Dealing With Negative Interactions From Other Writers
Author: LitBridge Team
Being a writer is wonderful, and interacting with other writers is also wonderful. Yet, there are instances where you run into a fellow colleague who doesn’t like you, your writing, or both. This is hard to deal with and can result in very bad consequences. I will be completely anonymous with the following examples, but these are real examples from real writer.
You might submit a poem that has some controversial topics involved that may offend the publisher or other writers viewing your work. This can result in a nasty exchange of communication, miscommunications and of course someone stating how she never wants to work with you again. What you write may not have the intention of being offensive or disrespectful but someone might view it that way. How do you deal with it? Let’s take another example. Personal gets mixed with professional. Some writers do have romantic relationships with each other or great friendships. However, a bad ending occurs which not only evolves into mutual dislike but dislike from other writers who know about it (who may be the judges of the contests, literary magazines and residencies you are applying to). How do you deal with it? A writer you truly respect and admire, approaches you and frankly states that he not only does not like your work but does not “get it.” You, of course, feel terrible, and completely confused about the interaction. How do you deal with it? Last but not least, you are a student in a graduate program and feel a general lack of support from your department, professors or colleagues. You feel that people dislike you and do not want you to succeed. How do you deal with it?
- Did this happen? The first thing to ask yourself is if you are interpreting the situation correctly. As humans, we can get offended easily. It’s important to look at a situation and ask if you are indeed interpreting what happened correctly. You may feel your department is not supporting you but are you being vocal about your feelings? Are you being persistent about teaching a different course or receiving an opportunity for a fellowship? Did that writer really mean harm when they criticized you? Sometimes people deliver a criticism, and when unexpected, that can be taken too harshly. Reevaluate what happened and ensure that you are interpreting events correctly.
- Am I responding professionally? Always respond in a professional and respectful manner. Whatever hatred someone spews towards you or your work, should not result in you seeking retaliation. You may screw up great opportunities in the future if you respond in a disrespectful manner. If a romantic relationship ended badly, then do not speak about it with other writers. Do not speak negatively of the other writer you were involved with and affirm that you still admire his work. If angered about decisions made by your program then use good judgment about who you speak about that with, and the frequency of your complaints. Sending hostile emails to your program coordinator can not only make you look bad, but will make you less likely to receive additional benefits in the future. Consistent complaining to colleagues can become annoying and make people feel uncomfortable about communicating their successes to you. If a publisher sends you an email saying that he does not like your work, then it would be best to either ignore the email or respond saying that you appreciate his feedback regardless. Being professional and respectful goes a long way, and says a lot about your character. You do not want to miss out on great opportunities because you responded to a bad situation in a negative manner.
- How can I handle this better? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we put ourselves in these situations. If you are trying to publish work that can be viewed as racist, sexist or in anyway offensive, then disperse your work wisely. Mention in your cover letter that you realize your work may be viewed as inappropriate or offensive and that is not the intention at all. Be cautious about presses you submit your work to. If you know a magazine may be offended by your work, then it might be best to either not submit there or ask the editor for her suggestions. Before pursuing any type of romantic relationship with a writer, ask yourself and the other person if this could be problematic. Stray from unhealthy situations (someone currently in a relationship, who has a history of negative interactions with other writers, etc.) and pursue that relationship or friendship cautiously. Work on your own self-confidence and realize that there will be people out there who just do not like your work. You just cannot take it personally every time. Do research on every graduate program you apply to. Ask current and past graduate students for their advice. Graduate school is a two-way decision and it’s important you ensure it’s a good fit and a supportive environment before you make the decision to attend the program.
- What can I change about my situation? Okay so maybe the situation is already out of control. You learned from it and you know not to repeat it but what can you do about it now. Send an apologetic letter to the press stating that you were not intending to be rude, truly admire their press and will be more cautious in the future. Be friendly, honest and apologize. If this is a situation involving your program, you may want to consider transferring elsewhere. If transferring is not an option, then find other ways to develop yourself outside the program by taking workshops, teaching courses at other institutions, or attending a residency. You might even find ways to make a program better by suggesting a reading series, inviting other visiting writers to read periodically, or serving on your graduate council. Realize that you cannot put out the flame by throwing more fire at it. You can be respectful and even find ways to improve a situation for yourself and other writers.
- Am I taking steps to move on? No situation can heal if you keep pouring salt on the wound. You have to move on. Yes, you might be upset by the lack of support you feel from colleagues or your program but that is not something to dwell on forever. Take steps to move on. Stop complaining about it all the time. Find positives in the program and try to develop healthy friendships with your colleagues. You may still have negative vibes about a specific press but fortunately the literary world consists of many publishers, presses, competitions and so on all over. Continue to submit, but just be more mindful about how you go about it. Continue focusing on your own happiness and finding ways to develop as a writer without all the other negativity getting in the way.
- Did I really learn from the experience? Alright, time to test yourself. If this situation happened again how would you handle it? Are you still going to spread rumors about the other writer or are you just going to leave it alone and be positive? Will you persist in finding opportunities to develop at your program or will you simply complain to everyone who will listen? Are you going to blindly submit your work thinking that everyone will be nice about it or are you going to realize that someone may simply not like it?
We are all far from perfect, but that does not justify any unprofessional behavior. Own up to the mistakes you might make, and learn how to deal with it. Almost every writer will be involved in a circumstance where drama, hurt or rejection can ensure. How we handle this can open or shut down future opportunities.