Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Writer Code

In the TV series The Wire, Omar Devon Little is a thief, but he only steals from drug-dealers. Omar has a code, you see, and it won’t let him harm the innocent. 

All of us are guided by codes, notably personal and professional ethics, our consciences, and our mommas' voices. Belle, the blogger behind Capitol Hill Style, sent her followers to read E. Jean’s column in Elle magazine on The Girl (Woman) Code. I read what E. Jean had to say and couldn’t resist the urge to modify it to fit writers.  Before you continue here, read E. Jean's take on The Girl Code. Go ahead. You won’t be sorry. 

With apologies to E. Jean, I propose The Writer Code:

1.) Never throw another writer’s published book against a wall and say you could turn out something ten times better. If it takes putting down another writer to make you feel competent, you’re not.

2.) Don't diss another writer on social media. Doing so makes you look bad. Also, see number one.

3.) If a writer friend and an agent are talking at a bar, don’t butt in.  

4.) Never reveal what a writer friend considers his/her “secret.” Maybe she doesn’t want her editor to know the ending of her bestseller came to her in a dream. Maybe he doesn’t want the world to know he has a chronic illness, is prone to panic attacks, or employs Dragon NaturallySpeaking and a proofreader.

5.) Make no distinctions between writer friends who are traditionally published and those who self-publish.  There are many paths to publication. What’s more, a writer friend may choose one path for her first book and another path for her second. (Haven’t heard the term “hybrid writer? Check it out here.)  
One caveat: friends don’t let friends use vanity presses.

6.) Project Runway fans know host Heidi Klum reminds contestants, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” Heidi’s referring to the fashion world, but she could just as well be talking about publishing. In publishing, as in fashion, the day after you’re out, you’re in again. Don’t burn bridges. Never dismiss a writer, agent, or editor as a has-been.

7.) If a writer buddy types an angry letter or email to an editor, agent, or the head of a publishing house, impose an embargo. Your buddy may not mail or send the missive before he/she has cooled off, a process that may take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.

8.) Reread E. Jean’s last rule under “Advanced Woman Code.” She writes, “Never treat other women disrespectfully: It gives men ideas.” Writers, our corollary is, “Never treat other writers disrespectfully: It gives publishers ideas.”

What rule or rules would you add to The Writer Code?


Jennette Marie Powell said...

Those are good, as is the AWC! I'd add, never be silent when your friend is about to sign a bad contract or one with a scammy agent or publisher.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Yes! Good one, Jennette.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

First of all - to some of your questions from last week.

1. No, I would not have "aced" the tests to get into a Catholic High School at that time. Due to an undiagnosed hearing problem (which was evolving) and dyslexia I was completely lost in High School (overcrowded, public) and was completely lost in the shuffle. Being a (VERY)late bloomer, both intellectually and physically, I literally talked a college (which at that time accepted 17% of freshman applications) into accepting me.

The deal was that the college would select a major for me and all other courses. These constraints more or less disappeared after my freshman year and I was on my own.

But thanks for your kind thoughts that I was one of the bright, elite ones.

2. How did I get where I
needed to go when the train decided to take a different route? Well, the conductor sent me back to Secaucus where I was able to pick up the right train. I still say it wasn't my fault and the train went to the wrong stations. Now that's Irish stubbornness.

3. I didn't mean to use the past tense in my statement about learning how to read and write in a Catholic school - I was trying to say that at a minimum, the Catholic HS experience gave you the writing tools that you would use all your life.

4. Sure you know Latin. You know what "Carpe Diem" means, don't you? You better.

5. Here's a link to some flat-earth organization in Europe that is trying to introduce Latin as a living European Union language. I think I'll join them.

Regarding your blog this week - I teach Investment Banking to young adults and they are really only interested in making money - BIG money. Consequently I start every lesson with what I call "Words of Wisdom" in an attempt to inculcate a sense of humanity in them that can easily be lost in the business world. I know because I experienced that loss myself sometimes.

I thought some of the "Words of Wisdom" dovetailed nicely with your recommendations this week.

What do you think?

