That Time When I Plagiarized… Accidentally.

I was riding on the wings of a book launch, when energy and excitement are high, and the invitations for radio interviews, podcasts, and guest blog posts filled the pages of my calendar.  I was delighted to have one of the most coveted (can Christians say coveted?) invitations, a guest post on a blog that’s read worldwide. I pulled an excerpt from a chapter in my book, a piece about having confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when you feel overlooked.  I submitted to the editors, I got the stamp of approval, and I waited for the day it would go live. These were exciting times, my friends. Exciting times, indeed.

The morning after the post went into the world, I got an email from an author I’ve long loved, one whose writing I have studied and learned fromI was delighted to hear from her, as I’ve long read her words and tucked them into my heart.  I found her work years ago, shortly after my husband died, when I was searching everywhere for guidance and any ounce of hope.  This author had experienced her own dark valley of grief, and I read her words voraciously, letting her light my path through the valley. She had been a lighthouse for me. She had read my guest post and she wanted to reach out to me… but not for reasons I had hoped.

She said,

Tricia: I know what it’s like to find someone else’s words that sound so much like your own thoughts and to use them so much they begin to feel like your own. I know I’ve used other people’s words in this way, so I’m not throwing stones. But your beautiful blog post today had some very familiar-sounding words, and I wonder if you might want to either rewrite them to make them your own or attribute them as a quote?

And then she wrote the text from the blog post, and I gasped aloud and spilled my coffee across the dining room table. Those words were definitely hers. I was very accidentally, but very definitely, guilty of plagiarizing. And I was horrified.  As embarrassing as it is, let me tell you what happened so I can perhaps spare you from breaking the Number One Rule of writing.  Here’s what happened.

As I devoured her books so many years ago, I had quoted her in my journals, prayed her prayers in my own voice. In my silent hours of crying out to God, I had copied her passages and doodled her quotes, weaving them into my own.  After all, she had given me words when I was too sad to find my own. But in my stream of consciousness journaling, I didn’t quote my sources. (Because who footnotes in the privacy of their own journals?)  Years later, when it came time to write this new book, I revisited those journals that had chronicled the stages of my journey.  I rediscovered words and prayers and ideas and themes, all in my handwriting.  And I simply pulled from my journals, and I wrote them into a new manuscript.

Yes, she had found her words in a blog post that could be easily fixed, but the greater concern is that the blog post was an excerpt from a book. And that book was now out in the world. Such things are not as quickly fixed.

I called my agent, Greg, immediately.  It happened to be on his birthday. First, I told him happy birthday, then I told him I had accidentally broken the law in a book that was out in the world.  I prepared myself to be sued, to lose my credibility, and worst of all, to never write again.  It felt unprofessional, and unprofessional is never something I want to be known for. I didn’t want to draw anyone’s integrity into question, certainly not mine, and definitely not my publishers’.

Greg talked me off the ledge, explained that this was an honest mistake that happens sometimes, particularly among pastors who become authors.  They gather their resources from all over, they write a sermon, and then their sermons are transcribed to become book chapters, and the original sources get lost in translation. He walked me through a plan: we would write a correction on the blog post, we would make changes in future reprints of the book, and we would make changes in ebooks immediately.  This mistake was not, in fact, the very end of the world or even of my career.

We offered our solution to this acclaimed author, and she was gracious in her reply.  She said:

Please don’t sweat this.  I know I’ve done this.  In fact, I think we would both be horrified to see how much I’ve done it without realizing it because I too have been sloppy in noting where I got things.  So please don’t beat yourself up. You are forgiven and free, my dear.  And may the Lord give me grace to respond as graciously as you have when an error like this is pointed out to me, as I’m sure they one day will be.

She was the epitome of gentleness, forgiveness, and professional compassion.  She showed me how we, a community of Christian authors, can support one another’s work and hold each other accountable. I’ve learned some hard lessons about plagiarism, gentle confrontation, grace, and footnoting everything – even in the sacred privacy of my journals.

Take it from me, my fellow writers. Even on cocktail napkins, journal pages, and fleeting scraps of paper, note your sources so you can quote your sources.

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Nine Images of Resurrection from Writers

images-1How do we describe an event that is beyond words?  Here ten writers share images of resurrection.  Enjoy!

