Friday, April 30, 2010

But I'm Not Lying!

This has been such an interesting week, learning about the lies the Buzz Girls tell. And like those who've posted earlier this week, I'm so excited to help celebrate the release of Stephanie Hale's The Alpha Bet.

Many of us who have put together a resume or been in a job interview have been tempted to embellish the truth or outright lie. Here's a story about how I was accused of lying.

Let's go back in time to when I used to work at a really great, hip, successful ad agency as the Help Desk Manager. The job itself was fine and paid really well, but it wasn't really "me." From the get-go, I wanted to test the copy writing waters. I worked hard to learn how to write copy, from listening in at the "Creatives'" meetings to building an album of my favorite magazine ads. Once I felt like I could start writing my own ads, I arranged an information interview with a senior Creative. Per her suggestion, I cut out images from actual magazine ads and wrote different (hopefully better) copy to go with the image. Then my art director friend helped me after hours to scan in the image into Photoshop and position the copy to make it look nice. My portfolio was full of ads constructed in this way: image from a real magazine ad plus my headline and copy. I showed my portfolio to one of the partners at my ad agency and he said I was on the right track, but they didn't have any junior copy writing positions open. So I decided to start freelance copy writing. That way, when a position did open up, I'd have some real-world experience to show. I went on a few interviews and racked up quite a few projects. But here's the interview that to this day haunts me:

Two partners from a smaller ad agency in the same city invited me to lunch. I showed them my portfolio. They flipped a few pages, making agreeable noises, asking if it was my own work (I explained that the words were all mine, that I tried to put a new spin on an ad or improve the copy in the original ad). They seemed impressed with my work. Until they turned to a page where I'd written an ad I was particularly proud of. I knew I'd really pushed the envelope with this one and I was fully prepared for them to either love it or hate it. Come to find out, it was THEIR ad image. Small world, eh? Well, I don't know what went wrong but they had it in their head that the copy was theirs too. That I'd basically cut out their ad and put it in my own portfolio to pass it off as mine. (PLAGERISM!) To make matters worse, the senior Creative who'd given me the advice to take an image from an ad and write my own copy was their good friend (small world again) and I didn't know what to say. Since they truly believed I'd plagerized their work, was this going to get back to their friend, who might mention it to the Powers That Be at my agency? And don't forget, I'd already told them that my writing was supposed to be a new spin or an improvement on the original ad's copy, which could be considered a slap in their faces (awkward!). Was my copy writing career shot before it barely even began?

The only thing I could think of was to tell them to take my portfolio with them, to discuss it amongst themselves, and to carefully read the ad in question. They did. They called me in to talk again and give me back the portfolio. I have to say it was still really awkward, though I do think they figured out that my copy was completly different than the original ad's copy. And, thankfully, I was never black-balled. (Whew.)

So, my question for you is: Have you ever been wrongfully accused of lying or cheating? Tell us about it and you'll be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of The Alpha Bet by the amazing Stephanie Hale.


stephhale said...

Amazing? Wow! I'll take that. ;) I am loving this story although it was probably horrible to live through. Thanks for sharing!

Cara King said...

Wow! Painful.

My example is much more minor, but it still rankles. Freshman year in college, I was at a very challenging science/engineering school. Once, my chem homework included a problem that had the abbreviation MeOH -- and all I knew was that Me wasn't an element, but I didn't know what MeOH meant.

So after trying several ways to figure it out, I solved the problem as best I could, and wrote "I looked up MeOH in three different chemistry textbooks and none of them said what it is" (which I had.)

My professor, when grading it, wrote "I find that hard to believe" next to that.



Elizabeth Encarnacion said...

My junior year of college, I was falsely accused of possible plagiarism by my English professor. I had a ridiculously difficult schedule and totally muffed my first paper in that class because I had two lit papers and exams in two upper level math classes due on the same date. So, I spent more time on the other class's paper and knew I needed to really kick butt on that class's final paper to get my grade back up to where it should be.