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give" (Winston Churchill)

"All parts of the human body get tired eventually - except the tongue" (Konrad Adenauer)

"Good to forgive, the best to forget" (Thai proverb)

"Before you act, listen.
Before you react, think.
Before you spend, earn.
Before you criticize, wait.
Before you pray, forgive.
Before you quit, try"
(Ernest Hemingway"

"El diablo sabe mas por viejo que por diablo" (Spanish proverb: the devil knows more because he's old than because he's the devil)

The students think I'm a big eccentric - but I hope that some of these words remain with them in their business careers - if they do then I was successful as a teacher.

- Patrick

Liz Flaherty said...

Brilliant. Both of you. Thanks for sharing.

Coleen Patrick said...

Awesome advice, Pat! Our world is so open and free with information now. Every comment and action is instantaneously out there. I wonder how this will impact the creative life in the next decade. Could it help, or will it only hinder? Very interesting (and a tad scary).

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patrick,
I'm going to respond out of order and as the spirit moves me. First off, I'm impressed with the words of wisdom you share with your investment banking students. Wouldn't you know, the Houston United Way used the same Churchill quote to accompany its emailed reminder that November 3 was designated as a Day of Giving. That's right, I read that quote twice in 48 hours. What's more, I had never heard it before.

I believe the best teachers are willing to appear eccentric in order to get messages across.

Your students may need to endure a market downturn before they shift their priorities. Like you, I hope your words stick with them throughout their careers.

Carpe Diem's Montclair State's motto, so I know to Seize the Day.

Sorry about your train ride from hell. There went half a day, unseized.

Congrats on talking your way into a competitive college and overcoming the hearing loss and dyslexia.

Latin as a living language, huh? Carpe diem!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Thanks for reading, Liz!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
I don't think creativity will suffer. We will, however, have to think twice before we shoot off our mouths. The latter's always a good thing.

Karen McFarland said...

Wow Pat, do I ever like your code. As a new writer, I don't know of anything I could add to your list. I think your code makes use of good common sense and sensibilities. It gives consideration to not only ourselves, but to others. Nice! :)

Lynette M. Burrows said...

Excellent code, Pat. The only thing I think I would add is: Critique only as you would want to be critiqued.

Anonymous said...

Hi (again) Pat,

Actually it wasn't quite the train ride from hell - when I got off at Bay Street (which is downtown Montclair) there was a young veteran (24 yrs old) of the Iraq/Afghanistan war seeking donations because he needed money ($60.00) to get his "room" back because he was homeless. He was sitting at the bottom of the stairs where commuters would need to pass when leaving the station.

He appeared to very clean cut and honest - I initiated a conversation with him (really just to kill time waiting for my connecting train)because I wanted to know what his "story" was. He told me he couldn't find work and didn't have a family, etc. Also told me he wasn't elegible for unemployment benefits because he was just discharged from the service. I asked him how the donations were and he said "Not good" and I noticed a few single dollar bills in his box. I asked him how he afforded the cigarettes he was smoking and he told me he didn't buy them - they were given to him by strangers.

He was quietly reading a small tract of the Gospel of John. I felt sorry for him so I gave him the $60.00 because its all I had on me. I asked him if he was telling me the truth and he said he was. He packed up his belongings and left the station (no longer needed to solicit donations, I guess).

I wondered if I had just been taken for a sucker (which I happen to be anyway - besides I gave from my surplus and not from my need so it was no big deal in the scheme of things) so as he left I said to him, "I noticed what you were reading. Make sure you read 18:38 in your little booklet" (Dicit ei Pilatus: “ Quid est veritas?). I also asked what his name was. It was Zach but because of the way I hear I heard "Jack" and it took a few repeats to get that one right.

Pilatus never got his answer and I guess I'll never have my answer either.

But, the train that went to the wrong stations that warm autumn night brought two strangers together. The kind of stuff that writers like to experience.

Of course you know what Carpe Diem meant!

- Patrick

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

As always, thanks, Karen!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynette! Your suggestion's a good one.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Patrick, your train detour led you to an interesting situation and your retelling of it is suspenseful. You took a calculated risk. I hope Zach put that $60 to good use.

Alarna Rose Gray said...

Some great codes here, Pat! Another one I'd add is don't steal another writer's idea. We all know ideas are not copyrightable, but we writers sweat hard and long over our ideas...It just seems like professional courtesy.