I’ve been giving thought to an ugly little truth of this industry, but it’s taken me a while to really pull the words together since this is a nuanced little bastard.
Let’s start outside of the writing industry and use an example from real life.
We’re walking in line, complete strangers, to the same destination. Pre-pandemic, obviously. I reach a door before you, open it, and nod you in. You thank me and hooray, an exchange of pleasantries has occurred.
Maybe some time later in the day or week, this favor is returned as you do the same for me.
Look at us, normal humans with good manners.
OK – great. We went tit for tat on something nice and easy. But those favors can grow, right? Maybe I help you carry something and one day you do something for me in a similar capacity b/c we live in the same building or whatever. Extend the social relationship to an actual friendship and this will happen often. We’ll do each other solids and that can be really nice.
But the big question within all of these exchanges: do I or the other party feel owed?
This is where that truth steps in. Entitlement. The feeling being owed either by virtue of a relationship or because of past action. Is it nice to see a return of a favor or kindness? Hell yes.
But is it owed to us?
Is it especially owed to us in a professional capacity, i.e. writing?
And should that expectation be the basis of our professional or personal relationships in this industry?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had many writers in my life that have done me massive kindness. Whether it’s been words of encouragement, a drink on them, a pair of extra eyes on a project or query – I’ve always been grateful for those favors. And because of that, I’ve tried very hard to pass on kindness the best way I can – admittedly, I’m the type that can be very apprehensive to put myself out there entirely, a mix of Bronx upbringing with a sort of kind of terrible family, but WHATEVER. What I mean is that I try to pay it forward and I always ask myself a very big question when I do:
Do I expect anything in return for this?
Because we’re human and it’s not always possible to not associate a return on investment, I think it’s fair to ask myself about my own motives. A means of reviewing whether I’m being level-headed or meeting expectations I’ve made of myself.
And while all that is so fine, dandy, and noble there’s the other half of that equation: what will others expect of me if I move forward?
That part can freeze me up something fierce. We’ve all been burned. We’ve all had those instances where a relationship in these circles evaporates once you’re not reviewing or podcasting or no longer hold the same intangible cache you did a year before. It sucks and it does color the experience in ways that can leave a person feeling used or cynical.
So the nasty little truth: the root of that cynicism. The people who do believe these relationships MUST be beneficial (obviously weighted towards their side of the scale, but still…)
What do we do about that?
I have no idea.
All I know is we have to fight for our passion. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable because the purpose of folks like that is to take ultimately bleed us dry and swipe us off the board. In their mind, this is a competition but they know they are incapable of competing in any fair way, so they entrench themselves and hoard whatever they can, providing kindness until that kindness no longer bares any more fruit.
No solutions, I know. I’ve offered nothing in this exchange of my thoughts for your reading.
Or maybe one. Corny, but true at the end of the day. Be as kind as you can until you can’t. Nothing new, but I think we need to hear that sometimes; to get permission to hold the line against folks who will habitually try to step over.