Friday, January 19, 2007

THE ETHICS OF WRITING

The unassuming pufferfish.
Doesn't look like much does he? He is often under estimated.
Hungry predators looking for an easy meal make an attempt, and end up with a mouth full of prickly spines.
Mr. Pufferfish is spit out -- none the worse for wear -- and goes about his business.

7 am and 70 degrees.
New writers worry. What if someone steals my stuff. Authors are sued for snatching words, paragraphs, ideas.
Memoirs are fake.
Authors are fake.
News stories are fake.
Ironic isn't it as fiction writers? But we have to tread carefully. This years midlist author is next years darling. This years six figure book deal is next years remainders.
There is no guarantee.
No free lunch.
But yanno?
It all boils down to the first thing I learned in school.
Ya gotta work and play well with others -- no matter who they are.
So what do you think?
Do you get penalized for stepping on others? Does Karma get you in the end?
Or is it as the business world promotes.
Every man for himself?
Me?
I prefer to look at it another way.
What goes around comes around.
And.
What you sow...so shall ye reap.
How about you?
What are your tenets?
Your code?
Your principle?
What do you live to write by?

35 comments:

Zany Mom said...

Lawsuits over stolen words??

I've seen a lot of competitive attitude amongst writers, and lots of snarking (your stuff is crap! when it's not).

But I've been on the receiving end of lots of constructive criticism, and I've also helped a lot of newbies get their writing feet wet, too.

The Golden Rule rules.

Anonymous said...

Several tenets have I, (says she in Yoda talk, lol)

-You make your bed and sleep in it.
-What goes around comes around.
-If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

The writing world is like any other business - everyone knows everyone else. I was (still am) part of the polo world. It's the same thing. Very competitive, only a few patrons for many more pros. Everyone knows everyone else, and one's reputation is often the only thing one has - so it better be impeccable.

I think it's hard not to be jealous of someone else's success, until one realizes that success is not measured by everyone in the same way.
If you can take joy in other's success you have come a long way. But it's hard. I compare it to a woman who cannot conceive a baby who's invited to her friend's baby shower.
The trick is putting one's ego behind and enjoying someone else's triumph as if it has nothing to do with what you want.
Also nice are people (like you, Pat) who know how to share their triumph and genuinely want to see others reach their goals as well. Thank you!!!
Sam

Reverend Sumangali Tania Pink said...

Hmm..well...I don't know if what goes around comes around. It seems that way to me...but then there is a lot of unfairness in the world.

Basically my tenent is this: I live in this skin and I have to sleep at night. If I know in my bones its wrong, then I don't do it because I want peace of mind.

The law may be less stringent than I, but then I'm not here to live to the edge of the law. I seek peace.

:)
Pinks

ORION said...

Oh pink! well said.
And Sam thanks! *smile*
I will not forget how kind the many established authors were to me at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference.
I strive to be like that.

Lisa, Amy, Hannah & Lynne said...

Just be nice.

Send thank you notes when someone helps you, offer to help someone else, pass along compliments, share information, share your experiences, introduce your writer friends to other writer friends, give constructive criticism when necessary, be supportive when she receives rejections and celebrate when she succeeds.

Just be nice.

Amy

Anne said...

This is particularly interesting because I'm trying to connect Pat (Hi, Pat!) with an author friend who has published a novel with a similar theme to Pat's upcoming LOTTERY.

But he has gone AWOL. He is reluctant when it comes to sharing/navel gazing with other writers/authors. That's okay, really. I understand, and I respect his right to remain unto himself. His is just very different to my attitude and to Pat's.

Pat, you've been exceedingly generous with sharing your experience. I firmly believe your genrosity will come back to you (at least in the next life if not in this one). Please don't stop. I'm learning tons.

ORION said...

How sweet Anne thanks!
I think it is important to stay grounded this way.
I am always astounded how people change when they are successful. Yes there is some change -- but you must be committed to the writing community not just to your career. I truly believe that and I am glad I have stuck a chord.

Holly Kennedy said...

Interesting topic.

I'm a huge believer in what goes around comes around, and whether it's this business or any other, I have no time for pretentiousness or people who play head games. Who are you drawn to? Someone real and genuine and approachable, or an individual who pathetically spends 24/7 basking in the wonder of himself?

Most people have long memories, so I agree with Amy -- play nice.

M.G. Tarquini said...

Do unto others...blah blah blah.

Works for me.

LadyBronco said...

It's all about the karma.
If you don't want to get the short end of the stick, don't offer it to anyone else.

Cassandra Tiensivu said...

My brother is writing his own novel. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. I’ve also read parts of other writer’s works and given them thoughts and comments about it. Never once have I ever felt the urge to steal someone else’s story. I have my own stories and dreams to concentrate on. I’m usually picky about who I share my work with though. So far it’s just been family and some close friends. It’s not that I fear other writers stealing my stories… it’s just that I’m afraid to have it torn to shreds (which it very well may need, I just want to finish it first!). When I first began writing this story, I had a request from Sam Raimi’s father to read my synopsis. I was petrified, and I never shared it with him. I will probably regret that for the rest of my life. But, what’s done is done! My family and friends are all really into my novel-in-progress, CHILD OF INDIMOOR, but since they aren’t writers, they haven’t unsheathed any claws. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can qualify for some sort of a grant. I really want to take some writing workshops.

adrienne said...

I have no idea how the world works. If karma exists or not. If nice guys finish last.

I know that doing the right thing is the right thing to do. And that's why I do it. And I find when you are nice to someone, they are so pleasantly surprised that you can really make their day.

Not that I won't fight back if it is required. I may be nice, but I ain't no one's fool!

ORION said...

