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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Explosives, Waifs, and Users: Six Writers to Avoid

Early in my career, I connected with another writer through an email list for freelancers. We met a few times for coffee or lunch. She and I didn’t really click, but I was so desperate for some writing companionship, I pursued the relationship. Today, I wouldn’t bother, because I’ve gotten more selective about whom I connect with--and I have less time to do that connecting.

As a writer, you spend much of your working life alone but the relationships you have--with clients, editors, sources, and other writers--play a critical role in your success. Freelance long enough, though, and you’ll find that not every fellow writer becomes your BFF, or best friend forever.

Fact is, every profession has its archetypes, some more destructive than others. Watch out for these writers:

The Explosive. The Explosive is just that--a ticking bomb that’s easily triggered. Explosives are always ranting about something. Explosives have lots of energy they could channel into their writing (and sometimes they do) but devote just as much of it to justifiable (to them) rages. Steer clear of Explosives--get too close and you may find you’re the target of her latest diatribe.

The Star. It’s all about her. I had coffee with a freelancer in New York and she spent 90 minutes talking about her latest book series, her new novel, her popularity, her legion of Twitter followers (this was before I’d ever sent a Tweet, of course), and her general fabulousness. I sat there, nearly mute as she ran over my every attempt to enter the conversation with more than a nod or a “wow, that’s great.” By the time it was time to leave (I’d been glancing at my watch for a good fifteen minutes), she said, “Gosh, we haven’t even had a chance to talk about you! We’ll have to get together again soon!” Thanks, but no. The Star has no interest in a real relationship--she’s only looking for someone to reflect her glory back at her.

The Whiner. While the Explosive is filled with rage, the Whiner can’t summon enough energy for anger. So she whines instead, about the unfairness of contracts, about editors who expect revisions, about plummeting advances, about pretty much everything. This is the kind of person who, if she won the lottery, would bitch about the taxes. No matter how successful she becomes (and she probably won’t, thanks to her attitude), she’ll never be happy--or much fun to be around.

The Weirdo. The Weirdo stands a little too close when you meet him in person, or stares at you without saying much. He IMs you on Facebook when the only reason you Friended him is because you share 89 mutual friends, and then asks you odd, intimate questions that have nothing to with freelancing. (I speak from experience.) Time to cut bait--and be more choosy about who you connect with on social media. The Weirdo may be perfectly nice, but do you want to connect with someone who makes you uncomfortable?

The Waif. She wants so much to freelance, and just needs a little help from you. Then a little more. Then a little more. Regardless of age or experience, the Waif is an emotional vampire who will always want and expect more than you can give. You feel sorry for her at first but understand that the time you devote to her takes time away from your own work.

The User. The User only reaches out because you have something she wants. Once she’s gotten it, you won’t hear anything from her. I got the brushoff at a conference from a freelancer much further along in his career than I was--until he realized who my agent was and wanted to talk to me about getting her to represent him. Then he couldn’t have been more gracious. Strange, huh?

I’m all for give-and-take with other fellow freelancers, but there are writers who only connect with you for their own reasons and then disappear when you ask that the favor be returned. You’ll figure out pretty quickly who falls into this category.

Bottom line? Don’t waste your time on writers who are only about themselves. Most of the freelancers I’ve met online and in person are professional, personable, and want to support other writers. As you gain experience, you’ll find plenty of them, and develop freelancing colleagues--and make real freelancing friends.

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Readers, what about you? Have you experience with any other archetypal writers? Feel free to share your experiences here!