“They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ’em,” said Captain Jim. “You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?” L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

“Death is not a wall, but a door.” Peter Marshall

“Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.” Victor Hugo

“You can only come to the morning through the shadows.” J.R.R. Tolkien

“We’re all fallen people in a fallen world. Where does a man find healing amid so many broken places? How does he find love in the ruins and vine-wrapped shattered pieces of his own soul? Because love’s springing up through the rocks.” Charles Martin, Wrapped in Rain

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

“It was as if her life was a huge kaleidoscope, and the kaleidoscope had been turned and now everything was changed. The same stones shaken, no longer made the same design.” Betsy Byars, The Summer Of The Swans

“It was no accident, no coincidence, that the seasons came round and round year after year. It was the Lord speaking to us all and showing us over and over again the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. It was like a best-loved story being told day after day with each sunrise and sunset, year after year with the seasons, down through the ages since time began.” Francine Rivers, The Last Sin Eater

Happy Easter! Write something beautiful today!

Betsy and Laurie

http://www.WritingSisters.com

Marketing Love

Striding down the endless hallway of the Mayo Clinic, I passed hurting people on all sides.  This wasn’t about being heroic; I simply wanted to make my day about more than a doctor appointment.

“Okay, Lord. Who?”  My book felt sweaty in my hand.

Copy number one went to the sweet lady in a wheelchair. “Oohhh,” she said, pursing  fuchsia lips.  “It looks wonderful.  Thank you, Dear.”

Copy number two returned to me with the cold shoulder of rejection.  I kept walking because I couldn’t shake off the possibility that God might still want to do something. Besides, I was stubborn and didn’t want to go home with the book.  When I got to the end of the hallway, I discovered I’d inadvertently funneled into a large waiting room.

“Okay, God.  What now?”

Doing a three-sixty over a sea of people, I tried to look inconspicuous.  Then, with a puff of a prayer, I picked a pleasant-looking lady.  She’d be the one.  I took a deep breath and plopped myself down with only a chair between us.

After a minute of pretending to read my own book, I cleared my throat.  It worked.  We made eye contact.

“Hi,” I began.  “This may sound strange, but I prayed God would lead me to someone I could bless with this free inspirational book, and I feel it’s you.  May I give you this?  I wrote it.”

Her eyes lit up.  “Oh, bless you,” she said, glazing with tears.  No fanfare, just a simple exchange.  I went home happy and bookless.

Two or three weeks went by and apart from a few imaginations of finding “A Friend in the Storm” in a thrift shop, I basically forgot about my give-aways.  That is, until three days ago, when I received this heart-stopping email from Sara, a friend I hadn’t talked to for months:

Dear Cheryl,

I talked to my neighbor & friend about 2 weeks ago, Krista Flint.  She had an amazing story of being touched by God’s love through a stranger.  And that stranger was YOU!  It gave me goose bumps to hear of how she had been going through so much and that you sat beside her in the waiting room and gave her your book.

She was so blessed by your words, kindness, & the power of your poems. She said that she knew that God was near, but it was so comforting to hear it from someone! So I wanted you to know that your choice to follow God’s nudge to go to the waiting room and give “someone” your book was exactly what God planned for you & Krista!! It was so exciting to hear how God did that for both of you.

Sara’s P.S. explained that Krista was a breast cancer survivor.  Later, the same day I gave her my book, she was in a major car accident.  Although her car was totaled, she somehow managed to make it through it okay.  “A Friend in the Storm” gave her peace and reminded her that God has a purpose.

“Make use of every opportunity.”  Ephesians 5:16

When we ask God to go before us and use us for His glory, He makes a way.

Until heaven, we can’t possibly grasp all the ways God uses us to reach others.  We simply rejoice in these glimpses.

Giving away books is only one of many ways we can be God’s messengers.  We can also share personal notes, Scripture cards, and post cards or business cards with thought-provoking quotes or concepts from our books.

One time, when I gave a waitress a poem card, she threw her arms around me and burst into tears.  The Lord used a simple poem to reach into her heart and start a healing conversation.  Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes?

How do you share marketing love?  I’d love to hear stories of how God used you and your words.