I worked SO hard on that paper. I'd chosen to examine the biblical symbolism in the book (can't even remember which one now). I seriously looked up every proper noun in the work, just in case it might have some kind of Christian connection. And I wrote a FANTASTIC paper—the only weak point was the required quote from a piece of published criticism to support my thesis, since I couldn't find any critical essays about that theme. So, I went with a really vague quote that kind of supported it, and prayed he'd like my paper enough to overlook the fact I didn't go with an obvious thesis that had a lot of quotes available.

The professor didn't have any hard evidence I'd plagiarized. Instead, he suspected it because of the stark difference between the quality of my two papers. I showed him my pages and pages of research, and explained the process I'd gone through to form my thesis. As I pointed out to him, I'd had so much trouble finding a supporting quote that it would have been impossible for me to copy the ideas, much less the words, from anyone else. (He did mention that my thesis had been gaining ground within the literary community in recent years, but that the information was probably not available to me.)

Eventually, he reexamined my work and raised my grade on the paper from a D to a B, which annoyed me since he'd basically been saying that my paper was too good for me to have written—so why wasn't it worth an A?

That incident still burns me up. It's one thing to accuse someone of plagiarizing if their work shows some similarity to someone else's work, but it another to accuse an overworked English major with a high grade point average of cheating just because she wrote one mediocre paper. Grrr.

Heather Davis said...

Yikes! Stressful, Wendy. I'm glad you lived to fight another day.

Wendy Toliver said...

You *are* amazing, Steph! :)

Cara, that's so annoying.

And Elizabeth, I'm so sorry. After all that, it should've been an A.

Thanks, Heather!(fight, fight, fight) :)

nymfaux said...

usually if I'm accused of lying, it's because I am; I can tell a joke with a straight face, but I can't hide it when I'm hiding something. However, I often hide little things on my sister, just to keep her off balance, but then if she misplaces something for real, she accuses me. Go figure?

Llehn said...

This happened during one of my study groups. I woke up that morning feeling particularly chirpy and giggly. It also happened that we were discussing sexually based offenses that day and my study group accused me of being embarrassed by the topic which explained my behavior. It wasn't true and I told them so but my friends refused to believe me. They thought they had me pegged and went on to give me a long lecture about how immature I was and all. Needless to say, that put an end to my cheery mood. There's nothing worse than telling the truth and no one believing it!

Wendy Toliver said...

nymfaux, I hear you. Sometimes it comes back to (as my boys love to hear me say) nip you in the butt.

Llehn, that's actually kind of funny methinks. :)

Thanks for commenting everybody! Winners of Steph's The Alpha Bet will be drawn and announced soon!

Sara said...

Wow Harsh! Well I've been accused of lying, but not for anything as serious as that! Probably just my mum not believing that I haven't eaten her candy ;)

stephhale said...

Today's winner is Elizabeth Encarnacion. Please send your info to

TinaFerraro said...

Wow, Wendy, what a story! How upsetting for you! And what struck me was it was like the opposite of mine: you weren't lying and got accused, I was lying and kept waiting to get caught!

And what came to mind in the resolution of your tale was one of the final scenes from the movie, WORKING GIRL, and how she uses similar smarts to protect her reputation. Check that out someday if you haven't already seen it!

Wendy Toliver said...

Interesting, Tina. I've seen that movie but I'll have to pay better attention. Nice connection.

Congrat's, Elizabeth!

And thanks everybody for commenting!

Bidisha said...

Well, I don't know if this answers your question, but I was once accused of plagiarism. Someone told me a poem I wrote was so good, it could only have been ripped off from some famous poet's work! :-0

Wendy Toliver said...

Well, Bee, I can honestly say my poetry has never been complimented like that! :)

GirlforChrist said...

When I did a really good job on a test (Algebra test, all A's), my mom really thought I had cheated. I wonder, should I be offended by her doubt? :D