I see lots of blog posts about "biggest blogging and business mistakes" that include mistakes like 'putting out a product before you have a following,' and 'not utilizing Pinterest,' etc. Well, I've been working for myself full-time for the past 5 and 1/2 years and while I've made lots of little mistakes like those along the way, they all pale in comparison to the biggest blogging blunder that occurred earlier this year:
Copying someone else.
Ugh. I've waited a few months to write this blog post simply because I was so ashamed and embarrassed that said blunder ever occurred in the first place! In fact, I debated about whether or not I should even share it, because well ... this particular mistake seemed to trump all of the other mistakes that get shared frequently. I mean ... it's pretty common to hear about how someone made the mistake of neglecting to start en e-mail list or how they neglected to be consistent with their blogging but ...
Copying someone else?
THAT is the Scarlet Letter of blogging mistakes, my friend! So while it's super embarrassing to share, if I can help prevent others from making the same mistake I did, then it's worth sharing.
Plus, I just have to be brutally honest.
So, what happened exactly? Well, earlier this year I went through a pretty extreme bout of depression for a few months (which resulted in the blog post How to Work on Your Creative Business When You're Depressed as Fuck.) Please know that I don't share this little tidbit to excuse my gigantic blogging blunder, (because there IS no excuse!), but rather to let you know where I was at mentally when I made this mistake. I wasn't intentionally trying to copy or rip off anyone else. In fact, I have so much respect and admiration for the couple of bloggers who I accidentally got a little too "inspired" by in a few of my blog posts!
The depression made me feel completely unmotivated and uninspired. Some times, it was hard to just get up and do normal things like showering, let alone coming up with fresh, original content for my blog! Not to mention that at the time I was beginning to feel like every topic that I wanted to write about had already been written about before.
But I continued to search for inspiration through things like Pinterest and other blogs. I'd read a particular blog post and think to myself, "Yes!!! This is SO great and helpful. This is the exact kind of thing that I want to be sharing so ... I'll just write a post about the same thing except I'll try and put it into my own words and maybe add a few of my own points."
Well ... I didn't do a good enough job in making the blog post my own which led to ...
Lazy plagiarism. Yes, "lazy plagiarism" is totally a thing! Did you know that there are actually THREE types of plagiarism? I didn't. Yes, I already knew that copying and pasting someone else's work word for word was considered plagiarism, but I did NOT know that copying central ideas and/or phrases was also considered a form of plagiarism. And because I did NOT do a good enough job in making those particular blog posts my own, what I SHOULD have done was left a credit and a link to the particular blogger and their blog post for the idea! And as the article I linked to above points out, "It's an easy trap to fall into."
HUGE lesson learned here, guys. And I learned it the hard way.
Ultimately, I ended up sharing one of those "little too inspired" blog posts inside a blogging Facebook group that I'm in. Not too much time had passed before someone quickly pointed out, "Hey! Your blog post is almost an exact copy of so and so's ... :::insert original blog post here:::" It was like a punch in the gut. "OH SHIT," I thought, "that person is totally right."
From there the other offending blog posts were also pointed out. I felt incredibly embarrassed and ashamed and ... to be completely honest ... I wasn't even aware that I was doing something wrong until that person pointed it out! So I also felt completely ignorant. How had I let that happen?! Being yourself and being original is THE thing that I'm so passionate about standing for!
And then BOOM. I was e-mailed several cease and desist letters. You wanna know what that feels like?
NOT GOOD AT ALL.
The next couple of days were a frantic blur as I worked around the clock to delete, modify and leave credit in the offending blog posts. I didn't stop until the situation had been rectified (aka all parties involved were satisfied with my changes.) And of course, I also wrote the bloggers who I had copied admitting my mistakes and offering my heart felt apologies. And while they were very gracious and understanding, the damage had already been done.
So what were the consequences of me copying another blogger?
1. I lost the trust and respect of several people who I admire the most.
Including some of my readers. And THAT is the worst feeling. Ever. Building trust can take a lot of time, but it only takes ONE mistake to break it. This is a lesson that really stings when it happens, so don't make the same mistake that I did!
2. I felt like an outsider.
Yes, the consequences of my mistake resulted in me getting "unfriended" on Facebook, blocked from making comments on some of my favorite blogs, ignored, blocked by people on Pinterest, people leaving my Pinterest group board and me receiving several hateful messages from people I didn't even know.
3. I looked like a fraud.
Yes, my goal has always been to help people to grow their blogs and businesses. I am so, SO passionate about it you guys!!! But when those copycat blog posts were pointed out, it made me look AND feel like a total fraud. Especially when one of my favorite things ever is to help people be themselves! Being myself and embracing who I am along with all of my quirks has been something I've always done genuinely. But being depressed and lazy and allowing myself to copy someone else's work a little too closely in some of my blog posts? NOT cool.
4. I experienced ALL the bad feelings.
Shame, embarrassment, hurt, hopelessness ... I experienced SO MANY horrible feelings as a result of this particular blogging blunder. And what's worse, I unintentionally inflicted hurt on those that I copied! I think what makes this mistake EXTRA big is the fact that it didn't just impact me; it impacted others, too.
Needless to say, the consequences of copying someone else (whether intentionally or unintentionally), totally SUCK. Thankfully, I have been able to use this mistake as an opportunity for learning and growth! So what have I learned as a result?
1. I now know what plagiarism ACTUALLY is.
I am now informed on what plagiarism actually is so that I don't make the mistake of committing it again! Plagiarism doesn't just mean that you copy someone's work word-for-word. There are different levels of it, and all of them are wrong and should be avoided like the plague! (You should definitely check out this blog post on plagiarism because it not only gives you an explanation of the different types of plagiarism, but it also gives you great advice on how to avoid doing it in the first place!)
2. I am much more careful.
Now that I know what lazy plagiarism actually is, I am much more careful when I write my blog posts. When researching particular topics I'll check more than one source, I'll leave credit with a link to the original source if it's not my original idea, I'll quote someone if I want to say something that they said, I'll put more time and thought into it, etc.
3. If it feels like copying, it probably is.
I was so depressed at the time I wrote the offending blog posts that I chose to ignore the nagging feeling that I should be creating something more original. I knew that the content wasn't of my own original idea, but I figured that I could change it enough! ... And then I failed. Don't ignore a yucky feeling in your gut when you get it, you guys. It's usually trying to tell you something important! (Oh and just because I haven't mentioned it enough already, be sure to check out this awesome article on plagiarism so you don't make the same horrible mistake that I did!!! Pretty please. Just DO it.)
4. Having YOUR stuff copied sucks, so don't do it to some one else.
Over the years I've also experienced people copying me a few times, and it feels like crap. Why, just last week I discovered an account on Instagram who was literally using ALL of my photos. Like ... EVERY SINGLE PHOTO that they had on their account was mine. They didn't leave me a credit or mention that the photo wasn't theirs, they were quite literally just using my photos as their own. You know how I felt? Betrayed and hurt.
And there you have it. The cold, hard truth of what I'd consider to be one of the very WORST mistakes I've ever made in my 5 and 1/2 years of running my own business! It was such an embarrassing and shameful experience, but at the same time, I'm also grateful that it happened. I'm grateful because it was the painful slap on the wrist that I desperately needed to break out of my lazy, depressed creative rut during those weeks and to really search within myself for something more! Plus, it gave me the knowledge about plagiarism that I obviously still needed to learn.
So thanks for listening and sticking with me, guys. I hope that you can learn from my mistake so that you don't have to experience this one yourself! Because let me tell you, it's a DOOZY.