Recycling Your Own Work or Plagiarizing Yourself

I just read an interesting article on Knight Science Journalism Tracker about science writer Jonah Lehrer.   Apparently, Lehrer is accused of plagiarizing himself and other writers as well.  I’m going to let the second bit of this go — we all know what it means to plagiarize someone else.

Apparently when Lehrer moved his blog from Wired to The New Yorker, he didn’t set out on this new journey with all new content.  Large parts of his initial posts were from previous posts on Wired.

That in and of itself isn’t newsworthy.  Writers are often told to reslant and resell as a way to maximize research and income.  Writers also post and repost blog entries across multiple blogs.

The key is to do it transparently.  “This blog post originally appeared on WOW’s Muffin blog.”  “Portions of this article originally appeared in Newsweek.”

It may not be necessary to include these things in the article or on the blog post, but they are the sorts of things that you need to tell your editor.  Your editor can then decide if the material is too similar to post without a disclaimer.

Another way to avoid this is to use the same information but to rewrite it.  When a blog post does especially well here, I will write up the content for another outlet.  Most of my blog posts are short.  This means that I need to add to the content.  This is especially necessary if everyone commented on only a small part of the original blog and I am turning that into another unique piece of writing.

I also rewrite the hook.  Sure, the first hook may have been good.  After all, I try not to write awful hooks.  But the readers for my blog are generally children’s writers.  At least that’s what I assume.  If I write the article for a general audience, I will add examples from the adult market place.

What do you do when you reuse research or content so that you don’t end up plagiarizing yourself?


Internal Conflict vs External Conflict

What type of conflict keeps your story moving forward?  Internal or external?

External conflict is often the stuff of plot driven stories — your character has to battle an antagonist or accomplish an amazing physical feat.  Harry Potter battling Voldemort?  External.  Katniss surviving the games and her fellow tributes?  External.  Sophie trying to avoid the outgoing Wendell (A Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes)?   Still external.

External conflict is exciting.  It keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Internal conflict may be seen in the outside world, but it is the stuff of inner turmoil.  What are the thoughts that keep your character up at night?  What does she obsess about?  What hang ups are keeping him from succeeding?  Harry Potter’s angst over his parents’ sacrifice?  Internal.  Katniss emotional battle over being in the Games with her friend Peeta (the rules say only one can survive)?  Internal.  Sophie’s issues with her own timid behavior?  Internal.

Internal conflict is frequently what you reader most identifies with because they have similar issues and insecurities.

Which one features most heavily in your current work-in-progress?  Could you (or should you) try to shift the balance between internal and external conflict?  How would it change your story?



What Do You Read?

“I would advise [writers] to read as widely as they can, in every subject possible, because that’s where one gets material for stories. The most unlikely sources can spark ideas.”
Andre Norton

Do you read the type of material you are writing?  I ask because I’m surprised by how many writers don’t.  I always wonder how they  can possible know the market if they don’t read their competition.  That said, when I am writing middle grade fantasy, I don’t read middle grade fantasy.  The same with young adult.  If I do, I find my character’s voice sliding.  I don’t seem to have a similar problem when I’m working on a picture book or nonfiction.

I write a wide variety of material — fiction and nonfiction, picture books through young adult and scads of nonfiction for adults.  So its not amazing that I read widely but I also read things that I never ever write — namely adult fiction of various kinds.

Why waste so much of my reading time on irrelevant material?  On things so unlike my own work?  Because I never know where my next idea will come from.  Sometimes a photo will send me off on a research frenzy to explore a new topic.  Or a character who has nothing more than a cameo in something I’m reading will get the creative ball rolling.  Narrow my reading and I’m liable to miss a couple dozen ideas a year.

Are you are writer who follows Norton’s advice?  If not, why not?


Looking for Publishers

Are you one of those writers who tries to keep track of likely markets for your manuscripts before you need them?  Or do you go looking only when its time to send out your work?

I try to note likely markets as I spot them — reading blogs and interviews and when I run into a book that is like but not too like my own.  Yet every once in a while, I have a manuscript sitting around homeless.

So when I read the Writing World write up on the book publisher listing on My Perfect Pitch, I clicked on over.  The listing includes both USA and UK publishers and I was pleasantly surprised to find several US publishers I hadn’t encountered.

