- "Art is either plagiarism or revolution."
- Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903)
The writer's curse; the greatest sin a writer can commit, the mistake certain to get you ostracized, denigrated, ignored, reduced and vilified. Writers view plagiarists one step above pedophiles and just below politicians. Plagiarists are the Icarus of their Craft. No writer worthy of calling themselves a writer would ever admit to stooping so low as to claim the thoughts of another as their own work.
I was a plagiarist.
Admitting that is tough, but I have admitted it since I was caught, trying desperately to redeem myself in my own eyes (and the eyes of the writing community I was involved in at the time) so that I can continue to write, to express myself honestly, and have my words matter. Having the shadow of plagiarism hang over my head has been one of the most painful, demoralizing, and self-introspective periods of my life.
And plagiarism is sometimes hard to quantify. I mean, where does it end? Certainly, taking someone else's poem and calling it your own is plagiarism, but what about taking the central joke of a cartoon, extrapolating that into metered rhyme, and publishing it? Is that plagiarism? How about culling the salient points from an on line article and spinning those like candy floss into verse? Is that plagiarism as well? Or is it research?
Steal from one, its plagiarism, steal from many, it's research. Wilson Mizner said that.
Please note that I stressed above that I WAS a plagiarist. At one point in my life, I was going through difficult personal problems including divorce and custody battle, and I was seeking the affirmation of my writing peers as a way to feel better about myself at the time. I got caught, got hung out to dry, and made a serious and concerted effort to make up for those mistakes. I lost some acquaintances, some self-respect, and a lot of credibility.
I am no longer guilty of theft. I will never again allow myself to be that weak. Understand that whatever of mine you ever read, is mine.
THIEF OF WORDS
Warmed by the affirmation of strangers,
lured by the promise of praise,
blithely unconcerned for the dangers,
the stakes he continued to raise.
Here he found a quip that is witty,
there he spotted an essay well done.
And there was that poem so pretty -
as long as they believed him the one.
A genuine talent he mis-used,
to cover his perfidy as he lied.
The trust of his fellows he abused
as they enjoy the words he supplied.
Their approval fed his ego’s need,
appraisal and judgment gave praise.
All the while denying the writer’s creed
while setting his honor ablaze.
But being revealed crushed his casual game
bringing humiliation and stinging invective.
Never again will he view his actions the same,
as a revelation it was quite effective.
A pariah deserving of all he received
he humbly bowed before his peers;
before those who had previously believed
and those to whom his failure brought cheers.
To begin anew is no easy chore,
but there is value in standing upright.
Many former friends will trust him no more
and several will itch for a fight.
But if he would look himself in the eye
he must do the right thing at last.
No matter the cost he must honestly try
to leave his sins in the past.
Words are weapons, treasures and tools,
and their use can be for goodness or woe.
But only if he consistently follows the rules
will their trust in him get the chance to grow.