Edmundo Paz’s words of advice to young writers

Edmundo Paz-Soldán Ávila was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1967. His first book of short stories, Las máscaras de la nada, was published in 1990. His first novel, Días de papel, was published in 1992 and won him the Bolivian Erich Guttentag prize.

Edmundo Paz gave the inaugural lecture ‘Advice for a Young Writer’ to the UPF Master program in Creative Writing. ‘One of the most useful pieces of advice I got was from T.S. Eliot who said that you shouldn’t just be influenced by an author that you like a lot, you should steal, copy and ransack his ideas directly.’

Steal another author’s stories? the pupils asked themselves. Edmundo Paz continued: ‘When I was 13 or 14 I didn’t have my own ideas, I read novels by Agatha Christie and I copied and plagiarized her ideas directly. Using her 200 page novels, I wrote 10 page stories, and luckily, my friends didn’t read Agatha Christie. But, from writing so much and copying the plots so many times, I got to a point where I could already write my own stories, without even realising it, and create the kind of suspense that I admired so much in Agatha Christie’s writing. That’s how I started to write my own stories’. The writer explained that unconsciously, by plagiarising the authors that he liked –Borges and Cortázar were two others he quoted– he created his own style, and they made him the author he is today. ‘My advice is not to be afraid of the debate surrounding what constitutes influence, misappropriation or plagiarism. I think that a good starting point for your imagination is learning from the experts. They will help you to develop your own style. So steal, don’t be afraid to steal’. In the words of T.S. Eliot: ‘Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better.’