How I Plagiarized a Story and Thought the Work Was Mine

A cautionary tale for self-taught writers and highly sensitive people who work online.

Shannon Ashley
Dec 4, 2019 · 5 min read

"The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness."

- Ichiro Kishimi

Months passed, and I wound up getting attacked by that same person who’d gone after Tom, and I can attest to the fact that yes, that kind of drama tends to make you write weird stories if you’re not too careful.

I wasn't.

At one point in the midst of the whole mess, I remember feeling like I wasn’t safe anywhere. People were talking about me on Facebook, Twitter, email, and in other places online. Even when they weren’t using my name, they used details to make it clear who they meant.

I felt like I was under this ridiculous microscope that I wanted nothing to do with, and I was kicking myself for ignoring red flags. Especially those red flags that Tom had seen which I just chalked up to… fervor.

As friends of the other individual began writing comments on my work and accusing me of a long list of evils, I felt like I had my back against the wall. How is it that people fall for clearly narcissistic personalities?

Whether or not that’s what I was actually dealing with, that’s what I was feeling at the time.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

I specifically went to Google looking for “evidence” that I wasn’t crazy. And then I found an article on Psychology Today that really resonated with my experiences, and I copied over the parts that resonated with me in a Word Doc along with my own notes.


Back then, my daughter wasn’t in school, so juggling my work was especially hard. I closed up my notes without notating the source and went on with my day.

Later that day, or maybe the next, (I don’t even remember anymore) somebody sent over yet another email of accusations being tossed at me, including the comment that I must be a terrible mother.

The drama was officially under my skin, and I headed over to my notes to write my story about spotting narcissism online.

Rush, rush, reword, rush, publish.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

The story stayed up for about an hour, I believe. I deleted it when somebody was able to recognize the article I used for “research.” That was a huge, embarrassing, and painful lightbulb moment, because I had truly believed the work was my own.

I couldn’t believe how easily I had fooled myself into thinking the story was mine.

After many more months of daily writing, I now understand how ridiculous that sounds. Anytime that you copy and paste for “notes,” you’ve entered plagiarism zone unless you are actually linking to the original source.

Many people who are self-taught writers don’t understand this. You might think that rewording each idea is enough.

But it’s not.

Anytime you know that an idea is not your own, and instead comes from something else you’ve read, you should source it.

Also, you shouldn’t rely upon copy and pasted notes mixed in with your own ideas when you’re researching. My stint as a stupid plagiarist suddenly taught me the whole point of using note cards for research in high school.

Another moral of the story is to be really careful with your writing habits anytime you’re feeling especially emotional or like your back is against the wall.

It was a huge mistake of mine to feed into the notion that I had to defend myself with pointed stories. Tom was right. If you aren’t careful, you’ll write weird stories when you’re attacked. And that will just give people something to talk about.

In my case, people did talk about it for a few days. There was a lot of excitement, as folks claimed they now knew my “secret” to daily writing. They called me a sham and bragged that they’d reported me to the platform and that my work was going to go through a plagiarism checker so everyone could see what a rat I am.

Ultimately, people had to give up on that particular campaign against me. My single bout of plagiarism was not a smoking gun, so folks were not able to take down my work because it is actually my own writing.

But I’ve sat upon this story for a long time because it’s so embarrassing. I figure that just by telling it, some folks are bound to think I’m a jerk, and others might think I should just let sleeping dogs lie.

The truth is that I have always wanted to tell the story, not just because I believe in honesty, but because we all do stupid things. I’d like to think that other people can learn from my mistakes and maybe feel a little less shame about their own dumb choices.

When you work online and create content on a regular basis, some people are going to hate you no matter what you say or do. This is unavoidable. This is life.

Your job is to try to handle it all with a little bit of grace. Or, perhaps, at least a little more grace than me.

And if you do mess up? Then try to learn a lesson that doesn’t just benefit you, but also helps somebody else. At the end of the day, it will give you something to write about.

Though I'll let you decide if this one got too weird.

Join my email list to keep in touch and I’ll send you my 12 tips to crush it as a blogger. Or, check me out on Write Already for a behind-the-scenes look at two female writers who are making it work.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, fulltime writer, exvangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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