Skip to content

How to Cheat at Writing

July 5, 2013
Hooters Bikini Contest. Annual bikini contest ...

Using a picture of women in bikinis for an article that isn’t about women in bikinis is probably cheating. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of ways for writers to cheat.  We can plagiarize.  We can write a bunch of fake 5-star reviews for our own books.  We can set up multiple user names and have long conversations on our blogs to make our blogs seem busier than they really are.  We can purchase copies of our own books to improve sales rank.  I’ve thought about using all of those tactics (except for plagiarism… I have my pride). 

The good thing about cheating at writing is that nobody knows what most writers look like.  John Locke (a kind of prolific ebook author) paid people to write 5-star reviews for his books, but if I saw him on the streets I wouldn’t recognize him.  Even if I did recognize him, I wouldn’t do anything to him.  I’m a writer.  I might write a harshly worded blog post about him, but I wouldn’t physically do anything to him.  If John Locke had cheated at poker like he cheated at writing, he would have to fear for his safety.  Writers usually aren’t violent (though we can write great fight scenes).  Poker players are. 

If you have to choose between cheating at poker or cheating at writing, cheat at writing. 

I write this because I’ve just done something that might be considered cheating (but hopefully nobody will pick a fight with me over this). 

A few months ago I wrote a serial narrative (it was a true story with a couple composite characters and a couple composite scenes and a little exaggeration… but not much) called “Long Story.”  It was a story about a story I wrote in high school.  Writing a story about a story is probably a bad idea.  But I’ve had a lot of bad ideas when it comes to Dysfunctional Literacy.  I tried a thing called Dysfunctional Grammar, and it… never mind.  The point is, I took my serial “Long Story,” made a few changes (deblogified it), and have released it as an ebook called The Writing Prompt

I don’t know if it’s considered cheating to write a story on a blog, and then self-publish it under a different name as an ebook.  If it’s cheating, I’m trying to be honest about it.  Maybe I’m plagiarizing myself.  Whether it’s cheating or not, I promise not to review my own books (“They’re f***ing awesome!!!”), and I promise not to buy a bunch of them to improve sales rank. 

What I’ve done isn’t unheard of.  A lot of syndicated writers republish their work in different formats.  Malcolm Gladwell published a book called What the Dog Saw that simply reprinted a bunch of his articles (many of which can be found for free online) from The New Yorker.  The paperback book cost me $16.99 (which is expensive for a paperback, but it’s high quality paper.)    The Writing Prompt is only 99 cents (but it is a lot shorter and maybe not nearly as insightful, and there’s no paper involved). 

Even novels used to be published as serials in newspapers back in the old days (way before my time).  The Three Musketeers (one of my all-time favorite books) was originally published as a serial in French newspapers, and I don’t think anybody accused Alexander Dumas of cheating.  If anybody did, there was probably a good sword fight duel afterward to settle the matter. 

I don’t care if people read “Long Story” on my free blog instead of paying 99 cents for The Writing Prompt.  I’d rather people read my stuff for free than not read it at all.  All of the jokes in my ebook  Best Brand New Jokes Ever! are also on this blog, but they’re scattered all over the place and you have to read a lot of bad jokes (as in poorly written and not funny) to get to the ones that actually work (there are a few where I got it right, and those are the jokes I chose for the ebook). 

If this is cheating, then I guess I cheat when I write.  But I don’t cheat when I play poker. 


  • Plagiarism (really bad)
  • Paying people to write 5-star reviews (pretty bad)
  • Reviewing your own books under different names-sock puppeting (pretty bad)
  • Using pictures of women in bikinis for stories that have nothing to do with women in bikinis (bad)
  • Buying your own books to improve sales rank (bad)
  • Taking your own blog material and releasing it as ebooks with different names (bad?) 

What other ways are there to cheat in writing?  I could probably use a few more new ideas.

  1. pretty sure it’s not cheating. i think you’re okay.
    it’s also not a competition with no winner/loser 🙂

  2. I don’t think you’re cheating.

    Back in the day, I worked for B&N. You learn that publishers cheat often. Especially romance books. If a romance author hits best-seller list, they’ll publish the author’s backlist titles, with new covers, and, often, new titles. Fans think it’s a new book. Some return the book, blaming the bookseller for selling them a book they already read… but, most never return them, and the publishers make more $$. Because that’s what publishing and being an author is all about, right? Making $$…?

  3. Hmm, you could kidnap an author, force him to write a story for you then kill him and take the manuscript to a publisher. That may go a little beyond the scope of “cheating” though.

  4. Is it cheating to take an existing minor character from a series that someone else wrote and write a new story with that character as the main character?

  5. It is arguable that taking a character from someone else’s story/tv show/movie and re-working the idea is just called inspiration. That’s something I’ve heard in interviews from creative people since the dawn of time (or… since I got Much Music as a kid). Basically what they say, is that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I think that’s fair enough. As long as you’re not taking the whole story and writing it as your own almost word for word (or paraphrasing), I don’t see why it’s a big deal.

    As for taking your own stories and re-formatting them, I don’t think that’s cheating.

  6. Charles Dickens did it all the time so I think you’re pretty safe. Not so sure about the gratuitous use of girls in bikinis though: bit French that! (Was trying to attach a pic of a French ad for Playstation which showed a girl with breasts front and back, and the tagline ‘Doublement tactile, doublement excitant’ but it seems a bit shy – I can see why…)

  7. haha nice post

  8. Nah, you’re not cheating at all, DL.

    It’s your work so you can do what you like with it … even embroider it onto your jimjams if you want.

  9. I wonder if it is cheating when you write a post about cheating…. uhmmmmm 😕

  10. I’m in general agreement with the other comments – it’s not cheating.

    Great post – it’s fascinating to see what keeps writers up at night…

  11. Hey! Dysfunctional! Congratulations! I’ve just nominated YOUR BLOG for a Liebster Award. Go back to my post at and follow the instructions to post the Award graphic on your page and to nominate your own selections. All the best in Cyber World! Mimi at

  12. Interesting…

  13. You could end up writing a story so bad you gain legions of brainless fans.

    It’s happened before. Twilight. Luckily, I fixed it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: