Monday, March 09, 2009

Looters and Producers

There are two kinds of people: looters and producers. The looters expect to get paid for not working and producing, riding on the coattails of the producers. The producers are the people who actually use their brains to create music, art, industry, jobs and literature, among other things.

Looters blame their misfortunes on not getting a break or having bad luck or, more often, on someone else ruining their chances. They want to squeeze out all the competition so they can rake in all the rewards -- regardless of where those rewards originate. In fact, they are after the rewards the producers make because it's only fair that they should get a piece of the pie.

Producers don't mind competition and they don't get upset when someone they respect in their field is better than they are because they can learn from their competitors and will work to put them out of business. They don't mind the competition even if they lose. They recognize a better producer and aren't shy about congratulating them. It's the same in writing.

There are writers who blame their failures on other writers who have better chances, better luck or who know someone and have sold her soul (or their body) for their success. They are looters.

And there are writers who are producers. They may not start out with much: an article here, a newsletter there and a few stories or contests. But they are learning and producing and getting better, honing the craft of writing. One day, seemingly overnight, the producers are writing books and doing interviews and getting noticed for their hard work, especially by the looters who want to either ride on their coattails or point to them as greedy hacks who never had an original thought or wrote anything that didn't come from someone else's brain. The looters feel they are entitled to take a piece of the action and the producers should pay. Karma is thrown around a lot.

The most telling way to distinguish a looter from a producer is how they treat the competition. Looters will cozy up to other looters or to producers and pretend to be helpful. They aren't being helpful. They want the producers and other looters to fail to prove that Karma is proving them right. It's the old saying that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer -- until the writers the looters have named enemies catch on and realize what the looters are up to.

Producers are different. When they criticize another writer, they are calling a spade a spade and tripe simply tripe. Producers nurture other writers and welcome them with open arms because they truly like having someone else's writing to read, someone who's a really good writer. It's competition, but it's healthy competition because the producers are always learning and growing and incorporating what they read and see and do into their work to make it better. Doesn't mean the producers don't fail from time to time or get a little lazy or just plain tired. It means that producers don't stay down long. Instead producers get up and get back to work writing and welcoming new writers, new producers, into the field. However, producers do not pander to anyone's ego and are not hesitant to let another writer (looter or producer) know that the writer failed or was lazy or is repeating herself. It's not the same as a looter's criticisms dressed up as compliments and containing enough venom to fell a woolly mammoth in 3 seconds flat.

You will know a tree by its fruits.

What all this boils down to is this: Good writers are hard to find and good writers who look forward to shepherding other writers into the field are becoming rarer and rarer. It has become a dog-eat-dog world where most people, writers included, want to make sure that everyone but themselves fail. And the worst of the looters are those who spend too much of their time blaming other producers for their failures, unwilling to acknowledge that they had help from those very same producers.

Every writer begins by incorporating what she reads and admires into her own work. The writing is derivative at first, but eventually begins to change and evolve into a style and voice all its own. We imitate what we love.

I discover new writers, some of whom are very old writers, all the time and I recognize their influence in my own work. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Plato, Homer, Andre Norton, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Blake, Ayn Rand, Sir Walter Scott, Bram Stoker, Steinbeck, Hemingway and so many others, including many new voices and good writers too numerous to name here. Except for Homer and Plato, most of the other writers fell short of the mark a few times, but even their mistakes are well worth reading, providing a manual on what not to do and how a good story and a good producing writer can go wrong. Nothing is without its value. Even looters have value; they are a blazing 60-foot high sign in eye searing neon that show what not to do.

So, if you're a writer and intent on improving, cast nothing aside. Read everything. Accept challenges. And never forget that other writers are not the enemy but competitors that will help or hinder your work. Rely on no one and accept nothing for free because there is always a price. I don't help anyone for free. I expect return on my investment by having something good to read and someone to show me a different view of writing and the world from which I can learn and grow and evolve, so get busy. I'm running out of good books to read.

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