I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on one of the writing communities I visit, and I don’t think it’s a new thing. Some of the writers there tend to be disrespectful and unprofessional with anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They pitch tantrums online over minor affronts. Things like disagreements over grammar and word use, unfavorable critiques, and differences of opinion. Rather than ignoring the person they have the disagreement with, these writers resort to namecalling and other inappropriate behavior on the forum, and often rant on their blog, naming, and calling, names.
Some act as if their opinion is the only possible one, and everyone who holds a different one is ignorant, which is by no means exclusive to writers. In a debate over including sex in fiction, several posters acted this way, on both sides of the debate. The debate grew quite heated, and one poster on the side who didn’t feel sex in fiction was appropriate said such things as “those who include sex are poor writers”. She didn’t have enough respect for her fellow writers to recognize the validity of their writing, whether she disagreed with the subject matter or not.
In another interaction, one poster corrected a phrase used by another. The one who originally posted the phrase insisted that 1.) her usage was correct when it clearly wasn’t, and several others backed up the one who corrected her, and 2.) it didn’t matter because it was a ‘casual’ post. Rather than thanking the one who corrected, her, she argued about it through the majority of a thread that grew quite long.
If I were an editor or agent checking out posts made by a prospective client, and that writer argued with someone about such a trivial thing, I’d probably look much more closely before deciding whether to work with that person. One time could be just a bad day, but a habit of stubborn resistance to correction on a message board doesn’t bode well for the writer’s acceptance of criticism or editing of their work. IMHO, such behavior is sure sign of someone who’s difficult to work with at best, and more likely unprofessional.
The solution is simple. Treat interactions about writing as a communication between professionals. Save the more casual forms of expression for more social interactions. If the other party becomes unprofessional, ignore them — no matter how exasperated and angry they make you. Write about it in your journal, but not in a public forum, where it can reflect poorly on you. Remember that the other person is as entitled to their opinion as you are. Of course, you’re entitled to defend your position, but do it in a courteous way that maintains your professional image.
When we interract online, we tend to forget that anyone who wants can watch. People get to know us by the tone of our posts on writing communities. We develop a reputation in online communities for being either professional and easy to work with, or childish and petulant, or a know-it-all, or whatever. Make sure your interactions reflect well on you. Agents, editors, and other writers don’t want to work with people whose attitude makes their job more difficult. It’s important to remember that when we interact with others online.
The solitary nature of our work often makes us forget our interdependence on other writers. By helping other writers promote their work, and giving them professional respect, we form valuable alliances in promoting our own work. Need a cover blurb? Better not ask the guy you called an idiot on a public forum 4 years ago. Positive review needed? Don’t ask the writer you delivered a scathing public critique to a few months ago.
What do you think? Do writers see their professionalism – or lack thereof – reflected in publishing opportunities or sales figures?