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January 12, 2016

Writer Sanity: Recognizing Takers & Setting Boundaries

Old West "wanted" poster with text: Takers Who Don't Give Back

Last week, I challenged writers to think about how they’re giving back to the writing community. The writing community, whether on our blogs, writing forums, social media, or elsewhere, is great and wonderful—it can be the difference between sanity and despair in a solitary job like writing—but it needs our help to thrive.

The writing community requires us to give and take, not just take. If everyone only took from others, no one would be left to give, and the community would die.

Yet no matter what I recommend, there will be takers infecting our community. We’ve probably run across those types among our family, friends, coworkers, roommates, etc., so of course the writing community isn’t immune.

Since we will run into those who only take, we have to learn how to recognize them for what they are. Let’s explore what makes a taker a taker, and why we need to be able to set limits to keep them outside of our boundaries. *smile*

Why Is It Important to Recognize Takers?
Part One: Limitations are Necessary

If you’re anything like me, it can be hard to say no to people. Maybe we’re people-pleasers, or maybe we empathize and want to help. Either way, takers take advantage of our reluctance.

After my last post, my friend Angela Ackerman posted this image on my Facebook wall—”Givers have to set limits because takers never do”:

Givers have to set limits because takers never do

It’s absolutely true. Takers will take and take and then take some more.

We all have to set limits for life in general, and that goes double for dealing with takers. We need to decide what we’ll let others get away with or what we’re willing to do.

If we recognize someone as a taker, maybe we can better avoid them or tell them no. It might even be easier for us to resist their manipulations and stick to those boundaries we’ve set. *fingers crossed*

Why Is It Important to Recognize Takers?
Part Two: We Will Only Get Busier

The reality of being a writer is that our time will always get more precious. No matter how busy we think we are now, it gets worse. (Depressing, I know.)

There’s a reason many critique groups and writing forums are made up of non-published authors. The further along we are on the publishing path, the more we have to drop from our lists of “things to do.”

I haven’t watched a TV show in years, and the only way I can read books for pleasure is in stolen minutes when I’m waiting for something else. (No joke—I get in a page while my computer boots every morning.)

I still take the time to write two epic-length blog posts a week (each of which take most of a day after day-job stuff) and reply to every comment here in appreciation for my readers (sometimes that’s another day). But I’m no longer able to do other things, such as thanking people for tweets sharing my posts.

I feel guilty about everything I’d like to do but can’t. However, I simply don’t have the time. (Believe me, I wish I did. I hate feeling guilty. *smile*)

Yet I could spend every waking hour of every day on email and still not reach inbox-zero. Ditto for keeping up with writing forums, all social media, or the blogs of my friends. Etc., etc.

In other words, I have about 6 or 7 days worth of stuff to do in every 24 hours, so I don’t have time for most “nice to do”s and way-too-many “have to do”s. If I do make time for a “nice to do,” that often means a “have to do” gets bumped. Usually that’s sleep.

Between the stress, burnout, lack of sleep, and guilt, it sucks sometimes, quite frankly. So I don’t have time for takers—even if I wanted to tolerate their crap.

What Makes a Taker Different from Someone Asking for Help?

In my previous post, some of my commenters worried that they might be takers. As my friend Carradee replied to one, “If you think you might be a taker, odds are you aren’t one.”

Yes, we all ask for help sometimes—we’re not superheroes who can do everything ourselves. We might even be so desperate that we really hope for and need a yes answer.

But those of us who aren’t takers give appreciation or give back to the community in other ways. We don’t expect others to do things for us just because we want it or ask for it. We’re capable of accepting no for an answer.

On the other hand, most takers will never think, suspect, or worry that they’re a taker. They simply feel entitled to take whatever they want, expect that they’ll get whatever they’re convinced they “deserve” or are “owed,” and demand that they get it in the exact way they want—in the timeframe they want it.

