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January 5, 2016

Writer Karma: Don’t Be a Taker

Many hands reaching to grab with text: Are You Giving or Just Taking?

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.

Screen shot of search field

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.”

vs.

“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?

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Leticia

I send my sympathies to you Jami because in online life and in real life I also meet entitled takers who have no second thoughts whatsoever, so I understand . I’ve been avoiding this kind of people since my time is short even for the people I want to devote my time to. It’s even more annoying when such people pick an extremely busy time, like one day before you are going to travel for example and want to appear in between with their own endless taking that has nothing to do with your busy schedule.

Beks

I think you absolutely make valid points. Imagine if EVERYONE was a taker. How exhausting would that be? I know I’d want to take my crayons and play elsewhere, if that was the case. Your first priority with your writing is YOUR WRITING.
I’m thankful to have found your blogs and others like it, and I only hope I can give back one day. The more I dive into the world of writing, the more I realize there’s so much I don’t know, and I learn more because of people like you who share what you know with the world.

Angela Ackerman

Thank you, thank you, (a million times thank you!) for posting this. Many people are good about paying it forward or at the very least, respecting a person’s time and mental energy. Yet it is amazing how others are not…enough that posts like this are necessary. And know how very much I value your insight, helps and friendship! <3

Aura Eadon

I’m sorry you have to deal with such people. Even though I don’t write romance, I find your blog a treasure trove, and I am so grateful for it and you. You are helping by posting all these very helpful articles. That is enough of your time taken. Thank you, I hope you have less of those people in the future to deal with.

Daniela Ark

Wow. It is incredible that people would actually think you HAVE to help them use the resources you so generously created and shared! SMH! You are indeed incredible generous with your time and knowledge. I’m a big fan of your blog and though I do try to pay forward all the blessings and help I have received (I help promote authors and bloggers, serve as beta reader, etc.) I’ll try to make sure I also say thank directly the people that actually helped me more often to. So let me start by saying THANK YOU Jami! and I’ll try to make more evident how much I love your posts 🙂

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Preach it Jami!

*looks for Likex1000 button*

I’m ticked at myself today for letting a ‘taker’ eat 6 hours of my yesterday. Ugh.

-Jay

Serbella McGee
Serbella McGee

One of my ex-writer friends certainly fits the taker mold. She was also the type who enjoyed sabotaging others. According to her there was only one correct genre, the one she wrote for. Everything else was just fluff and filler. She felt entitled to other people’s time, but if she were approached for advice or help she just couldn’t. She discounted other people’s situations but she demanded help for hers. It was all hands on deck. I helped her gain the courage to put her work out there and suddenly she informed me that I didn’t have her success because I didn’t write like her. Here it is years later and she doesn’t write anymore. That woman stabbed every writer she ever came in contact with in the back. She hung herself with her own rope.

After dealing with her I did become a little more cautious helping people. Writers do have issues but the ones with the real issues soon make themselves apparent. I don’t blame you one bit for ignoring the takers, Jami. Life’s too short.

Carradee

Free and cheap prices attract control freaks, the type who feel entitled to service from others. It sucks.

Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who hang out there. 🙂

Lucy Lit

Great post as always, Jami! I appreciate the amount of work you put into your blog and templates. (Many thanks!) So sorry you have to deal with the takers. The only advice I have is for people to stop and “think” before they hit the Send button. Until then, keep protecting your boundaries. 🙂

Anne R. Allen

This is such a timely and must-needed post, Jami! I hope a lot of people will take heed.

It’s also good to remind new writers that “giving” a free ebook to a high-profile blogger and then demanding a review or a critique is NOT giving. I now refuse all books from new authors. If a book interests me, I’ll buy it.

I give a huge amount of time free to new writers on my blog. I can’t also offer free editing and review services as well. I need some time to earn a living. Plus I have enough reading material on my Kindle for the next 25 years.

I also am not a book review blogger, which anybody who looked at my blog would know. So here’s a reminder for new authors: read a blog before you contact a blogger and don’t send out “free” books in order to guilt-trip people into reviewing you. We would all like more reviews, but that’s not the way to get them.

Ria
Ria

I just want to say thank you Jami. I’d like to be able to say that your beat sheets (which are awesome!) are the best thing that’s ever happened to struggling writers, but they aren’t.

You however, the actual YOU, are one of those rare best things. Your sense of real caring does come through I assure you. I can’t say every single article has helped me, but the ones that have inevitably result in one of those little “Ah ha!” moments I’ve come to cherish.

Like Daniela, I want to make sure I remember to directly thank the people who help me. Let’s call it a New Year’s resolution worth keeping and I can’t think of a better person to start with than you.
Thank you again and have a wonderful New Year!

