Up-cycling, reusing, re-purposing, refinishing, and other activities that take old things and polishes them up into something newly relevant are very, very hot at the moment. This surge of interest in making use of well-worn objects can be chalked up to a number of factors: frugality movements, tough economies and lower disposable incomes, environmentalism, and so on. Good for the environment, good for the soul, good for the wallet – and coming up with re-purposing schemes can give your brain a heck of a workout, too.
So why are we so hesitant to do the same with written or spoken material?
I’m not talking about completely ripping off someone else’s work and claiming it as your own; plagiarism is an unnecessary and unforgivable sin in my heart. Rather, why do we shy away from addressing topics or writing stories or giving speeches that have been inspired by what we’ve heard from other authors or speakers or intellectuals? Why is there often an expiry date attached to classic materials that make us reluctant to dredge them up after a few years – or decades – or centuries?
Taking an old piece and re-working it in order to increase it’s meaning in today’s context is an excellent exercise. We have a huge intellectual history on myriad topics that is available for us to draw on. Taking lessons from our past and reformulating them into something relevant today has huge value. Simply because someone has “said it before” doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be said again. It’s likely that we can use our own contextual nuances to put a new spin on an old idea. Old doesn’t mean dusty and irrelevant. Nor does revisiting someone else’s work mean that your work is unoriginal and uninspired.
Plus, it’s a fantastic way to get over writer’s (or speaker’s) blog. Ssssh! Don’t tell anyone!