Their attitude comes down to entitlement and not respecting others’ lives and boundaries. Think of toddlers and how they believe the world revolves around them.

They’re not considerate enough to understand that we have other commitments and limited time. They want what they want—end of story. So not only do they not give in return, but as Angela’s Facebook post said, no matter what we gave them, it would never be enough.

The Taker Mentality Is Related to an Abuser Mentality

Takers always want more because…why not? They have no respect for us, our time, our limitations, our needs, etc. They won’t stop taking until they’re made to stop.

Then, just like a toddler, they tend to ignore our refusal, or pout, complain, or throw accusations to try to get their way. But more consciously than a toddler, their feigned unawareness and other reactions are often purposefully manipulative.

The techniques some of them use to manipulate others are similar to the psychological tricks of abusers. The thing about takers isn’t just that they’re trying to get what they want (we all do that to some extent), but that they’re trying to control us to get what they want.

While a non-taker might ask for something but leave an “out”—“I’ll completely understand if you can’t do it”—a taker doesn’t want to give us that out. They want to maintain control and force our help.

So the easiest way to not be a taker? In addition to the tips from last week, give people an out and always accept no for an answer. If we truly respect others and are considerate of their time and limitations, that’s an easy-peasy step to keep us from the Dark Side.

Three Techniques of Abusers Takers

My statement that takers are similar to abusers might seem extreme. After all, maybe they’re just selfish or oblivious.

In that previous post, I shared tips for how we can avoid being a taker, such as:

  • not taking advantage of givers,
  • not wasting others’ time, and
  • being appreciative or giving back.

For most of us, those reminders would be all we needed to ensure we’re not a taker. But unfortunately, those who are takers probably wouldn’t recognize themselves, and many of them do far more than simply be inconsiderate.

Those additional lines they cross are where they can have commonalities with abusers. For each of the techniques below, I’m also going to highlight how they’re used by abusers in relationships so we can see how the ideas are related.

There are many manipulative techniques, and yes, we’ve probably all unconsciously used some in our lives, but in the writing world, these are the three most common techniques of takers that I’ve seen:

#1 Guilt Trip:

  • “I can’t find beta readers, so if you don’t help me, I’ll have no one.”

This is the most common technique, and possibly the least manipulative, just because we’re usually pretty good at recognizing it (due to seeing it so often) and because many who use guilt trips do so on behalf of another cause, not just for selfish reasons. For example, contests do need volunteers to judge, forums do need moderators, etc.

It’s not wrong to ask for help (and I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t use guilt trips on their kids occasionally *smile*). For many things, we don’t know unless we ask.

But a request for help doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) include a guilt trip. Someone who is simply asking to discover the answer will be considerate enough to offer an out and be willing to accept no for an answer.

In the relationship world, an abuser-taker might accuse someone of being a “tease” if they kiss but say no to sex, or they might say, “If you loved me, you’d do x.” That accusation or ultimatum is a guilt trip.

#2 Tit-for-Tat:

  • “I sent you a free book, so you owe me a review.”

Takers will often pretend to give, but their “gift” has strings attached. They’re giving only so they can claim they’re owed.

On Facebook, some authors will “Like” another author’s page and expect or demand a Like in return. I’ve even heard of authors sending a free book (that the recipient never asked for) simply so they can demand a review later.

On my previous post, one comment implied that I owed a comment on the blogs of every visitor who comments here. (As though a short comment “equaled” everything I’ve given here and left me owing even more?)

That’s not how giving works. I give away all my knowledge in blog posts and writing tools with no strings, no expectations, and no demands. (I don’t even require an email or newsletter signup to get those tools.)

While I’d love it if every visitor bought my books (bestseller list, watch out! *smile*), I certainly don’t expect anything of the sort. And with the traffic I get, I wouldn’t be able to read, much less reply to, comments if every blog reader left one.

I give because I love to give. If we’re giving with only a thought to what we’ll receive in return, that’s not really giving. Giving isn’t about having ulterior motives.