Maia Sepp

Great post, Jami! I’m a huge fan of your blog, and I mention your beat sheets (which are awesome) to writers all the time. I run a small beta reading service, and while 99.99999% of the people I deal with are fantastic, there are some who are just…not. So I can sympathize. Thanks for all you do, you are incredibly generous. And thanks for mentioning your editing services, somehow I’d missed that.
All the best for 2016!
Maia

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh, yeah, I’m also quite judgmental like the typical writer when it comes to spelling and grammar, haha. I think I mentioned that I’m on Wattpad, and once, there was this girl who randomly messaged me with something like “I see you like Pokemons. I like Pikachu”, except with some more spelling and grammatical errors that I don’t remember. (I’m such a grammar and spelling Nazi that I don’t even recall what their errors were. XD Like repressed memories.) Also, this girl made me feel she was just talking to me for the sake of talking, or she wanted to get something from me (e.g. become her follower), because one, you don’t say “Pokemons”, you say “Pokemon”! (Yeah I seem to be a Pokemon grammar Nazi as well, ahahaha) Plus, Pikachu is a Pokemon that is quite widely known, so telling a passionate Pokemon fan like me that she likes Pikachu, is akin to saying “I don’t know anything about Pokemon. I just want to chat you up or gain your favor and future help.” If she mentioned a Pokemon fact that non-Pokemon fans would likely not know, like “my favorite Pokemon is Gengar as well! Ghost types are the best!” or maybe even with an added “I’m looking forward to reading your fanfic on the Gengar Twins when you start posting it in the future. 🙂 ” (since I mentioned this WIP in my author bio) ; then I would be more likely to think that she genuinely loves…  — Read More »

Anne R. Tan

I think it’s worst when you have popular blog. I first started out as a blogger before turning to fiction. It was the exact same thing. I would get request for information all the time when they could have found their answer with a simple google search or a search within the blog. I eventually created a FAQ page of all the recurring questions with linking to the blog post. Then, I just direct visitors to the FAQ question first.

Annie

Glynis Jolly

I do hope I am not a taker, although there are a couple of times in the cobwebs of my brain where I remember not being as gracious as I should. If I remember right, those couple of times had been through emails with you. If I have acted neglectful to you and/or your higher knowledge of the writing craft, please accept my apology. I did not do it intentionally, although that really doesn’t make a difference in how it’s may have effected you.

I certainly want to pay forward, but I’m not sure if I’ll even get to the point where I have something worthwhile to give. Getting past the newbie stage seems to take forever.

Carradee

If you think you might be a taker, odds are you aren’t one. The root of takers’ attitude is an underlying sense of entitlement, that others naturally owe them. Others can display “taking” traits sometimes, especially if they were raised in an environment where it was their “normal”, but if you aren’t a taker yourself, you’ll actually so consideration and respect for others and what they have done, instead of demanding more or something else of them.

Or at least that’s my experience. 🙂

Lana Lea Short
Lana Lea Short

The group of writers I have met since I started my writing journey have been kind and helpful with my newbie questions. Recently I had a chance to have coffee and answer questions for a new friend and new writer. My biggest fear was what could I contribute to her, with only one book under my belt…I am still in the learn stages myself. Long story short, we had such a fun time talking about our experiences in writing and the next steps to accomplice our writing goals. Jami, people like you and my other author friends make the road to writing a lot smoother for many of us NEWBIES. I Love that you care to help and I am thankful for your wisdom.

Christina Hawthorne

A post that’s completely justified, Jami. You have my support. Sadly, I don’t doubt you run into so many demanding people, but it still amazes given the level of your generosity. I’ve been the recipient many times and I thank you for each and every instance. Your sheets are a gold mine. I can’t imagine demanding more.

The takers abound and they aren’t restricted to any genre. I’ve had many on FB and Twitter hound me to read their posts or buy their books. I’ve run into others elsewhere who believe as a writer I should beta read for them, but they’re too busy to do the same. Nice try. No thanks.

I could do better, though I’ve done a fair amount of unreciprocated favors as many, like you, have done for me. Sadly, the takers seem to multiply like those on Twitter who auto send an ad the instant I return a follow. Is it so difficult to understand that fellow writers are, literally, fellow writers and not servants or a captive audience?

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

I get what you’re saying your post, Jami, but I guess my writer path has obstacles yours don’t, or at least you can better deal with them. I think at times I’ve been a taker without realizing at the time, but looking back, I see the signs from reading this post. It might go back your recent post on learning curves, where you feel you’ve nothing to offer, esp. when you need help far more than those you’re turning to for help. Or at least the help they need is beyond your current ability/skillset to help with. For example, I try to give alternate (and I hope not rude) opinions that coincide what you share with us, and putting more of a human face to an often overly pragmatic/academic ways not everyone can access. As much as you and other writers say we can always offer something no matter how “new” we are to the writing world, sometimes it’s not that simple to know what that is for us. A lot of suggestions I get don’t work for either my life at this time, or my skillset, or even living in the same town so I could “babysit kids” of parents/writers of which I know many (I rarely meet single authors or any close to my age who aren’t “megastars” themselves)  and throughout my 10 YEARS on this journey, that’s still a pain point for me. But that has nothing to do with you. I’m just being honest about where…  — Read More »

Laurie Evans

Oh yes. I’ve had to stop myself from helping takers. I need time for *my* work. I try very hard to be a giver and a sharer!

