Thank you, Nicola, for pointing me toward this post from agent Nathan Bransford about why writers shouldn’t be assholes.
This is so true. And it syncs up with what I’m doing with Humans At Work (and as an update, the site is in development now and I’m hoping to launch in June). Working with people who are jerks is No Fun, and it’s getting to the point where it’s not necessary either — there are a lot of writers in the world (and sales reps and customer service clerks and executives and produce managers and… well, you get the point), and people in the position to give us work are less likely to do so if they think we don’t know how to play nicely.
Success these days is not just about having talent for one’s work. Certainly as important — perhaps more so, in terms of career if not art — is the talent for effective relationship. I know without doubt that it’s made an enormous difference in my career path so far. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have the chance to break into screenwriting without it. I know it helped with Solitaire. And I’d argue that it’s necessary for art as well. But that’s because I write what I do — I couldn’t very well work at character-based fiction if I didn’t constantly strive to experience and understand the nuances of human relationships.
I remember walking along a busy street in downtown Chicago one day. One car cut off another in traffic — the bumpers nearly came to blows — and then both cars had to stop for a red light just in front of me.
The driver of the rear car — man, 30’s, business suit — leaped out. Slammed the door. Threw open his trunk. And took out a golf club. He held it the way you do when your target is not the little white ball, but the back of someone’s skull…
The driver of the front car scrambled out of his car (bad strategic move, but hey, I’m guessing it was a new situation for him). Also a man, 30’s, business suit.
Golf Club Man chased Jerk Driver Man around his own car at least twice, shouting Don’t! (shake the club) be! (shake the club) an asshole! (shake the club).
Then the light turned green and all the drivers behind them, who were watching in fascination as if it were live TV, started honking. So the two guys got in their cars and drove away.
I don’t know about Jerk Driver Man, but Golf Club Man certainly got my attention. And I think he was absolutely right. Seems like the price of being a jerk comes when you least expect it (that golf club) and sometimes when you don’t even know it — the opportunities you never get because of the backchannel opinions of you that you never hear, but that determine who wants to work with you and who doesn’t.
The lesson I’m learning right now (waves to executive producer) is that it’s really important not to be an asshole just because I am grumpy. I think it’s easy for artists to think it’s okay to have “artistic temperament” (shorthand for I get to act like a yob because I’m all special and stuff). Note to all those folks: go off in the corner and have a sad drink in memory of the good old days. And then get back to work and play nice, because it’s becoming a jerks-not-welcome-world. I can’t wait.