Let’s Talk About Plagiarism

Hello, my name is Kristi, the Story Siren and I am a plagiarist.

Those are the last words I ever thought I would write when I started my blog in 2007. Plagiarism is despicable, it is cheating, it is stealing. I would never do that. And yet I have.

How did it happen? I’m not really sure I realized I’d crossed the line I’d been so adamant against, but I did. I suppose it happened because there was something I wanted to say, and I couldn’t find the right words to say it. I was asked a question about a blogging topic and went in search of inspiration. I came across a couple of posts that seemed like I could have written them myself — they expressed exactly what I wanted to, in the way that I wanted to. I wanted to make it relevant to book bloggers. I knew I couldn’t use their words — not exactly as written — so I added words of my own and subtracted a few of theirs. In my mind, I had done enough to make it mine; it was my voice. But I was wrong. I screwed up.

And I screwed up even more when they called me on it. I tried to deny it, because I didn’t want to believe it myself. I tried to keep it private, because I didn’t want to be judged. But when it all came out anyway, that just made everything seem even more deceitful. I should have admitted I was wrong right away. But I didn’t.

Now it is up to me to fix it.

I wasn’t sure how to do that. Then an author contacted me and suggested I look at this as an opportunity. She said, “A lot of young people, bloggers and writers read your blog, and all of them have probably walked that plagiarism line at least once, whether they are willing to admit it or not. We all like to think plagiarism is black or white, this or that. But the truth is, it can be tricky. When you are a student who is assigned to regurgitate someone else’s thoughts and opinions in a paper, or a blogger trying to explain why you liked or didn’t like the same book that a hundred other bloggers are also writing about, or if you are a writer chasing the latest trend in publishing … it’s not that easy to come up with something that is the same — but different.” She asked me to consider hosting a discussion about plagiarism, to help all of us figure out what it is, why it’s wrong, and how we can all avoid doing it in the future. One of the things I’ve learned from this experience is that I didn’t really know what plagiarism was. I want to educate myself and anyone else who is interested.

I was afraid to do it at first. I’m still afraid. Calling even more attention to myself right now is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. But I have a duty to make up for my mistakes and right my wrongs. Even if it hurts, that is what I intend to do.

So …

For the next week I want to talk about plagiarism. I’ve invited several people to share their experiences and expertise about plagiarism. And I invite all of you to chime in: readers, writers, bloggers, teachers, librarians, anyone who has something to say on the subject. Let’s get this thing straight once and for all.