I love it when people ask “Can you fix my kindle?” Um…no.

Maurine
Maurine

Another good post. Thank you for saying this. It also needs to be said in other areas where people expect you to do the work for them besides with writing. I appreciate your willingness to be frank in topics that need to be brought up.

I’ve learned a lot from your blog posts. Thank you for being so generous to share your knowledge with everyone. I’m trying to figure out what I can contribute to the writing community that isn’t being done by everyone else. I have a few ideas, things that I’ve noticed missing from most blogs or web sites.

Elle Love
Elle Love

Hi Jami,
Time is precious to me and so is your blog. I read it every time there is a new post. I appreciate all you do to help newbie writers like me improve our craft. I wouldn’t be where I am without your advice and experience. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with the world. You are a Giver!

I just un-followed so many people on Wattpad because they are not givers, and I am tired of wasting my time with people who do not believe in “paying it forward.” I was gullible and got taken advantage of a lot, but not anymore. I shared this post on Twitter, Facebook, and Wattpad because it expresses exactly how I feel about takers. Bye- bye Takers!

Thanks again for everything you do!

Gloria Chadwick

Hmm. Interesting. You talk about people being takers and not giving. Well, how about when someone visits your blog and leaves a comment. That makes them a giver, right?
But then the blogger can’t be bothered to visit the commentor’s blog and leave a comment in return. That makes them a taker, right?
So, in essence, the person who blogs and doesn’t return the common courtesy of a return comment is a taker and doesn’t follow the etiquette of blogging.
Just sayin’

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Thank you Gloria for such a spot on example of how “takers” behave.

Expecting someone to go to your site and post a comment when you were not required to post here is such a fantastic illustration of entitlement.

I am in awe of your skills. 🙂

Angela Ackerman

Hi Gloria,

I can see why it would be frustrating if you continually left comments on a blog but didn’t get comments in return, but the reality is that with a blog the size of Jami’s, commenting on every visitor’s blog in return is impossible. Literally all Jami would be doing each day is commenting on blogs, not creating new writing worksheets for people (free), not offering her stellar advice (hard won through much study and practice) or to actually have time to write.

It is unfortunate, but once you reach a certain point with blogs or social media, you have to make a hard choice about time. Do you spend hours each day thanking every person who retweets you, or spend that time curating strong articles and links you know your audience will enjoy? Likewise, would you rather benefit from Jami’s wisdom through all she offers readers, or get blog comments? I know which I’ll choose.

Carradee

But then the blogger can’t be bothered to visit the commentor’s blog and leave a comment in return. That makes them a taker, right?

Not at all. The blogger isn’t forcing the commenter to hand over a comment. The commenter’s offering it. The blogger is accepting it.

“By force or artifice” is part of the definition of “to take”, so you had to play some logical fallacy and brainwashing games to even make that statement I quoted.

Shame on you.

So, in essence, the person who blogs and doesn’t return the common courtesy of a return comment is a taker and doesn’t follow the etiquette of blogging.

The only “etiquette of blogging” is that nobody owes anybody diddly-squat, so you’ve redefined that, too.

Do some folks follow a policy of commenting on the blogs of folks who comment on their own? Yes. But that’s the bloggers’ choices to have and follow that policy. The commenters aren’t owed it.

dolorah

Some people are just takers, with no concept of giving back. Its a shame that those few sometimes ruin good things for others.

I have read and made use of some of your “free” advice and tips, and I am much appreciative of those times. You are right, this is a community, and exchanges are very helpful.

Let me just say thanks for all the ‘taking’ I’ve accessed. And, if there is ever anything I can do in return (host a blog tour or something), just contact me 🙂

Kim

Great post! I love and appreciate your blog very much!

I’m tired just reading all that you do in a week. Whew. 🙂

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I have to say, I’m stunned that anyone would give you attitude. With everything you do help people, I’m genuinely incredulous that anyone would have cause for complaint.

I haven’t done much myself in the way of giving. I’ve been a beta reader for my best friend and if I’m on the NaNo boards I try to offer some input in the Reference Desk. So far that’s the extent of my giving!

I swear some people are allergic to search engines. My mother received a suspicious letter telling her she’d won on a lottery. She sat on it for two days, worrying whether or not it was genuine and then rang me to see if it was a scam. I told her the first thing she should have done was Google it and in the end I did it myself and emailed her the link. It drives me nuts and it must be so much more frustrating for you, especially when you’ve also gone to the trouble of adding detailed tags to your posts!

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