when my aunt searched his shed, the signs were there. 

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 months ago #4

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 months ago #3

#2 @Renée  🐝 Cormier  I dont know much anymore !!

Renée 🐝 Cormier

Renée 🐝 Cormier

4 months ago #2

A writer must write about what they know. If you don't have a habit of careful listening and observation, you will never know anything. 😉

Joyce 🐝 Bowen Brand Ambassador @ beBee

To be a word thief, the only tools one requires are a notebook and a reliable pen coupled with the ability to whip both items out at the drop of a hat to record (read, steal) what you have just seen or heard.”

Naaahh – I'm crippled.  Notebooks and pens grace me fingers no more.  I don't steal--but those delicious phrases that hit me when I'm not near a keyboard are a pain in the butt.

I do the character thing here and there.  I think of it more as breaking ‘writer’s block' than stealing.  But sometimes my protagonist will kidnap me and take me on a ride.  The maid got me this one.  I was all hers.  I just had to republish it to update it.

https://us.bebee.com/producer/the-plague-in-14th-century-k1vUw17n3LxV">https://us.bebee.com/producer/the-plague-in-14th-century-k1vUw17n3LxV

I have always enjoyed your prose.  You take me places I've never seen in such a way as to make me feel as if I am there.  I suppose you can say I steal your eyes--oops.  Hope you don't mind…

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