I know who you copied last summer
So you’re on your 200th blog post of the year. You need to update your blog every other day because that’s the expectations you’ve set with your readers, but you’re running out of ideas. Or maybe while researching for your latest idea, you came across this interesting article. So you ‘borrow’ a few ideas, reword them, add your own spin and use them in your blog post. After all, it’s all about the storytelling and a different point of view, right?
Wrong. Plagiarism is stealing. Writers reveal themselves to the world through their writings, so plagiarism isn’t like parading around in stolen shoes… it’s like pretending to be someone else. It’s an intellectual identity theft.
In my short blogging experience, I have seen bloggers brazenly lift off entire sections from popular blogs like The grammar girl, use key ideas from a reasonably well-known book and steal original word-coinage without giving credit. Why is plagiarism more prevalent in blogging than other forms of publishing like books and white papers?
- Bloggers have a smaller and more niche base than mainstream authors. The internet is a huge smoke-screen; they think the original author will never find their blog. Heck, you can’t even find your own blog!
- Bloggers self-proof and self-publish, which means that they miss out on the due diligence an author goes through with editors, agents and publishing houses before publishing, who guide them on when to cite and when to redo entire sections of their work.
- Bloggers have a more volatile reader base, which means that they are under pressure to write more often or be forgotten. So bloggers write more, both in volume and frequency. It’s hard to stay original when you’re blogging three times a week, with or without a niche focus.
What constitutes plagiarism? I’m no expert, so please do your due diligence here. Don’t let the legalities scare you—just like stealing that extra cookie, writing something that’s not yours will give you a guilty conscience. Listen to it, it might just save you from a lawsuit and/or embarrassment many years from now, when an ancient, almost-original work can end your writing days. And if you think lawsuits only happen to bestselling authors and mainstream bloggers, think again. What if you become a popular blogger five years from now? What will happen to your credibility?
So how do you stay current, stay trendy and still stay original? I’m still fairly new to the blogging world, but I also write privately apart from blogging and only post the best ones onto my blog. I stay fresh by following the plan I laid out when I started blogging, addressed to the future myself, for the time when I finally do reach my 200th blog. Here’s the plan, hope it helps someone, and please feel free to share your thoughts on it, as experience always beats the best educated guess!
- Dear me, the best answer is the simplest. Be yourself. Write what you can talk about intelligently. I believe that the main goal of blogging is to add value to my readers, and value can either be educational or something that makes them smile.
- If you’re a blogger who’s categorized in the ‘personal’ or ‘creative’ sections, yay for you! You have endless possibilities for the next 42 million blog posts you may write. In fact, your biggest enemy isn’t inspiration, it’s boring your readers to death. Trust me, a blog a day keeps the reader away! So go beyond how your cat’s meow is a symphony and think harder. Don’t just write… create.
- Sometimes, having a niche can also mean you can write yourself into a dead-end. Some niches are more flexible than others—finance, photography, current events have infinite possibilities. Computer skills and language skills are very informative but what will you do 5 years and 400 blog posts from now? If you’re a niche blogger, you need to get creative. Think ahead. Stay current. Be willing to experiment and diversify. Your blog probably has loyal readers. Don’t let them down.
- Take the pressure off. Choose quality over quantity. How about writing a kickass post twice a week instead of five hastily written ones? Blog at the speed of (a good) thought, and allow for the time it takes to shape that thought into something worth remembering. (Note: As a newbie, I now get away with blogging twice a month or less, but if and when my reader base grows, I plan to keep a buffer of at least one or two blogs so I can create without the pressures of missing self-appointed deadlines. In fact, I have a buffer right now, too. It buffers for my laziness.)
- Lastly, forget everything I said and do what you best—write, and write honestly. There’s always a chance that someone somewhere WILL have written about this before, but it’s unlikely that your views will be exactly the same. But if you write in good faith and do your reasonable bit to stay original, chances are, you’ll be lawsuit-free. And the best part? Your readers will appreciate you for it.
I hope to fine tune the plan as I go along and find my blogging personality, but as of now, I continue to double check with Google every time I coin a new word or use a name for my characters, just in case!