Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writing in a vacuum-less world

Today on my other blog, Cooking for Four, I posted an essay I wrote years ago for my little magazine, a very small magazine, called Finding Your Inner-Julia Child

I "reprinted" the essay for two reasons: 
  • it represents our family's food philosophy (we eat to enjoy and nourish vs. to lose weight, etc.),  and 
  • it represents something written in a vacuum--before the Internet made searching for an idea or phrase so immediate and comprehensive.
I thought that I had coined the phrase "inner-Julia Child" since it came to me in a flash. There was no reason to believe that this wasn't my idea or that no one else had thought of it. The only way to have verified its uniqueness back then would have involved a subway ride to the Library of Congress and/or the use of (expensive) online databases. And, even then, it wouldn't have found obscure usages, like things found in zines and underground publications (the sort-of equivalents of online pubs and blogs now).

Not long after this essay was originally published in the mid-1990s, I began to notice the phrase "inner-Julia Child" popping up elsewhere, including in one of the panels of the comic strip Shoe. (I wrote Jeff MacNelly, then the comic's creator, teasing him that he was copying my idea, and he sent back a cordial letter along with a check for a subscription to avsm) . 

A Google search just now of the phrase "inner Julia Child" brought 378 hits.  I don't know if people still think they are inventing the phrase when they use it now, or if it has become so standard that they know they are repeating it. I'll never know who was the first to coin it.

The question this brings up for me is whether nonfiction writers can now safely and happily write in a vacuum. Must they search to see if their brilliant phrases or ideas have already been posted? And, if they have, must they try to come up with another turn-of-phrase or idea--or attempt to build on what has already been written? 

Unfortunately, to some extent, the Internet has made all writer collaborators. I think, sometimes, I miss the vacuum.

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