In relationships, we see the same tit-for-tat technique. Ever hear of the idea, “I bought you dinner, so you now owe me sex”? Bingo. Trying to make us obligated to do something just because they “gave” is manipulation.

#3 Foot-in-the-Door:

  • “Do you have time for a quick question?” *answers question* *taker then spends the next hour asking followup question after followup question*

A huge percentage of the messages I get via Facebook fall into this category. (So if I ever seem leery when contacted by Facebook, this is why.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone claims/thinks they have a quick question, and then they turn it into an extended conversation with the questions getting deeper and more specific to their story. Um, that’s a consulting session, which is a paid gig for editors.

I understand the desire to ask questions and get answers, and believe it or not, I don’t enjoy charging people for things. I want to give. I want to answer those questions. In fact, those conversations are often fun for me in many ways. But…

All the time I spend in that conversation is time I’m not spending doing my own work. Editors charge for consulting sessions for a reason. They need to compensate for their time and make people appreciate and respect that time.

Some of those Facebook conversations give me an out and ask whether I have time to explain more. But takers know that many of us feel uncomfortable saying no, so they purposely don’t give us an out, thus trying to manipulate us into continuing to meet their expectations.

In the relationship world, many abusive relationships start normal as well. But then, assuming us like the myth of the frog that won’t jump out of a pot of boiling water if the change is gradual enough, an abusive partner starts chipping away at the sense of what’s normal or acceptable. A snide remark here and a blaming session there results in taking away a person’s sense of self.

Uh-oh, Am I a Bad Person?

Just because we might recognize ourselves in some of these behaviors doesn’t automatically mean we’re a “bad” person. For example, we all do a mutually agreed upon tit-for-tat every time we exchange work with other authors for critiquing or beta reading. These behaviors can be harmless (or relatively so).

I’ve probably accidentally cornered someone via the “foot in the door” technique simply because I was enthusiastic about a topic. And years ago, I had to unlearn the skills from being raised by a champion guilt-tripper. (Love you, Mom!) *smile*

Again, the difference is whether we’re considerate and respectful of others or whether our goal is to force our desired outcome:

  • Do we avoid using these behaviors consciously, or do we justify or rationalize our purposeful manipulations?
  • Do we recognize that others don’t owe us anything, or do we feel we have a right to their time, energy, or efforts?
  • Do we acknowledge to them that they have a choice, or do we make sure we don’t give them an out?
  • Do we take no for an answer, or do we strengthen our guilt trip? Etc., etc.

Unfortunately, there are people who fall into those latter categories in the writing community. Some are skilled enough with manipulation to be considered an abuser.

But if we remember that no one is entitled to our time and that we’re allowed to set limits, hopefully we’ll be able to maintain our boundaries even when faced with the most selfish taker. They might not value our time, but we need to. Our time can be the most precious ingredient of our dreams. *smile*

Have you worried that you might be a taker? Did this post help clarify the difference between asking for help and being a taker? Do you agree that takers can use similar techniques as abusers? Have you seen any of these techniques? Have you seen other manipulative techniques?

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

First off, thanks for sharing what you do on this blog, Jami, and believe me, I do appreciate, esp. you’re helping me decide I need to take a break from publishing, but I’m still writing, it’s just for me now, though that’s HARD for me because I do want to share some of my work to others, but I need to get better with the “Please myself” thing, which I can do in other areas of my life, but writing’s not been one of them (LOL). So I’ll be more focused in learning that lesson now. I’m glad I’m not a taker in general, but I know I’ve unmeaningly done some of things outlined in this post I’ve done in the past. When possible I apologize, and try to make up for those incidents, if that’s not possible, I resolve to be better the next time. One thing I know I don’t do is ask “Quick Questions” (As my comments here imply) so I avoid asking/answering questions on social media (esp. Facebook) because it’s a big block of info all at once, and that overwhelms most people. Part of that’s because I LOVE talking about the topic and get carried away-creating a “*TMI” situation (*Too Much Information for those unversed in internet speak). It takes a LOT of effort for me to be quick and concise, which is why I don’t take part in many Twitter chats, as the short character count coupled with the fast pace of said chats…  — Read More »

