The first website I ever created was a writing portfolio. I made it on AOL Hometown in 2000. It had a pre-made Pre-Raphaelite background and button theme and about half a dozen of my short stories on it. At the time, I knew a couple of writers who completely freaked out that I was putting my writing up on the internet, for anyone to see and therefore steal.
I was blasé about this perceived threat, and I still am. First of all, it didn’t take me long to come to terms with the fact that no one really cared about stealing the weird stories I wrote when I was nineteen. In my experience, it seems the people most paranoid about people stealing their work have the least to fear of anyone wanting to. But, beyond that, I didn’t care if someone stole my work. To me, that meant that more people were going to read it, and, not being overburdened with people clamoring to read my work at that point, that sounded pretty great. It didn’t even matter they might not realize I was the one who wrote it. It just mattered it was being read.
I understand this type of situation is different for other creators, and I respect the right of each creator to decide for herself how to handle it. Recently, I’ve fielded similar questions about my currently available essays (which are not only on my website, but available at Scribd as downloads). Here’s the deal - I write to understand things. It’s a problem-solving process. Once I’ve “solved” the problem I set out to understand through writing, once I feel confident I’ve expressed what I wanted to know about as accurately as possible, I don’t have much interest in the finished piece anymore. I’m fond of it. I’m proud of it. I like to revisit it periodically. But I’m no longer deeply emotionally invested in it, and it’s time to send it out in the world so it can inspire emotions in someone else, and I can tackle something new. I don’t care what path it takes to do that. I would dislike to see it edited or hacked without the original context linked, and I do think it’s wholly unethical for someone to steal work that isn’t theirs. But, more than that, I don’t like to feel scared into hiding my work on the possibility of what someone may or may not do wrong. So I write on the internet, and I make my work freely available on the internet. I deliberately chose to pursue a career that would enable me to afford to do that, and now I can take advantage of the fact I’ve earned the freedom to do whatever I want with my writing.
And what I want is for you to copy what I write.
I mean it. Copy it. Redistribute it. Post it all over the fucking place. I would really like for you to keep my name on it. I would be super bummed if you erased the origin path or author. I would be thrilled if you dropped me a note to let me know you copied or posted it. But the main thing is that more people are reading, hopefully, more people are responding, thinking and creating their own work because of it. I believe in you. I think you’re a smart, creative, inspiring person and I think you can help make this happen. To prove it, I’m not only putting my own work out there to take but calling attention to the fact I’m doing it. Now it’s your turn.
A couple of years ago, cartoonist Nina Paley (who released her entire film Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons license), wrote about the “Cult of Originality”, including the culture of creativity, artistic language and how we share it all:
Art gives others a chance to see that reality reflected back at them, and if they recognize it – if it reflects what they already know – they will love it. When art really succeeds, it merely expresses what we already know, but didn't know we knew. Art gives language to thoughts we share. Once it's language, it can spread and grow and be built on. Art is useful to ideas. It embodies them – gives them bodies, legs to walk around on their own.
This also lays the groundwork for sharing future work. Recently, I’ve written more, both non-fiction and fiction, than I had in years previously, perhaps since I made that first website, and I’m exploring options for publishing it in an open yet sustainable model. Bringing finished manuscripts to small presses for traditional publication isn’t exactly my bag. Instead, I’ll have larger offerings available in some format and by channels I haven’t exactly determined yet. In the meantime, I’ll keep sending dispatches from the front to keep the conversation going. I’m still not sure how much what I write is wanted. But I do know this is the type of culture in which I’d like to create, so at the very least I can contribute to that.