Copy Cats Need Not Apply

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Each semester I would inevitably have a teacher who would espouse to the class how they always had one person who plagiarized. One person who thought that they could get away with copying their paper and pass it off as their own. There was an underlying threat involved–the teacher could and would find all plagiarists in their class, so don’t even try. The reality was something different. Most teachers are far too overwhelmed by the amount of work that they have to actually identify any plagiarism. Most cases of plagiarism in the academic setting will go under the radar. Unless the plagiarism is completely evident (as in, the writing level is far exceeding that which the student has previously written), or the teacher has somehow already read what the student is putting forward as their own, the plagiarism will go unnoticed (unless the teacher is using a service like Turnitin.com, which is another blog post entirely).

That doesn’t mean that I’m endorsing plagiarism. I’m just saying that it is incredibly easy to do. There are plenty of instances of professors and journalist plagiarizing work. Most of the time it’s for one of two reasons–they are too overwhelmed with other projects in order to take the time to make their own original content, or they just don’t want to make their own original content. Any way you cut it, those who plagiarize either believe whole heartedly that they will not get caught or hope beyond hope that they will not get caught.

Being writers on the internet, and being self-published authors, Zach and I have to be especially aware of plagiarism. Not only do we have to be diligent ourselves to not take credit for what is not our, but we also need to make sure that nothing that is ours has been appropriated by someone else. The internet, with all of its glorious achievements, has also made plagiarism incredibly easy to do–and incredibly easy to spot.

Here are a few cautionary tales of plagiarism.

1. If you get caught, don’t be a jerk about it

Plagiarism Today, a great site about all things copyright and content ownership, has a great post about a lurid tale of plagiarism in the University setting. The story is a flip on the usual, as a professor instead of a student is the one who was accused of plagiarism. His come-back? Attempt to completely dismantle the life of the guy who found him out. The story is worth a read and definitely gives a good moral: if you get caught for plagiarism, go quietly into the night.

2. There are a lot of forms of plagiarism

One thing that I learned in my time interning at a writing center is that plagiarism comes in a lot of different forms. Ed Tech Digest does a nice little breakdown on the different forms of plagiarism in what is called, “The Plagiarism Spectrum.” I would recommend anyone who is questioning whether or not what they are doing is plagiarism to check out this post. Not only does it describe the different forms of plagiarism, but it breaks them down into easily identifiable categories. According to the article, “The Plagiarism Spectrum was developed specifically to help students better grasp what plagiarism looks like in practice.” Personally, I think that it can be used by anyone to great affect.

3. Anyone can plagiarize, and anyone can get caught

Our Bad Media, an anonymous group of two bloggers/twitter users (@blippoblappo & @crushingbort) put up a post outlining numerous episodes of plagiarism by author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. While the whole incident has not gotten nearly the traction that it should, there are some great dissections of the whole mess. One in particular that I think is well worth reading is a post by Steve Buttry, where he gives a great journalist perspective on why what Zakaria did is plagiarism in every sense of the word.

One more place plagiarism is rampant is in the music industry. And as this Westword article points out, it’s usually identified pretty quickly.

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I am a fan of history and absorber of all things news. I am a writer of books and blogs, and an enjoyer of all things pop culture. There is more about my that I can not currently think of. I will answer any question via email bearded bards at gmail.com, or in the comments below. If your question is, “Can I get your book for free?” My answer is yes, just send me an email. If you would rather pay for the book on Amazon, the link is below.

Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom.

Music (and Pictures) To Write To: All Scotland Edition

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If my math is correct, then as I post this it is a little less than 18 hours until the calendar flips over on September 18th, 2014 in Scotland, otherwise known as the date of the Independence Referendum.

I know exactly where I was one year ago, because I was there, in Scotland. To be specific, on the 18th of September, I woke up in the village of Kenmore, had lunch in Pitlochry, zipped by the Cairngorms, and ate dinner beside the River Ness. It was a helluva trip, one that will leave a lasting impact on myself and by proxy my writing for years to come.

So to mark the occasion, I thought I’d do a Scotland-themed MtWt. And then I thought I’d add some pictures. And then I realized I wouldn’t want to share just one song, so I’m going to go freaking nuts and share a bunch. And also pictures (taken by me, so excuse any lapse in quality).

First up, a classic, Loch Lomond as performed by Scottish folk legends The Corries

Loch Lomond, copyright Z.T. Burian

Loch Lomond

Next, one of my favorite artists, who almost always sings in a language I can’t understand but I adore anyways, Julie Fowlis. This video has a nice intro, and it’s a live performance. With a baby. Just watch it.

The Isle of Mull from Iona

The Isle of Mull from Iona

On to one of my favorite bands, not just from Scotland but from anywhere, Frightened Rabbit. I have had their album Midnight Organ Fight on repeat some days, and still can’t get enough of it.

Holyrood

Holyrood

For something completely different, here’s my favorite Mogwai tune.

And last, because I can’t resist, and because I absolutely love this song (not ironically), The Proclaimers.

Kenmore in the morning

Kenmore in the morning

Edinburgh in the evening

Edinburgh in the evening

Collies!

Collies!

My sister and me and Edinburgh Castle

My sister and me and Edinburgh Castle

I have thousands more pictures (not hyperbole), but I’m wearing out my welcome I think. Scotland has influenced my writing through the music above, and the places I visited. Old Town Edinburgh was my model for Ganton in Gone To Wonder. Celtic and gaelic imagery abounds in my work. But I could never do the place justice, in pictures or words.

I’m American, so what goes down the 18th is none of my damn business. No matter the result, I hope Scotland becomes an even more impressive place, and I wish the people there success. If you’ve never been there, I hope you visit someday. You might just be inspired to write.

