Everyone who knows me and follows my blog knows I love to help others. I’ve even gone so far as calling myself “pathologically helpful.” It’s a compulsion for me. *smile*
I have almost 575 writing-related posts on this blog—for free (and I don’t have advertising here, so I don’t make money off my blog either). I regularly answer questions on Facebook, Twitter, or off my Contact page—for free. I offer beat sheets, Scrivener templates, and other writing worksheets—for free. I don’t even require “payment” of an email address to download those worksheets, unlike many other sites.
(Tangent: Did you see the new worksheet I added over the holidays? Ensure your story includes all the essential elements.)
Most people who contact me are appreciative, and I really am happy to help. But there are a few… *sigh*
The Importance of the Writing Community
I’ve written before about the awesomeness of the writing community. Sometimes, having others who understand us—our quirks, our motivations, our neuroses—is all that keeps us going.
I don’t know how writers could succeed without the shared knowledge of the writing community either. The plethora of blog posts on the craft of writing and the publishing industry is worthy of a self-driven, doctorate-level education.
We all start as newbies who don’t know what we’re doing, yet somehow, with the help of other writers and their freely given knowledge and support, we learn, we grow, and we hopefully succeed.
I started there in Newbie Land too. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of other writers and editors, through their blog posts, workshops, craft books, etc. So a big part of why I’m so helpful is to pay it forward to other writers.
What Does “Paying It Forward” Mean?
The writing community can be our ticket to many wonderful things, but to be part of the community, we have to find our place:
- Can we offer insights to others in areas where we’re not the newbie?
- Do we share or retweet good posts we discover that might help others on their path too?
- Can we offer support to other writers through cheerleading or an understanding shoulder?
- Do we have publishing-related skills to offer other writers?
- Can we help out by being a beta reader or critique partner?
- Do we help authors we appreciate with promotion or reviews?
There are countless ways we can “fit in” with the writing community, but I want to draw attention to what those examples all have in common:
A community is about giving and taking,
not just taking.
In other words, the perpetual motion that keeps a community going is the willingness of everyone to pay-it-forward in some way.
Time: Our Most Precious Resource
I’m insanely busy. Like, almost literally insane.
I have a day job, and I write two epic-length blog posts a week. *smile* Plus, to afford publishing (you know, the reason I’m here learning all this stuff I share to begin with), I have two side jobs of offering workshops and editing services.
My writing time is already severely limited by all of that. And I haven’t even touched on the nearly 100 writing-related emails and messages I receive a day, many of which are those requests for help I mentioned. (And that limited writing time hasn’t counted the importance of making time for my family either.)
So when someone requests help, they’re really asking for my most precious resource: my time.
How to Annoy a Fellow Writer in One Easy Step
Most requests I receive from writers give something in return. They mention how they shared my work, wrote a review, or something else to help me. Or at the very least, they show appreciation for me, my blog, my worksheets, my books, my time… Something.
But there are a few who approach me as though they’re entitled to my time. As though I have nothing else better to do than give them exactly what they want when they want it.
*bzzt* Wrong. No one is entitled to my time.
3 Tips for How to Avoid Being a Taker
Every time a request for help irritates me, the reason I’m annoyed comes down to the same issue. The writer asking for help comes across as a taker.
Yet I also know that some writers are a bit on the social misfit side. (I’m a panic-attack prone introvert, myself.) Or maybe they’re from a country with different expectations. Or maybe English isn’t their first language.
So I’m willing to give writers the benefit of the doubt about many things. Just in case they don’t intend to be a taker or don’t realize they’re being a taker, let’s see if we can come up with a few tips to help…
#1: Don’t Take Advantage of Givers
Sometimes the requests I receive assume that I owe them tech support on why they can’t download or open one of my worksheets or templates. *sigh* 100% of the time, it’s user error. So while I can try to help—if I have time—it’s in no way my responsibility.
I don’t owe anyone my time to fix their problem on worksheets they’re receiving for free. Yet given the snotty attitude of some of these requests, you’d think I’d committed fraud.
Other requests expect or demand more of me. They want me to deliver more writing tools for their niche interest. I’m happy to develop more beat sheets or writing tools if I think it will be helpful to many of my readers (as in, downloaded hundreds or thousands of times), but I’m not going to spend time on a project that only a handful might use.
#2: Don’t Waste Others’ Time
Sometimes those requests want me to answer a question that I’ve already answered on the blog. “How do I find beta readers?” is a common one.
Obviously, if they’re asking me that question, they know enough about me and my blog to think I’d have the answer. Yet they haven’t bothered to use the search field in the sidebar of my blog for the purpose of looking up that post.
Guess what? That search field is how I look up posts to answer questions like that. (It’s shocking, I know, but I don’t have the links of all my 550+ posts memorized. *snicker*)
If someone searches and asks if I have a post about something they can’t find, that’s obviously a different matter (and might even give me ideas for future posts!). But being too lazy to first try to find the answer themselves is a variation of “Let me Google that for you.”
#3: Be Appreciative or Give Back in Some Way
Even in an example like the beta reader question above, if they don’t seem like a taker (i.e., they’re at least appreciative in some way), I’ll answer with that link above. Yes, that still takes time because I have to look up the link, but if they’re giving back in some way, I’m willing to do it.
The difference between a taker and a giver can be just a few words:
“Hi, I’m trying to find where I can get a beta reader.”
“Hi, I love your blog! Can you direct me to where I could find beta readers? Thanks!”
Seriously. This doesn’t have to be difficult. Yet I receive messages like that first example All. The. Time.
(Interestingly, messages like the first example are often written in text speak, with bad grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. Now, maybe they’re non-English speakers, but given their choice to skip the step of first searching on their own, it’s even easier to think they can’t be bothered to spend the time writing a real message. And funnily enough, writers can be judgmental about things like the written word. *grin* So abusing the language doesn’t make a good impression when asking a favor—which is what asking me to spend my time really is. Why should I be bothered to spend the time when they weren’t?)
Why would I give up my time—my most important and limited resource—to do anything for someone who can’t even say “thanks”? Just because they asked the question doesn’t mean I owe them an answer.
Takers Burn Bridges in the Writing Community
The writing community can be a great way to network and make connections. Many of us rely on other writers for beta reading or critique partner feedback. Countless authors get their start by making friends within the community, which can lead to connections with agents/publishers or book review bloggers, etc.
Like most people, I tend to help my friends more than strangers. I also tend to help people that I see active in the community or who are friends of my friends.
I have a very limited amount of time to do anything, and I’m behind on every project possible. So something has to fall off my to-do list. That means, bye, bye, takers.
Friendships are a two-way street, and so are the connections in the writing community. We have to give if we expect to receive.
Those who are takers will find themselves left out. They won’t have access to other writers for feedback help, they won’t get answers from the experts on their questions, and they won’t have the connections or friendships that can help us succeed.
The writing community is awesome and wonderful. It’s filled with writers happy to pay it forward or to pull up others behind them. It is like a perpetual motion machine in many ways. But we all must play a part in keeping the gears greased. *smile*
P.S. I wrote a follow-up post with more information on recognizing takers and their manipulative techniques. The better we can recognize them, the better we can set boundaries. *smile*
Have you run into takers in the writing community? What made them a taker? How did you react or respond to them? Do you think I’m wrong for my policy of ignoring and/or not helping takers? Do you have any other tips for how to avoid being a taker?Pin It