Julie
Julie

The first thing that came to mind after your ending question in your post, was “Telemarketers”. Oh, man, I have been on the end of a telemarketer call where it was seriously impossible to get out of the conversation simply because the telemarketer was *so good* at their job, they were an expert at keeping me reeled in. I remember one in particular who I finally had to shout at and hang up on — and I am NOT that type of person, believe me. It’s taking that very abusive/sales behavior to new heights. (I suspect the people best at it aren’t nice to be around off the phone, either, but that’s my guess)

I haven’t been on the end of this behavior simply because I don’t have my toes in the water fully, and don’t know what I don’t know, so I’m not a target. At least this is where being a writer is helpful: you have to get to know about all sorts of dysfunctions in order to create varied, interesting and (sometimes) aggravating characters who are three-dimensional. But of course it’s one thing to read a psychology article about these behaviors and another to learn how to spot it and disarm it before you’re reeled in.

I’d hate to think how many instances of this has prompted a series of articles about it. Establishing boundaries is a terrific life skill and ‘superpower’.

Leticia

I fortunately don’t know any takers in the writing comunity, but unfortunately tons of them in real life. And they feel entitled, like if you would be forever in debt to them. They won’t be even grateful to you no matter what you do; because in their minds yu owe them. They will just make up anything in their minds, they are a relative or a ‘friend’, they are happy with taking forever so they don’t care if you are tired of wasting your time and energy on them. It’s like my grandma said, people who have a horse won’t walk.

Pauline Baird Jones

Had a recent interaction with a new young writer. I was a bit wary about answering on FB and yup, turned into a back and forth. But then I gave said writer a lead and boom. Gone. Which was great, but no thank you ever. Really good post. I’m so lucky that 99% of my interactions are positive!

C.
C.

The “no thank yous” thing is why I rarely do quick critiques anymore, even for friends. A few times a friend of a friend has asked me to review something they wrote, I’ve sent them some comments, and… nothing.

Honestly, I think the reason they didn’t reply was that they expected me to gush over their writing attempts and offer to put them in touch with my agent or something, and when I sent back a critique (ie, what they asked for) they were angry and disappointed. Some writers, man.

Glynis Jolly

I know there are takers in this world. For reasons I can’t fathom, I assumed that writing and other arts didn’t have as many as other sections of society. I was one of those who questioned my own attitude and motives in your last post. With this clarification, I can now rest easy. All that I can think of to be done when approached by a taker is to politely say no and remember there isn’t any reason to feel any guilt about your answer.

Aura Eadon

Jami, that’s a brilliant follow-up to the previous post, and I think you are spot on when you say that the taker mentality is essentially abusive behaviour. All normal human behaviours and interactions have established boundaries that rely on mutual respect. I didn’t realise that you had to deal with guilt tripping and other such situations; as an abuse survivor, I cringed a little. I’m sorry you had to deal with such people. As ever thank you for all your efforts and advice.

Renee Regent

Thanks, Jami, for once again telling it like it is. I’d like to add one frustration to that, and it’s when I routinely share, like, retweet, etc. to help fellow authors spread the word, but they don’t reciprocate. At all. They may be busy, not online, etc., and I would be ok with that. But when I see them active, and they don’t take a second to help out by responding in kind…at least occasionally, well, it irks me. And I am talking about people I know personally, not just online-only. But, I keep doing it anyway, because I believe in being helpful, and it doesn’t take much of my time or effort. Maybe they have a reason, I don’t know…
I’m embarrassed to admit, the only way I get pleasure reading done is in the bathroom! A page or two every time I visit and I can get through a book in not too much time. LOL

Anne R. Allen

Jami–Great insights here. The quid pro quo people ARE abusers. “I gave you something, so now you have to let me abuse you.”

