Thoughts on Writing
#33: Not Making People Hit You
by Seanan McGuire
tend to enjoy the process of not being hit, but it might help to have a
little context to go with that summation:
to be gracious to everyone who helps you. Thank your proofers. Thank
your editors. Thank your agent. Thank your readers. They're doing you a
favor. You're also doing them a favor—you're letting them
play with your kids—so don't be servile, but do be gracious.
It may seem a little odd to you that I feel the need to say this, but
honestly, after watching my own behavior under pressure, and the
behavior of others, I feel that it's an important statement to make.
Not just for writers, either. No matter who you are or what you do, you need to be
gracious, and appreciative of the things that people do for you when
you don't need them to. Our culture tells us it's better to give than
to receive. How do you react to the good things without seeming
entitled, arrogant, or just plain snotty? Let's discuss graciousness,
what it means, and how we all sometimes fall a little short. Ready?
Good. Let's begin.
Magic Words Are Still Magic.
Most of us were told as children that "please" and "thank you" were the
magic words. These are words that work, in some ways, like actual
incantations; you use them, and things happen.
"Please" gets you the stuff that you want. "Thank you" closes and
completes the spell, making it more likely that you'll be able to cast
it again. The more sincerely you cast this spell, the better it works.
If you sound sullen and resentful when you spit out your "thank you,"
you're going to find that the spell loses its power. These are all
lessons we learned when we were in the single-digits, and they're
lessons that hold true today.
When you want something, say "please." When someone gives you
something, say "thank you." Even if you don't like what they just gave
you, say "thank you." Unless they gave you a punch in the face followed
by a radioactive scorpion shoved down the front of your trousers, say
"thank you." Does it seem like I want you to say "thank you"? That's
because I do.
("You're welcome" is also an essential part of the spell, although it
requires someone else to initiate casting. When someone thanks you, say
"you're welcome." Don't say "it was nothing," or "oh, I would have done
it anyway," because that is belittling their gratitude. Please feeds
thank you feeds you're welcome.)
Gracious Under Pressure.
All right, let's be serious for a moment: I spend a lot of time
stressed out of my mind. I believe in taking on tasks, duties, hobbies,
and commitments until I feel the floorboards start to creak, and even
then, I'm likely to pick up one or two more things before I cry "hold
enough." Why does this matter? Because it means that if I didn't learn
how to be gracious even when all I wanted to do was scream, I would
quickly run out of people to talk to.
No one is perfect. All of us will have our flares of temper, our little
moments of kicking-and-screaming prima donna "I'll show them! I'LL SHOW
THEM ALL!"-levels of crazy. When that happens—and it will
happen, no matter how much you hope it won't—remember that
you owe people apologies for the things you do while you're crazy.
Explain, but don't make excuses. Say "I'm sorry I upset you while I was
insane," not "I was crazy, so I'm not at fault." No one signed up to be
the official kicking board here. Not your friends, not your family, and
certainly not your editor or your agent. If you lose your temper, say
There will be times when all you want to do is gnaw off your own leg
and run, but business needs will require you to keep smiling, being
social, and looking like you're having a good time. Remember that no
one is forcing you to do these things out of the desire to cause you
pain; a certain amount of public civility comes with the territory
(unless you're Harlan Ellison). Try not to blame the folks who just
want to say hello and discuss your latest story. They don't know that
you're fighting the urge to crawl into a hole and hide. They just want
to be friendly. So nod, and smile, and endure.
At the same time, know when you're about to run out of cope, and find a
way to make a polite exit before that happens. It helps if you can
bring a friend or two as designated "handlers" for the evening. Trust
them to get you out when you signal, and you may find that this renders
you capable of standing proud for longer.
Say "thank you" to your proofers. Without them, you'd probably suck
more. I know I would.
Say "thank you" to your agent. Without your agent, you'd have a much
harder time dealing with the publishing world.
Say "thank you" to your editors. Believe me, they make a huge
Say "thank you" to your readers. Without them, what's the point?
Sometimes, being thankful to the people who put up with the bulk of
your crazy—the proofers, agents, and editors of the
world—will make it appropriate to give small tokens of your
esteem. I try to set up a "proofer gift" for every book or series I
sell, to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication that people put
into my work. Money can't buy love, and it won't apologize for an
excess of bad behavior, but it's a nice gesture, and a lot of people
will really appreciate it.
(No, you don't have to buy gifts for all your readers. Not even Stephen
King has that much money. But that's what public thanks and attending
events and conventions are for. People like to hear "thank you" in
Be gracious, be thankful, and remember, manners can get you a lot
further in this world than almost anything else. Even chainsaws.
Thank you, and goodnight.
© 2011 Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire is an author, poet, and musician who lives in the San Francisco Bay area with two cats and a small army of plush dinosaurs. She has recorded two albums, Stars Fall Home and Red Roses and Dead Things, and has published five novels. In 2010, she was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in the field of science fiction and fantasy.
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