By Joel Vance
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he great satirist of the 1950s Tom Lehrer sang, “Plagiarize! Plagiarize! Let nothing evade your eyes!” Is this good advice for the outdoor writer?
Not that you should steal material from others, but if you want to bring depth to a piece, you should research deeply and thoroughly. If there’s anything new in outdoor communication I haven’t seen it — but there are new or more interesting or more thorough ways of saying the same old thing.
… if you want to bring depth to a piece, you should research deeply and thoroughly.”
So use available resources and remember: People like to read about people. Despite its billions of informational bytes, Google does not know all. I have a personal library with many books that contain anecdotes, good quotes and information not available on Google.
University and big-city libraries are good repositories for old books that may never make it to the search engines. Many, if not most, outdoor pieces would benefit from some historical background — the origins of soft-bodied lures, for example, or the history of decoy use in waterfowl hunting.
Attribute when you quote from researched sources and make the quote brief. It’s one thing to say, “Joe Jones once wrote, ‘I’m like a butterfly on the weed of the outdoors, sipping its nectar.’” It’s another thing to say, “Here’s how Joe Jones put it … ” and then quote his entire article. That is copyright infringement and certainly stomps on legitimate usage.
Incidentally, I made up that quote, but feel free to use it … with attribution.
Remember that Jones isn’t the only oracle. If there are conflicting opinions, refer to them. But it’s your piece and you should be the guiding light, dominant voice and ultimate authority. The others are just there to help you communicate.
Don’t ignore your own files as sources of good background and amplification. I am wary of anyone with a neat office. The writer with stacks of books, files, miscellaneous papers and indefinable detritus (but who knows the approximate location of everything) is my kind of guy or gal.
Amid my jumble of old 33 r.pm. recordings is one by Tom Lehrer and it provided the quote that began this piece. (It also helps to be incredibly old so you can remember Tom Lehrer et al.)
If I do something outdoorsy where I’m not an expert (i.e. “everything”) I like to know what others think about it. So I use my reference sources as a reality check. It’s comforting to find sometimes that the real experts agree with me, also comforting to have a reality check save me from foot-inmouth disease.
I still remember a major league outdoor editor, new to his job and not that much of a hunter, who wrote about “ring-tailed pheasants.” Not a good way to establish credibility on a new job. Even a cursory glance at something previously written by a recognized pheasant hunter would have saved him embarrassment. So Google and those other guys can serve as a reality and accuracy check, in addition to sources for quotes and anecdotal material.
Use them. ◊
Joel M. Vance is the author of “Grandma and the Buck Deer,” “Down Home Missouri” and “Autumn Shadows.” Available for order at www. joelvance.com.