Maybe you heard that CNN host and columnist Fareed Zakaria admitted to plagiarizing an article by Harvard professor Jill Lenore. It was more like a couple of lines actually. Anyway, he apologized and all that.
All this got me thinking. Why do it? And before I set my imagination free, I’d like to say that I’m not trying to find excuses for what Zakaria did. Plagiarism is a terrible thing to do. It’s wrong, but as most wrongs in nature, they happen for a million different reasons, or for no reason at all.First, let’s make a list of factors that would make you’d feel like using copy-paste for your own works:
- the all so famous, all so dreaded writer’s block. Anyone who’s been writing for some time has experienced this to a certain degree.
- time pressure (writing under deadline can sometimes kill your creative flow)
- low self-esteem
Indeed, when combined, these factors can prove to be difficult to overcome. It’s hard to say what drove Zakaria to this extreme measure, but I’m also confident that he didn’t lack self-esteem. Writing for Time magazine and Washington Post is kind of a big deal.
Maybe he was running late on that column, maybe he just couldn’t write. We all know how that feels. It happened. It’s regrettable, but it was just this once.
But what happens when you do it again? And again? After all, why try to come up with something new when someone else wrote the words you need? I think this can develop into a sort of habit, one that is difficult to overcome, no matter how successful you become.
Like rich people shoplifting. It’s the rush, the feeling that you’re doing something bad, something that is frowned upon, but also, you’re confident that no one’s going to catch you. You’re too smart and too fast for the rest of the world.
Or something like that.
In a way, I can understand this urge. I can understand writer’s block or those moments when you feel like the worst writer ever. I can understand that other people’s words might seem brilliant. Better than anything you could ever write. I can understand getting stuck.
But I also believe there’s an easy way out. As long as you have time. Maybe that’s why I don’t like deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines, fine. I can handle a bit of pressure as long as I know I can always postpone the release of a new book or story or blog post for that matter if I feel it’s not ready yet.
The idea is to wait. Let the ideas stew inside your brain for a while.
In November 2011, I wrote a novel. It took me three months to complete. I was writing one chapter per week – that’s a very loose schedule. But when I finished it I realized that my novel didn’t have much of a plot. So, yeah, three months of work and no plot. A story that didn’t make much sense. Fifty thousand words that were never going to see the light of day.
But I really thought the idea was good. I believed in my book. For a while, I panicked. Because I wanted to release this novel.
What I really did was wait.
I wrote some short stories, and then I wrote Jazz. And a few weeks ago, just about the time I was getting ready to release Jazz, the idea came to me. I knew how to change the story, how to tie all the loose ends together, how to make the plot stronger.
Please bear in mind that I had spent a lot of time trying to figure a way out while I was writing the novel, and a few more weeks after I finished it, but to no avail.
I believe that the key to overcoming writer’s block is to wait. Also, to work on a new story. Sometimes writer’s block is just you being too close to the story to see it as such. When there are no words to be written, take a break. Go shopping (or shoplifting if you’re into those sort of things).
I think that the biggest compliment you can pay a fellow writer is to tell him that you wish you’d written one of their stories. But don’t plagiarize. It’s one of the easiest and fastest mistakes you can make as a writer. And, also, the fastest way to ruin your career.
After all, good or bad, your words should be your own.
Original article is found here: Plagiarism.