As a writer, you are indeed important, or at least your work is. But I can guarantee you this: if you don't work well with others, you will not work at all. Writing is always a collaborative process. Remember, you actually WANT another person to work with you -- I call this person "the reader." But in order to get work, you'll also need to work with clients and editors. You may be the most brilliant, genius writer ever, but do you think clients and editors want to work with someone who acts like a petulant child?
I have a suggestion for prima donnas, no matter how brilliant they are: stop acting like the world revolves around your work because nobody cares about you until you care about them first. This goes for readers, clients, editors, and everyone else in the writer's life (next door neighbors, the UPS dude, etc.).
Here are three of my favorite suggestions for writers who are also would-be prima donnas:
1. Respect the contributions of others. Guess what, amigo, we all need help in this world, even a certain presidential candidate. When you ask for or receive help, express gratitude. So, for example, when a client or editor emails you to offer an assignment, even if that assignment doesn't allow you to fully "express your creative genius" (why don't my clients pay me to write sonnets, I've often asked myself?), then offer them a thank you. Expressions of gratitude cost us nothing, and may even help us sustain our careers and financial futures.
I actually go out of my way to say thank you. Last week, I was having difficulties collecting money from an institutional client of mine, one of the largest state universities in the nation. I called around, but got no real satisfaction. Finally, I reached a woman who went out of her way to listen to my issue and then helped get my payment processed. Did I thank her on the phone? Yes. Did I follow up and thank her by email? Yes. Did I write a glowing email to her manager, cc'ing her, about her willingness to help me? Yes. The NEXT time I have problems getting payment processed from this client, I'll have someone in my corner to help me. Why? Because I expressed gratitude. Acting like a self-entitled jerk gets you nowhere -- in fact, it turns potential collaborators into enemies.
2. Give people the benefit of the doubt. While it may be true that other people are not as "creatively gifted" or intelligent as you (lucky you, Mr. Prima Donna!), you should give them the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time you deal with them. When that client offers you an assignment to write about the new federal regulation coming down the block, two thoughts might run through your head: (1) the client is insulting my creative genius by asking me to write about something that doesn't take advantage of all my gifts as a writer; or (2) the client and the client's target audience is concerned about the new regulation and wants someone (you, in this case) to offer insights about what it could mean.
Giving the client the benefit of the doubt means realizing that thought #2 is the real situation, and thought #1 makes you a prima donna. Clients and editors have problems, and are asking you to help solve them. While you are involved, and can make money by solving their problem, it's not ALL about YOU. If you don't help solve their problem, they'll just find another writer (a non-Prima Donna) who will.
3. Practice humility, always. I strongly believe that humility is part of what makes a writer great. Being willing to admit when you don't know something, and being ready to learn and ask others for help, doesn't make you weak. Quite the opposite. Clients and editors, and everyone else in your life, are human beings just like you. They make mistakes and are doing their best, just like you. Understanding this better connects you to these people. Failing to understand this makes you a prima donna, and will isolate you. It's your choice . . .Do you have any tips on how to sop being a prima donna, dear reader? Share 'em if you got 'em!