Take a look and you might find just the right publisher for your work in progress or even a work that has been languishing, homeless, in your files.


Creating the Perfect Antagonist

I have to admit it — antagonists are not characters that I spend oodles of time noodling over.  After all, I’m telling the story of my POV character.  That’s where my focus lies.

Add to this the fact that I’m writing for kids and the field of possible  antagonists tends to narrow.  You’ve got unreasonable teachers and intimidating bullies.  Maybe there’s a perfect know-it-all kid that makes my main character feel like dirt.

After awhile, these types of antagonists feel a little vanilla.

What is your own personal rut where antagonists are concerned?  This is the topic I wrote about for yesterday’s Muffin posting.

Why not go out on a limb and try a different type of antagonist for your work in progress?


Newspaper Archive Online

Another great digital resource has been made available online.

Working together the University Library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Indianapolis Recorder newspaper have put this African-American newspaper online.

This newspapers online range from 1899 to 2005, totaling over 5000 issues. You can visit the archive here.   This searchable archive lets you zoom in to read the text and has a navigation panel to the upper left of the image (you are here and the text is asked for is highlighted in pink).

I even managed to find one reference to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.  Head on over and see what this newspaper printed on your topic of choice.


Not Quite a Banning

What do you call it when a school district doesn’t remove a book from the library?  No, no.  That would be banning.  Instead they relocate it to a special shelf behind the librarian’s desk.  Only children who bring in a special permission slip will be allowed to check out and read this title.

And what book has garnered this attention?  None other than Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House.  Note the punctuation in the title and you’ll figure out what the problem is.  In case you need a little more help, here is the description my library has posted for the book:

“Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. In their beautiful house, they cook dinner together, they laugh together, and they dance together. But some of the other families don’t accept them. They say they are different. How can a family have two moms and no dad? But Marmee and Meema’s house is full of love. And they teach their children that different doesn’t mean wrong. And no matter how many moms or dads they have, they are everything a family is meant to be. Here is a true Polacco story of a family, living by their own rules, and the strength they gain by the love they feel.”

What a pity that someone saw this book and refused to accept it.

This banning came about after a student in Utah’s Davis School District checked the book out from her school library.  The mother of the kindergarten student complained and the book was moved from the K-2 section to the 3rd to 6th grade section.  This wasn’t good enough and the mother along with 24 others each filled out reconsideration of library materials forms.

No objections were made to the content of the book.  Instead, they claimed that it wasn’t age appropriate.

Polacco was inspired to write this book by a Texas girl who wanted to read an essay about her family and same-sex parents but was told by a teacher that she couldn’t because she wasn’t from a real family.

Here is what the SLJ had to say about the book when they reviewed it:

“The story serves as a model of inclusiveness for children who have same-sex parents, as well as for children who may have questions about a “different” family in their neighborhood. A lovely book that can help youngsters better understand their world.”

Why not check this book out today?  Or better yet, go buy a copy.

Thank you to Patricia Polacco for taking on the narrow minded.



A slick take on e-publishing

I have to admit it — I am one of the many people who has an issue with e-books.  Yes, there are many of us.  Those of you charging around with your Nooks and your Kindles may be in denial, but we are here.

It isn’t that we are all techno-phobic.  I’m working on a computer.  I have a wireless keyboard and soon will be able to work on the TV in the living room as well as a screen in the basement (where the treadmill is).  I love technology.

But I don’t love e-books as a whole.  I’ve sampled a good number of them and except for the ones put out by traditional publishers, I usually find them wanting.  As loathe was we are to admit it, if a publisher won’t take a manuscript, there is often a very good reason.

Fortunately, there is an e-book publisher out there who wants to turn this image around.  Argo Navis is an e-publishing service “designed for professional authors acting as publishers, who control the e-book rights to their reverted or not-in-print works.”

But not just any author can be included on the Argo Navis lists because author’s cannot sign up their own works.  This has to be done by their agents.

Doesn’t seem fair?

I’m okay with it and, I have to say, I would definitely consider an Argo Navis e-book.  Their policy may seem exclusionary, but when that means that I don’t have to sift through the dreak that couldn’t make it out of the slushpile, I’m cool with that.

Special thanks to Lee Wind who brought this service to my attention via the SCBWI blog.