My husband and I play a lot of Words With Friends (for those of you not in the know, it’s a smartphone version of Scrabble). It’s a fun pastime, and we’re good at it. We take pride in finding the words with big values, in getting that perfect combination of tiles that scores the elusive 50-, 60-, or 70-something-point move. When we have the rare opportunity to make a move with a Q, a Z, or an X (always a difficult proposition) we celebrate.
We can’t abide cheaters.
You know who I’m talking about. The people who play words like “jeon,” “yahrzeits,” or “zizit.” People who you know do not know those words, who take hours or days between moves because they’re busy Googling phrases such as “Words With Friends solutions,” “Scrabble cheat lists,” or “word maker.”
Now, don’t get me wrong–if you know what jeon, yahrzeits, or zizit means (and know them well enough to call upon them when the Scrabble need strikes), then kudos to you. But you’ll be in 0.001 percent of the population if you do–and I’m 99.999 percent sure that my and my husband’s Words With Friends adversaries are not in that group (nor are we).
I don’t understand how these cheaters’ minds work. When they win the game, do they celebrate? Do they gloat over their score? Do they feel a deep internal sense of satisfaction? If they do, I’m not sure why. They didn’t win on their own merits. They won with a shortcut, a cheat sheet, a fake set of knowledge.
I read a story in the The Guardian a few days ago; it was the story of romance “author” Kay Manning, who had plagiarized stories from a multitude of romance writers and compiled them all into books she passed as her own and sold. She built a reputation around these works and their excellence, basked in the glory of the praise from her fans. It was fans, however, who brought her down–she was eventually found out by avid romance readers who discovered one too many similarities between her work and that of other, actual romance writers.
Her story, sadly, isn’t even the most egregious. She was a self-published “author,” and hadn’t profited hugely from the sale of her plagiarized works. There are others, such as spy “novelist” QR Markham or YA “author” Kaavya Viswanathan, who escaped detection even by well-known agents and editors, were published by major houses, and made considerable money before they were caught and discredited.
Much like with the Words With Friends cheaters, I don’t understand these plagiarists. What possible sense of satisfaction can they get from their work? Half the fun of being an author is coming up with the plots, the characters, the names, the quirky idiosyncrasies, the locations, the descriptions. When you don’t come up with any of it, when you don’t fall in love with your stories and the people and places within them, you’re nothing more than a transcriber of others’ genius, others’ inspiration.
Worse still, you won based on someone else’s merits.
If there’s one thing that I’ve always been adamant about, it’s this: Whether I win or lose, succeed or fail, it will be based on my own merits, and no one else’s. If (oh, awful thought) my books and stories are universally hated, and I am never able to make it as a writer, then at least I know that I failed on my own merits. I cannot imagine cobbling together a story from other sources, having it become a bestseller, and then having to put on a glowing facade in the face of success, all the while knowing that it wasn’t me–it wasn’t my talent–I was a fraud.
No. Never. I would rather be rejected on what I created than lauded on what I stole. I would rather lose with my best shot than win with faked prowess.
And I’ll never, ever, cheat at Words With Friends.