Creative Tensions: Between Annoyance and Passivity

June 15, 2011

I’ve had some folks ask me to post a bit more on the writing life. So I decided to begin a series I’m calling, “Creative Tensions.” I’m not coming at this as an expert, as some kind of know-it-all bestselling author. My goal is to share what little I know about writing in hopes that it helps and inspires a few who read it.

Today I want to discuss the creative tension between annoyance and passivity. One of the keys to advancing in your publishing career is to develop relationships. The publishing world is a small world and so the more people you know and who respect your work the more opportunities will come your way.

If you want to take your calling as a writer seriously, you have to get out and meet people. You can do this online by visiting the websites of writers you like and you can do this by attending writer’s conferences. I recommend both. The more folks you can learn from, the better a writer you will become. And you never know how the relationships you foster will benefit you down the road. This isn’t optional. This is vital.

The key is to manage those relationships in a way that respects the tension between annoyance and passivity. One the one hand you don’t want to be the annoying person who stalks the bestselling author by tweeting him incessantly, sending him fan mail every other day, and trailing him to the bathroom when you hear him speak in your town. That doesn’t generally go well.

On the other hand, you can’t so worship a “celebrity” author so much that you forget that they are human and you fail to develop a relationship that can help grow and advance your career. Where is the line? I’m not sure honestly, but it’s something that you instinctively feel.

I think the solution in developing these kinds of relationships (not simply among writers, but in all of life, perhaps) is to be selfless. That is to seek to serve that person you’d like to get to know. If you have a blog, offer to review their book or even interview them. If they are going to appear in your area, offer to volunteer at the event. And when you do meet them, treat them like a human, don’t endlessly flatter them, and try to act normal.

Here is what I have learned. If you serve someone like this, without a quid-pro-quo mindset of trying to get something back, it always comes back to bless you down the road. Essentially what you’re doing is creating a reservoir of good will upon which you can draw later.

Now the question becomes, “When do I ask?” This is tough, because sometimes its a bit scary  or you might seem a bit pretentious. I’ve found that simply asking doesn’t hurt a thing. But I always do it in a way that doesn’t put a gun to someone’s head. I usually send a simple email with some nice compliments, ask about their endorsement policy, and then wait for an answer. This is not being annoying. It’s being professional.

Then I typically give it several weeks. I don’t hound them incessantly. I may send a follow up email a month later. If I hear back and they say, “Yes,” then I always send a Thank-You. If they say “No,” I always say something like, “No Problem, I totally understand, thanks for considering.” And I move on. I always leave the relational door open.

In Summary: To advance your creative goals, build key relationships, nurture them wisely, don’t be afraid to ask favors, but always seek to serve the other person’s needs.