Music To Write To: “Switzerland”

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Hope you’re enjoying this Tuesday, or should I say, this iTuesday? I hope someone makes an app that warns you when a street magician is taking your watch off without you noticing. It could devastate the street magician industry!

Anywho, here’s some music. “Switzerland” by The Last Bison is an excellent song that I bumped into the other day and has already made it’s way into my retinue of writing music.

Writing terrifies me, and I hope it always will

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I’m scared to begin. I think we’ve all felt that way about something, right? There’s a moment where we teeter on the edge of something, like a skydiver hanging out of the plane and all she has to do is let go. All I have to do is let go and start.

I’m talking about Episode 2 of Gone To Wonder, but I feel this way with every Big Project I start. Sure, sometimes I’ll poke at something, write a few paragraphs, sketch some things out, but that’s not a start to me. I’ve gone into novel-length projects and done significant work, even finished a few, but the whole time I knew this stuff isn’t going anywhere, you’re not going to show anyone this, so it’s okay. It belongs to me, and no one has to know whether it’s crap or not.

But when I’m starting something I really care about, and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, and I want so badly for it to pass my internal standards and the standards of all those that may read it someday, I’m terrified. Am I alone here, writers? Is anyone else as neurotic as I am about a silly story?

Once I’ve begun, the neurosis don’t go away, but I’ve already started, and my Cheese Monster is hungry (explanation about him in the video below). Sometimes I’ll peter out (okay, most of the time). Sometimes, the urge to find the end wins, and somehow I get there. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it drives me insane (just ask Andrew). But before I’ve begun, before all the potential energy has been converted into kinetic, all I have are doubts and some silly ideas.

I’ve sketched out a few of these silly ideas for Episode 2, even taken a few cracks at starting, but always felt comfortable because I had my precious delete key. I love that key. I wield it like a katana in a room full of zombies. But after a while, write-delete-rewrite-delete serves its purpose. After a while, I know that I’m stalling, but I don’t want to start start.

The thing is, even though I’m anxious as hell, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want my writing to always scare me so much that I doubt everything, because that’s how I know I care and how I push myself to improve. If I’m not scared of failure, I won’t fully appreciate success.

Time is running out, though. A deadline approaches. The pencils are sharpened enough, the man says. Time to start this shit up.

If you’re like me, wanting to start something but you’re scared, or you’ve started and you have doubts, watch Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings. Even if you’ve seen it before, watch it, then tell me about your beginnings. I want to know, am I the only one this nuts about a story, or anything? Are you scared to start things? And if you aren’t, what’s your secret?

Music To Write To: “Ekki múkk”

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One of my favorite things about Sigur Rós is how much they leave their music open for interpretation. The ethereal quality can lend itself to be an accompaniment for nearly any genre, story, or emotional state. It makes them ideal music for the writer looking for mood music to help the writing process, and makes them a go to for me for so many projects.

For a different look at Ekki múkk, check out this music video, featuring Littlefinger himself Aidan Gillen and Shirley Collins. A warning, though: this video might break you.

How Not to Do Something

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Learning how to write is a long, slow process. There’s the technical bits, there’s the craft part, and there’s the intangibles that come from learning how to communicate not just effectively, but artfully. There is also learning how not to write.

It’s as important as anything else to learn what not to do in your writing. A good way to make sure you’re not going to end up writing crap is to read crap, and understand why it is, well, crap. Here’s a couple resources that will give you a quick and dirty lesson in things not to do.

Awful Fantasy

I don’t know who manages this Twitter account, and I don’t care. All I want is for them to keep doing what they are doing. Every tweet is a microcosm of terrible genre sins. Heres a few highlights:

Worst Muse

Another great Twitter account, all about encouraging the worst desires in every writer. Please, do not follow this muse.

Red Pen of Doom

One of my favorite blogs to visit is this one, devoted to how to edit well and not write bad. This post in particular is excellent, but the whole blog is worth reading and subscribing.

Cringe Writing*

For a laugh (and some lessons), check out the subreddit Cringe Writing, where redditors share stories and examples of particularly cringe-worthy writing. Hopefully, nothing of mine has been passed around there before. . .

Read Bad Books

Finally, maybe the best of all, is to read bad books. It can be tricky to find them, not because there aren’t a lot of bad books, but because you want to find just the right kind of bad. Books that are written and self-published by people who do not have a literary bone in them won’t teach you much. Instead, seek out the popular books, read them with a critical eye, and see what you find. I read Twilight for this reason. It taught me a lesson in writing and characterization, and also that even weak writing can sell (a lot!).

In the end, it may not matter if your book is a masterpiece. One could write like a marketer, targeting audiences ruthlessly and writing exactly what you think could sell. I don’t do it that way, because I have this illusion that someday I’ll be a great writer. And that means never forgetting how not to write.

*Redditor readbeam pointed out something very important with regard to this subreddit. It contains some examples of writing taken without peoples permission and criticized. I don’t condone that sort of thing. Writers should have the freedom to write whatever they want in private, without the threat of being judged. Critique can serve a constructive purpose (or should), mockery is only for amusement at someone else’s expense. Deconstructing published works is one thing, lambasting someone’s private writing is something else. If you are a writer, you know what it would be like having your material viciously mocked. Cringewriting does not distinguish much between the two. I’m not going to remove it from the list, because that’d be too revisionist for me, but I will note that I discourage people from the practice of mocking writing. This list is about personal growth through analyzing the missteps in other authors’ writing, not amusement.


 

cover3I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I’ve learned over the years some things not to do, and hopefully someday I’ll learn all of the things not to do. I’m also have a book out now, Absent Hero, the first part of the Gone To Wonder series. It’s about a steampunk theme park, a bunch of teens who know way more than your average teen about story archetypes, and it’s nerdy as hell. Get it now for Kindle.