Saturday, February 18, 2012

Professor Plagiarism - Dawn Gonzalez

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Being plagiarized is a writer's nightmare. The day it happened to me, my husband boarded a plane for a funeral in Miami. He was flying above the earth and all its cares, so in a time of cell phones, instant messages, and my crisis, he was unavailable.

This fledgling writer had to deal with it alone. I approached this problem like any other — by writing. First it was a nasty email that I never sent. Then I made an online request for advice from other writer friends. My writing frenzy finally softened into prayer - the words I should have started with.

When I finally stopped talking (through writing) and listened and found there was much to learn from plagiarism.

1.  I am a writer.
Plagiarism said so, even if I wasn't quite ready to. Someone else deemed my words worth copying. I was the late-comer to this realization. The words still feel odd in my mouth, but I keep saying them in hopes that they become more familiar and comfortable. Although I've never been paid for a single written word (yet), I. Am. a Writer.

2. Blogged words are valuable.
Although they are free for the writing and the reading, blogged words have worth. There are so many options these days: traditional publication, self-publication, e-book writing. Blogging is no less an option for writers. Even agents, publishers and editors agree. They all advise writers seeking publication to blog. That button you click to send your words into cyber-space is called "Publish" for a reason. Blogging, just like all other writing platforms, has value.

3. My writing is worth protecting and defending.
Plagiarism threw down the proverbial gauntlet, and I had to decide whether or not I would defend my art and creativity. I much preferred crawling back into bed that morning, but I would have turned my back to more than the plagiarism-challenge before me. I would have been denying my lifelong love of writing, boxes of filled journals, two years of blogging, and all my future writing hopes and dreams. I reluctantly accepted the challenge. The burden was instantly lighter, and I was yet to pick up the gauntlet and take on the challenge.

4. Learning is the first step towards teaching.
I wrote a much nicer letter to my offender defining plagiarism and sent it privately. I assumed she meant no harm since she linked to my original work. I took the opportunity to share my knowledge with a less experienced writer, encouraging her to be creative and let God use her individually. Then she could be proud of and zealous for her own work, instead of comparing herself to others and wishing she had written what they wrote. It ended well. The opportunity to share my knowledge with a less experienced writer showed me I am growing and maturing as a writer and a teacher.

5. Lessons learned have a ripple effect.
My teenage son didn't understand why I was so upset. He saw it as a compliment that someone would take my words and portray them as their own. My daughters also got involved in our discussion, and they all learned about intellectual property, copyright infringement, and how to highlight with integrity and respect someone else's original work. As a student, a web-surfer, and a songwriter, my son will take care to cite works properly in academic papers and be wary of pirating the original work of others online and as a musician.

This may have been my first challenge in the writing life, but I'm sure it won't be my last. What challenges have you faced as a writer and what lessons did you learn from them?

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Dawn is a pastor's wife, mother, and writer. She blogs at