How to be inspired without copying someone’s work

How to be inspired without copying someone’s work

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Inspiration. That magic dust that suddenly pushes you to create something beautiful. That wonderful stroke of genius that makes that imaginary light bulb pop out over your head.

With information and creative output now being freely and easily shared around the digital realm, it’s quite easy to find striking creations that could give you that spark of inspiration to create something on your own. Gone are the days when you had to visit museums to view impressive artwork, or run from bookstore to library to discover literary gems. Now, all you have to do is go online, and you can have a string of ideas running through your head in no time.

But as information becomes more readily available, the line between inspiration and copying seems to be getting a whole lot thinner. Today, you can’t even tell a creative mind from a mind that copies well. And for any creative who sweats, tosses, and turns at night just waiting for those creative juices to flow, that’s just not cool.

Copying (the good way)

Recent news about well-known brands ripping off artists’ pieces seem to be getting more and more rampant that one does start to wonder where all the respect has gone. It seems that the more people are getting caught copying, the more that others are starting to gather up the courage to copy creative work themselves.

But guess what. This next statement will shock you to the core.

It’s okay to copy.

Yup, you read that right. It’s definitely okay to copy. After all, you can always think back to the time you first learned how to write letters. How did you do it? You copied each letter from the alphabet piece by piece, stroke by stroke. The first time you drew your favorite cartoon character, you copied that from somewhere, too. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have looked like your favorite character at all.

But all that is the good kind of copying. And what makes the good kind of copying different from blatant, disrespectful copying?

You don’t publish it. 

Copying is good for learning purposes. When you start painting, for example, you can always grab one of the classics, like the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper and copy it. This allows you to improve on your technique and discover what works for you or not. Copying this way also helps you discover what kind of artist you truly are. This is how you discover what your weaknesses and strengths are.

Now what happens after you’re done copying?

You start creating your own flavor, your own style, your own approach. Your own original stuff.

Using inspiration the right way

So that’s the first thing you have to remember: “It’s okay to copy, it’s okay to be inspired, just don’t copy and publish. ”

What other steps can you do to make sure that you use inspiration the right way? Here are a few other tricks up a few original creatives’ sleeves:

Have diversity in your sources of inspiration

Sure, you may have this one ultimate idol when it comes to your craft, but that doesn’t mean that you should keep getting your inspiration from that one person. Chances are, because you have gotten used to seeing and thinking about this single person’s work, your work will eventually appear to be complete rip-offs of their original work. The bad thing is, you may not even realize when  it’s happening.

To avoid getting stuck on the same approach and technique, always make sure you go through a variety of sources. Pull inspiration from the most diverse pieces. This way, you can find the best elements from each work of art and you can start deviating and making your own original work from there.

Always sleep on it first

“Immerse yourself in creative works that inspire you to create your own. ”

Surround yourself with enough inspiration to keep your creative juices going for hours or days. But here’s one thing you have to stop doing – working on your own piece right after you submerge yourself beneath all those pieces of inspiration.

When you dive straight to your own work after becoming inspired from another person’s art, there’s a huge chance that you’ll end up copying a lot of the elements the person used – not because you aim to copy it, but because it’s still embedded in your brain.

Absorb all the inspiration you can absorb, then sleep on it first. Allow those creative juices to effortlessly flow through your mind and your body. The moment you wake up the next day, you would still have the same amount of inspiration, you would still have those creative juices being pumped all over your body, but you would also be ready to apply your own signature to your piece.

Take it from memory

A lot of people love working with their source of inspiration right in front of them. If it’s a painting, some of them have the painting right beside them as they work. If it’s a literary piece, they would have the book next to them as they type away.

You know what the problem is with this setup? It becomes so easy to copy.

When you have your inspiration in front of you, there will always be a tendency for your judgment to be influenced by whatever’s around you. You may think that you’re applying a different technique or a different approach, but at the end of the day, there’s a big chance that you’ll end up with something so similar to your inspiration that it would seem you copied it inch per inch.

Memorize the different details that you liked about the piece, then keep it tucked away. When you start working on your own piece, you can rely on your memory to squeeze some inspiration once again. But because the image is coming from your own mind, this also means that you are creating an image based on your own perception, and not based on a direct copy. From here, it’s easier to make it an original, personal piece.

Look beyond what’s obvious

If you are a graphic designer, there’s a huge chance that you jump from website to website looking for different pieces you can get inspiration from. But doing this limits the amount of inspiration you can get. If you are a web designer, it doesn’t mean that you can only find inspiration from other design works online. If you’re a writer, it doesn’t mean that you can only get inspiration from written word.

Go outside. Take a look around. Walk through parks and busy streets. Look at billboards and posters. Talk to people. Sit at a corner café and watch the whole world move around you. This is one great way to be inspired. You may not know it, but absorbing the different emotions, movement, lines, and colors around you is more than enough for you to think about something new, something you can create to portray the entire experience.

Show your inspiration, then show your work

Grab a few people whom you can trust to tell you the truth. Now show them your work and tell them about (or show them) the very thing you got your inspiration from. From here, you can find out whether your work is a copy or an original.

Most of them time, the perspective of creative people becomes clouded when they look at their own work. They compare it with the piece they got their inspiration from and can see nothing similar. It is, after all, their own work. This means that they have full confidence in it and all the work that went into it.

This, however, becomes a problem.

Sometimes, creatives do not see the blatant similarities in their work and the work of others. Because of this, they do not see the difference between copied work and an original creation.

The eyes of others would be able to tell you without any bias if the two pieces are troublingly similar or not. From here, you can find out which aspects to improve on and what to change.

Know when it’s time to drop it

When you feel that your work is just too near the actual source of inspiration, you will always have the urge to keep fixing it until you have a definite original in your hands. You know what the problem is? Sometimes, it’s too hard to take the original source of inspiration out of your system. It also becomes harder to create something that’s going to look and feel different.

In these cases, just drop it

Don’t force the issue because the more you try, the more drained you become. And the more drained you become, the less your creative juices will be. The less creative juices, the higher the possibility of copying.

Indeed, getting inspiration can be a tricky thing. It’s not something you learn overnight. It’s not something that you can just get anywhere either. Knowing the difference between getting inspiration and copying can be very tricky, too. Sometimes, the mind becomes too absorbed and awestruck with the actual piece giving inspiration that it’s too hard to shake it off.

But you know what, that’s okay. Every creative has that something in them that would allow originality to come through. All it takes is knowing when to separate the real stuff from the copied ones. Develop an eye for detail and allow yourself to see where that thin line between copying and inspiration lies.


This article was first published May 13th, 2016. It was last updated March 13th, 2019.

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Donna R.

    March 22, 2018

    Thank you for this article!!! I am the owner of a Small, but getting bigger every day Mobile Food Education business, 'The Smarty Pants Chefs.'
    "Our Recipe Is Lots Of Learning And Loads Of Fun!"

    The children get to cook foods they learn about. I see many similarities in other cooking programs for kids, but I believe we are unique in our delivery! I create games, activities and lesson plans that teach Social Emotional Learning to students while they learn to cook! I was so worried about being inspired by others, your article SET ME FREE! FREE AT LAST, THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I'm FREE AT LAST!

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