The “why don’t you comment on my blog” people drive me crazy. With 100K hits a month, how am I supposed to comment on everybody’s blog? The truth is THEY get the benefit from commenting on a high profile blog like this. It gets them into the search engines and raises their Google profile. I’ll be talking about that on my blog this Sunday.

Thanks for another spot-on post.

Jen Doyle

This was a great post. As I transition from “non-published” to “published” author (my debut comes out on 4/11/16), I find that I am constantly trying to find that balance between “taking” and “engaging.” It is good to read that if you even think you might be a Taker, odds are you’re not–so thank you for that. 🙂 But as these transitions occur, it does seem to be a course that constantly needs correcting.

Thanks for your take on it (um, pun intended?). It’s good to be reminded that keeping certain behaviors in check is just like everything else–it requires ongoing maintenance.

Diana

Thanks so much for this thoughtful and helpful post. One of the greatest surprises I’ve encountered since my blog and book have been out in the world is how frequently people feel comfortable contacting me with the words, “I have a great story, and you’re the perfect person to write it.” So to your list of “taker” strategies, I’d add, #4: Making you feel like they’re doing you a favor but asking you to do something.

Maureen

I struggle with the commenting on others blogs. 1. I feel I have nothing to add to the conversation and so I don’t want to waste anybodys time. 2. My experiences are in a different country so aren’t usually relevant. I curate a weekly roundup blog for writers in NZ and I try to acknowledge on Twitter every great post I link to. Jami and Ann R Allen’s names certainly come up a lot.*smile* I am profoundly grateful for them both along with all the other wonderful writers I have linked to over 7 years. I am thrilled for days when I get someone taking the time to tell me how much they appreciate what I do. I know I am doing things all wrong… not following everyone who follows me… not asking questions at the end of blog posts etcetc. BUT I can only manage what I do because I keep my social media small and tightly focussed. Coming from a reserved country and background… it takes a lot to save I love someone… but I love Jami Golds’ posts.

Rhoda Baxter

Your posts, as always are right on target!
I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing a lot, not because I worry I’m a taker, but because I worry about not giving enough. I’ve noticed that I’m becoming increasingly grumpy and resentful of the time I spend doing stuff for other people (sometimes for very little thanks). Your post helped me realise that, you know what, you can’t do everything. Sometimes something has to go.
So this year, I’m going to cut myself some slack and learn to say ‘no’. I probably won’t do it as often as I should, but it can only help. Thanks for the sanity check!

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[…] shares 3 things she wishes she had known earlier, Jami Gold talks preserving writer sanity by recognizing takers and setting boundaries, and Viginia Kelly gives us 5 Google search tips for authors to make research […]

Gay Yellen

I’m a published author and critique group member, and have been a beta reader for some, an editor for others. After a while, it’s easy to spot the takers. The hard part is saying no. I once refused to edit a colleague’s work because it was full of grammatical and formatting errors. I suggested that if she didn’t learn to write correctly on her own, her great storytelling ability would likely be overlooked and she would face rejection after rejection. She’s now an award-winning writer. Enabling a taker uses up precious time that could be spent on more worthwhile projects (including our own), and we miss the opportunity to help them help themselves.

Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb

Actually this is why I am not a fan of FREE. It lends itself to attracting freeloaders and those with a taker/entitled mentality. I have tried offering free classes on WANA and NEVER AGAIN! If you want to see a slice of the most abusive, self-absorbed trolls you’ve ever met? Offer something for free. If their log-in didn’t work, or they didn’t like the sound, the class, the whatever? OMG. I cannot believe grown people act that way.

I’ve actually had writer friends in tears because they had the audacity to charge for a book that was previously for free and then got buried in hate mail from freeloaders.

Kind of a tangent but FREE is taker bait.

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