The first time I seriously considered plagiarism was in 2000. I was a graduate student in a Masters program and went from being the darling of a women’s college to a state run, co-gender institution. During my undergrad years, being smart was not cool. Not that anyone said it was un-cool. But “rings by spring” or your Mrs. degree put you high on the totem pole. I had neither, though I was a bridesmaid in a dizzying array of weddings for my close friends. Of us all, I was one of two who went on to graduate school. My other friend became a lawyer. If I had done the math, perhaps I would have gone that route instead of a PhD in English which took twice as long.
Nevertheless literature was my passion and I received special permission to take a creative writing class in my new program. That first day my classmates must have thought I was an insane undergraduate who had stumbled into the wrong room. After all they were mature students, or people coming to finish their degrees after putting kids to bed, clocking in hours at day jobs, and on average five to ten years older than me.
I didn’t know the rules of creative writing circles. That I was supposed to make jokes about how like Hemingway I started and stopped several books. Or my Faulkneresque tendency to favor liquor. I had never written creatively in my life. I didn’t mention the short story I wrote in middle school or the novel I finished in high school because I didn’t think they mattered.
“I’ve never written anything,” I said, with one hundred percent of my extrovert enthusiasm, blissfully unaware I had exposed my jugular in a room of critics. “I thought this class would be interesting.” At their blank stares, even my bubble of confidence could feel a shift in the room. “But I love to read,” I said. “Good readers make good writers, right?”
The professor, an accomplished writer and hyper introvert cleared her throat, mumbled agreement and moved to the next student. We took turns over the course submitting stories for critique. When it was my turn, I was tempted to submit a story by another South Asian writer as my own. This is where the plagiarism comes in. I wanted to show them I had stories to tell and they couldn’t judge me. I didn’t do it. Instead I sat down and wrote one of my own.
The irony is that what I wrote in that semester was the skeleton of what would become a short story collection, which would later be my thesis project, one of two, for a double concentration in literature and creative writing. Twelve years later that collection became Coloured and Other Stories, my first eBook, the first of seven in my entry into e-publishing. If you’re a reader who loves reading, and has toyed with writing for a long time, make 2013 the year you take your idea for a story to the page. My journey took me twelve years. That doesn’t mean yours has to.
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