I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #8.
If you are generous with your time, experience, and contacts, others will be too. But it probably won’t be a 1-to-1 transaction.
This has something to do with Rule 3, and certainly has a lot to do with forging meaningful relationships as a writer, but it is a bit more specific than that. If you had asked me in 2013 or earlier what frustrated me most about being a young and relatively inexperienced writer, I would have replied: the cliques. That was it: all the writing groups out there I wasn’t a part of; all the secret societies I hadn’t been invited to. I truly believed that there was a group of around 10 to 12 writers in Berlin who were getting every story in every major publication, and leaving the rest of us to roll around on the ground, looking for scraps. Why weren’t they giving freely of their help and contacts? How could I get them to? And most of all, how had they risen to that point in their lives where they had help and contacts to give? Who had seen fit, many years ago, to give freely to them? Why weren’t “they” me?
While it’s true that a fair number of very good writers live in Berlin (hey, Berlin still remains cheaper than New York, and even very good writers are hardly very well paid writers; we all need somewhere to live), many of them got to Berlin before it was !!!Berlin!!! and spent years gathering facts, reporting stories, and pitching articles on a city that few—or at least fewer—outlets were particularly interested in. They did their time before I arrived. I know many more of them now and you know what? They have been extremely kind and generous, giving freely of their time, expertise, and occasionally even contacts.
Meanwhile, I’ve stopped being afraid to ask for that help, and instead, have started to focus on my own sort of giving. You remember back in Rule 3, when I said that 2014 was the year I started thinking of myself as a legitimate writer, and stopped thinking of myself as a hopeless mooch who would never have anything to offer? 2014 was also the year I realized that giving generously could translate into receiving generously, but it would rarely be a one-to-one transaction. This means that you should answer questions when you can, direct other writers to editors if they’re looking for them, discuss and critique written work as you would wish others to discuss and critique your own, and be generous with your time if it means helping someone else take a step you once found daunting. It also means not expecting those exact people to repay you in those exact ways. It may be that someone you help will be hard to get in touch with when you need help in return, but someone else down the line will probably make up for it, popping up and giving you assistance at exactly the right time, astonishing you with his or her generosity.
There was a time when I got self-righteously annoyed with how helpful I was being; pissed off that this person or that person seemed to have taken my advice, run with it, and not bothered to thank me. Then I remembered that I once did that as an inexperienced writer and was rightfully called out on it. I also remembered the numerous people I barely knew at the time, who have since become good friends and reliable confidantes, who proved their goodness early on by giving me direction without my even asking for it. Their advice resulted in paid articles or good clips, in an unforgettable experience or a much-need confidence boost. Keep these people close; their generosity was and is advance payment for your own future generosity.