I've been sitting on this blogpost for a while now, mainly because I didn't want to seem sourfaced. But then, after a good afternoon sucking on a grapefruit, I finally figured, what the hell, Bradders, just go for it.
Seven years of writing and organizing have brought me into contact with a lot of writers. I'm glad to report that most of them were amazing. I love writers, oddball, twitchy, socially awkward little things that they are. I'm one myself.
But, there is some writer-behaviour that I don't love. Ridiculous, demanding, diva-style behaviour. Writers with massive egos and chippy shoulders. Writers who believe the world owes them a favour, but that they don't have to do anything to earn it.
Over the past few years I've come into contact with some pretty extraordinary behaviour, and a lot of it has left me slack-jawed. It's not cool when writers hurt other writers or their community, so, I've done a little blog post on ways to be a good literary citizen.
If you all pay attention to it, and abide by my suggestions, you will be making the world a better place. Thank you.
1. Be nice! (especially to editors and contest organizers.)
Most of them aren't getting paid (or maybe some of the smarter ones are, I don't know.) Most editors / organizers Do Stuff because they're interested in a project, and because they want to bring great writing into the world. Most of us are doing it in whatever tiny bit of spare time we have. Please, for the love of God, be nice. Not snippy or mean or cross or whatever. Just nice. Say thankyou. Offer to buy us biscuits.
Otherwise we're just going to think, "Huh, what a jackass. I won't work with him/ her again in a hurry."
2. Be careful about asking for favours when you haven't got any goodwill in the bank.
Most writers are happy to do things for other writers. I know this because I do it myself all the time. Luckily, I've had lots of help from lots of cool people over the years, too, and I'm glad of it. I wouldn't have got to where I am today without it. (Thank you, writer-friends!)
One thing that won't endear you to others though, is if you're the kind of person who's always taking. By that, I mean, you ask for things from others without offering something of equal value in return. For example, please don't go to somebody you barely know, and say "Hey, I've written this 10,000 word fantasy/ horror story with flashing unicorns and sparkly vampires, it's TOTAL GENIUS. I'm entering it for a contest on Tuesday so will you read it this week and give me a critique before the deadline?"
Be reasonable in what you ask of others. Giving critique thoughtfully and helpfully can take ages. It's a real skill and it's a big ask of somebody you don't know.
It's not easy meeting good critique partners, I know that. A good way is by going to other places writers hang out. Go to literary social events, join a writers' circle. I met my first ever critique partner on MySpace, which gives you a clue as to how old I am. Seek out your peers - if you're a beginner writer, try to meet other beginner writers.
Be aware that if you're a beginner writer asking a more experienced writer for critique, any critique you might offer in return may not be an equal exchange. If that's the case, what can you offer instead? A book token? A good dinner? Money?
And whatever you do, make sure you help others. If you don't, you'll pretty quickly become known as the person who takes all the time, and nobody will want to help you at all. Word about life's takers generally spreads pretty quickly, and it won't be long before you've exhausted whatever goodwill you had to begin with.
3. Do stuff for others
Doing stuff for other writers is great! There's nothing other writers like better than a writer who helps writers. Some of the most well-liked and well-respected writers I know do things like: run little magazines, or run contests that get writers their first publications. One of the coolest and most well-liked writer-citizens I know, runs a writers' circle in a part of West Yorkshire that didn't have any writers' groups before.Yeah, I know, it's not easy running a writers group / a literary social / running a contest. That's why people will respect you so hard if you do it, and do it well.
You'll get extra bonus points and goodwill if you show kindness and helpfulness to other writers, when there's not much in it for you.
4. Try not to be a dick (pt. 1)
If somebody is doing you a favour, especially somebody who's very busy (you can assume this of most editors or literary organisers), let them do it in their own time. Don't repeatedly hassle them by email or over social media. It's rude and not cool. Just be gracious, wait patiently, and say thank you afterwards.
5. Don't be a deadweight.
If you get involved in working on a literary project of some type, a shared endeavour, whether it be a live lit night or a book or a festival or whatever, do your share. Don't be unreliable by saying you're going to do something, then not doing it. Do your share, do it well, be enthusiastic, turn up on time, and for God's sake smile. If nothing else, it will make your organizer-friends want to do more projects with you in the future. (see: 3, "Do stuff for others".)
6. Please don't be weird and super-creepy on social media (or: Try not to be a dick, pt. 2)
It can be tempting to approach writers / organisers on social media to ask questions. Fair enough! But, if somebody doesn't get back to you straight away - or if they've answered your question, and you haven't got the answer you wanted - please, don't get all weird. Don't start bombing them with @-replies or a bunch of super-creepy DMs. They are more likely to block you than to pay you attention.
A good rule of thumb is, treat Twitter as you would real life. Don't say things to people on Twitter that you wouldn't say to a person's face. There's nothing you want less than to be marked out as a Person Not To Deal With before a writer / editor / organiser has even met you in real life. Please! Don't be that guy / girl. Just be nice. Not creepy or aggressive or weird. Make yourself seem like the kind of person other people want to be around.
7. Try to be a great writer!
This is last but definitely not least. Work hard on your writing. Read lots of other writers. Buy books from independent presses, because they're the ones that publish the best writers. Go to bookfairs. Practise reading your work out in front of others (7a. Please be courteous and stay within the time limit. It's not a time limit "for others, but not for you". The time limit applies to everybody. This point could also be, "Try not to be a dick, pt. 3".) Don't assume that you're already a genius, because you probably aren't. Keep working, keep writing new stuff, keep trying to learn new techniques and / or styles. Read things that excite you, read things that are popular, read things that make you go "huh, wtf?!" Never stop learning and working and striving and growing.
A Song for Issy Bradley Carys Bray