Will Your Writing Get You in Trouble?
Make sure you avoid common mistakes
Hi, Kelly Eden here
Hope you’re all doing some fun things this week and that one of those things is getting some writing time.
There have been a few people accidentally running into trouble with their writing lately, so I want to share some common mistakes for you to avoid.
1) With your work/ future bosses
Everything you write under your own name is on the internet forever. You can delete the main story, but even then you may find copies of it hidden in cyber space.
I’m often surprised by this. I wrote an article, for example, a few years ago for Highly Sensitive Refuge. I discovered recently it’s been turned into several podcast episodes.
Even more surprising, a very old parenting article of mine, published in a print magazine, was referenced in a research paper.
The lesson: if you think your content may affect your work or future work in any way, publish under a pen name.
2) With your family or other people you’ve mentioned
Any time you name someone else in your writing, or describe them in such an obvious way that you’re basically naming them, you need to be cautious.
Legally, you can get in trouble (in the US at least) if they get upset and a court finds you’ve lied AND it’s harm them or their business in some way.
The lesson: make sure everything you say is true and even better, you can back it up with proof such as phone messages. Even writing, “I was told by…” is not taken as an excuse. Avoid problems altogether by only ever “outing” yourself.
3) With famous or dead people
There are different rules for writing about very famous or dead people. You can almost say what you like. But again, better not to. Or at least make sure you can prove what you said is true.
4) With plagiarism: what counts?
Plagiarism is easier than you think. We all slip up at times, read something, forget where we read it and pass it off as our own idea. The main thing is to make sure you put your own spin on a topic and acknowledge where you got your ideas from, referencing any quotes, facts, or information you didn’t come up with.
A great way to ensure you come up with something original is to use more than one source for your research and add your own personal experience. You know for sure that’s original!
By the way, another writer using the same topic as you, same research, or even explaining the same technique in the same way is not necessarily plagiarism. Most topics are written about many times and many “new ideas” are aren’t as original as we think. Be very careful about accusing other writers of plagiarism.
5) With plagiarizing yourself
Yes, you can plagiarize yourself. This is fine to do across platforms—you can write the same thing on your blog, on Medium, use it for a TikTok video, and tweet about it.
The problem comes when you copy your own work and regurgitate it on the SAME platform. Medium is especially wary of this and you can get kicked off the platform for multiple offenses.
If you’re going to write on the same topic twice (which is fine to do), make sure you write from a new angle with new information.
I’ve used the same personal situation more than once for essays, but from very different perspectives.
The situation—"My first date with my now husband”
Angle 1: Dating an younger man and my experience of how I felt about that.
Angle 2: Going from friendzone to dating.
Angle 3: First dates that were fun and why.
Angle 4: Dating again after divorce.
Same story, but very different essay.
So there’s 5 common ways to get in trouble with your writing. Now you know them, you can write with confidence!
P.S. For New Zealand’s winter months, I’m putting the Creative Nonfiction Academy on pause to give myself a break.
P.P.S. The Personal Essay Course is still available and currently open for enrollments.