I was a little paranoid.
But I really hated the idea of cheating. Both doing it and having other people trying to cheat off me. Maybe that came from years of being the "smart kid." I did get asked by kids if they could cheat off me. I really did. And it ticked me off because I put in a lot of work and I didn't want others taking credit for it. It seemed like they constantly overlooked or devalued my efforts, asking to have them as their own.
Heck, even when I didn't put in the work I had no desire to cheat. I felt like I should take responsibility for what I did and didn't do, and if that got me a B (yes, that was a disastrous grade at the time) then it was my own dang fault.
Have I ever told you that I was the most boring teenager alive?
I'm not sure what happened to my staunch practice of keeping my eyes on my own paper, because the second I got involved in the online writing community it was kind of like I became the biggest cheater ever. I was constantly looking at other people's papers, constantly in search of other people's answers in hopes that they matched mine.
"Oh, she's doing THIS with her blog/twitterfeed/Facebookpage/etc. Maybe I should do that too? But what if I don't want to? Is what I'm writing on MY paper wrong? It's different from that person's, and that one over there, and it's certainly not as good as Nathan Bransford's. How does he DO that?"
"Dang, that writer only had to query ten agents before she got an offer! I must be doing something wrong...I obviously didn't study enough, having done more like two hundred. Do I suck or what?"
"A book deal in a WEEK? Are you friggin' serious? I thought people said the publishing industry was slow! It was slow when I was on sub...probably because my book was stupid. That must be it. If they really loved it, they'd have read it and given me an offer in a week, too."
You might say, "But, Natalie, that's not really cheating. You're basically saying that reading any publishing news is cheating, but it's just staying up on the business."
Okay, yeah, the analogy isn't perfect, but here's where I attempt to get deep. I may not be cheating off anyone else by thinking these things, but I am cheating myself. Out of joy. Out of pride in my own accomplishments. Out of time spent on my book. And more.
It makes me wonder how I'd have felt if I had cheated when I was younger. Would it have made me feel stupider, seeing what I was missing on the test instead of just trying to answer as much as I could? I bet yes. Would I have spent months tormented by feelings of guilt and inadequacy? Probably. Would I look at my classmates differently, judge them unfairly, having seen how they "measured up" to me but not knowing how much effort got them there? Maybe.
Lately, I've gone back to my uptight teenage roots. I keep saying to myself, "Keep your eyes on your paper. YOUR paper. It's the only one that matters."
I can't tell you how helpful that's been. Not that I have completely cut myself off from the publishing world, but let's just say that I've gone from "cheating" off other writers to "studying" with them. We all know Study Groups can be fun AND educational—and so not cheating. We have so much to learn from each other, and sharing and discussing doesn't equal cheating, as long as when you go to take the test it's all you.
And the biggest secret of all? Unlike the educational system, each test is designed specifically for the taker. Designed to challenge you, teach you, and yes, even make you shine. So in reality, your only competition is yourself.
Now, say it with me: EYES ON YOUR PAPER.