Professional behavior amongst writers

A view of my office setup….

I confess to a particular perspective when it comes to contemplating professionalism in any career. Years ago, when I was majoring in Recreation and Park Management, one of our instructors gave us a stern look and firmly said, “Always act like a reasonable and prudent professional.”

She strongly stressed the reasonable and prudent aspects of the phrase, and I’ve found that this attitude works very well in all phases of any career.

I guess that’s why I get so gobsmacked by what I consider to be non-professional behavior amongst certain prima donna sorts of the writing profession–a behavior which is not limited to those who have perhaps earned the right to behave as if the world owes them fealty.

One thing I learned early on as a writer is that the writing world, especially once you establish yourself in one corner of it, is very, very small. If you’re dealing with traditional publishing, especially in these days where the Big Five are careening toward becoming a single entity, this is particularly true. Editors, other writers, and agents gossip. There’s a quiet list of people who are difficult to work with–for whatever reasons. Talent can only carry a person so far, and I do know of situations where a more work-focused writer has nabbed publicity slots made available by the failure of a more-acclaimed and less-reasonable author to make their deadlines. But even in self-publishing you run into the situation where you can earn a bad reputation by not fulfilling obligations and promises.

So meeting deadlines unless you’ve been hit with health or family issues is one aspect of being a professional writer. Doesn’t matter if those deadlines are self-imposed or external. They count.

Prudent also applies to how a writer treats other people. There are, unfortunately, a set of writers out there who are a.) extremely competitive and view writing as a competition and b.) believe that acting like an edgelord and attacking/mocking others gains them more visibility and more eyeballs. This perspective isn’t just limited to up and coming writers. We have many sad examples of award-winning, best-selling writers who behave in this manner. Or of cliques of writers who band together to mock someone’s behavior for…no real reason, except to mob someone they want to exclude.

Problem is, such behavior, especially when it is punching down on someone who isn’t as prominent, or is attacking entire subgroups of people, ends up backfiring in the long run. There’s one best-selling author who I won’t name (unnecessary,  honestly) who has done serious damage to their reputation and continues to do so. That person is sufficiently prominent that they will probably never come face-to-face with the consequences of their stance, but–they’ve lost readers and future sales.

Sniping and attacking others in a failing attempt to elevate their own visibility is a frequent tactic used by writers who view most, if not all, other writers as competitors. Or they see themselves as gatekeepers of a sort. This is a kind of behavior that can be encouraged by participation in certain types of critique groups, where tearing apart others’ work is seen as a virtue. I’ve seen it in action too many times.

I have problems with the competitive attitude toward writing, in spite of being part of several competitions and having earned a couple of semifinalist placements.

First of all, no one develops their writing skill in a vacuum. NO ONE.

Secondly, each writer has an individual voice, and your reader may not be my reader. Or your reader may have consumed everything you’ve written, and will be happy to find other writers who resonate with them.

Thirdly, I have found that a cooperative attitude opens a lot more doors than a competitive attitude. I’ve personally found more opportunities and advancement through cooperation with others.

Nothing in particular has kicked off this particular set of musings–just a number of incidents over the past year, some personal, some observed. Am I perfect? Oh hell no. But as part of my striving to be a better person and better writer, I’ve found that cooperation goes one hell of a lot further than competition in the writing world.

The thing to keep in mind is that we are a community in the long run. Someone helped us get to where we are now–and once we’ve achieved a modicum of success, it behooves us to help others.

Because you never know. That beginner you help today?

Might end up making it big, and giving you a much-needed opportunity in the future.

One never knows.

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