I love that! The right thing is the right thing to do!
Do you think James Frey should have thought about that?
How about the Yale student who got the big contract and it was discovered her book "borrowed" heavily from others?
I feel there is temptation to blur lines when an author is desperate to be published.
What do you think?

Becky said...

"I feel there is temptation to blur lines when an author is desperate to be published.
What do you think?"

Shady actions eventually come out in the open. Think of recent corporate big-wigs who got caught lying (I used to work for one of those companies - yargh!). When there's a lot of money on the line, people do crazy things. Have I ever been in that position? No, thank goodness. I hope that, should I ever be faced with the temptation of taking someone else's idea as mine, I would do the right thing. It makes it so much easier to sleep at night! And to prevent ulcers.

Kimber An said...

I can't understand the 'borrowing' ideas thing. Besides not being able to live with a guilty conscious, where's the pride in putting out something I didn't create myself? Even if no one else knew, I would know!

If people are desperate to get published or very frustrated with the process, I think they really need to step back and away from the whole thing and re-think their lives. Go for a walk on the beach!

A child is programmed to look to his or her parent to figure out what kind of human they're going to be in this world. Whether we realize or accept it or not, we are teaching our children every moment of the day and night if only by example. I want my children to learn good things from me.

Bernita said...

"Good guys finish last?"

~Don't care. One has to be able to live with oneself.~

And you're proof that they don't "finish last."
You've already helped me out of a generous heart.

ORION said...

Oh bernita!
Thanks. Sometimes that fresh pair of eyes is so useful- you can borrow mine anytime!
kimber- how true. We teach our children each day whether we want to or not.
I have two who are continually...wait...no...those are CATS!

ORION said...

When I am at the Maui retreat and a group of us are working - there is this initial feeling of "I have to be careful -- someone might take my idea!"
Yes, I know that you cannot copyright ideas and yes, I know you still have to write the book...But the reality is sometimes you ARE influenced without even knowing it...
I am so cautious...

Mark said...

So far bad, and apparently legal, ethics have prevailed. Frey and Dan Brown got the biggest payoffs. How does one justify that?

That neocounter of your crashed my computer twice. I answered your misundertanding on my blog. Age isn't a factor in publishing a book. It is in employment. These are two different animals.

adrienne said...

Mark I am not sure you can equate Frey and Brown. Frey blatantly lied his way through a memoir. Brown was sued (unsuccessfully) for stealing ideas from what is considered a non-fiction resource book (the non-fiction part of course is speculative). I would hope we are allowed to as authors use the information we glean from other books without fear of being taken to court. Especially when the authors of the book you use are not only used to create a character name, but the book which they wrote is mentioned in the text outright.

And yes Frey made out rather well, despite his evilness. Bad people do get ahead in life. But so do decent people. For every example of how the corrupt win, there is one of a hard working individual who makes it to the top. It's all a matter of choosing which way you would rather live I think.

ORION said...

I have to believe, on some level, that there will be a penalty.
You can blame others. You can say it's no big deal. But knowing the parameters can let you sleep at night (as Becky said).
I have to smile when I read some of the posts on AW asking whether they can still send out fulls when an agent has an exclusive. They justify it by claiming the agent would never know. And i think...Gee, you have to ask????

Maia said...

I'm inclined to believe that karma is an electromagnetic vibe stored in the soul. Thus, if someone lies, murders, or steals someone's work, the negative vibe hikes a ride and they end up attracting a similar scenario. An eye for an eye indeed. No judgemental God involved, just incredible record keeping. It was very generous of you to share your query letter. I hope to pay it forward one day.

ORION said...

You're very welcome.
Yanno we could start a revolution of nice...

writtenwyrdd said...

The Code of Hammurabi might make you feel better for a short time, but it's strongest feature is a near guarantee for an upward escalation of hostilities.

I subscribe to the Law of Three, which says what you put out you get back threefold. It's never an equal exchange, but an escalation, for good or bad, in my experience!

Mark said...

"For every example of how the corrupt win, there is one of a hard working individual who makes it to the top."

At this level of financial success? Start naming. Moreover, Brown stole another writers fictional synthesis, and got away with it. If haven't looked at lewis Perdues data on this it woud behoove you to do so before reciting the court decision. Even worse Brown had his wife do for him. He just copied it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I have been struggling with ethics recently. I wanted to publish a story on my blog, but I know several publishers consider that a first publication. In the back of my mind a little voice says: "How would they know? It's just your little blog."
But another voice answers: "Well, it's wrong. Honest is honest."

As for lawsuits, it's funny, but I was sued once before for something I wrote while working as journalist. Of course, I had the weight of writing without malice behind me. But as a fiction writer, it never occurs to me that anyone would or could sue. Thank god for the word FICTION. The only thing I would have to be concerned about is unintentional plagiarism.

ORION said...

Oh Stewart you are so right on! Honest is honest.
I used to tell my students in class -- if you have to ask it is probably not ethical. Deep down inside I believe as humans we are hardwired for honesty.
We know what is right.
There is much dialog about it (like with Dan B. or Frey) but bottom line is WE KNOW.
Ultimately.
We.
Know.

adrienne said...

Mark - JK Rowling

larramie said...

Truth be told that comes straight from the heart. It's the only way, besides the universe is watching!

Therese Fowler said...

I would love to believe that you will always reap what you sow.

Sadly, this isn't always the case; good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

For me, what matters is this: no matter where I go, there I am--I want to always respect myself.

Anissa said...

Very well said, Therese. I like that.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I feel there is temptation to blur lines when an author is desperate to be published.
What do you think?


Yep.

Kiskadee said...

In all of my writing life I have clung to the principle: to your own self be true. Asd a result I;ve had to go throug a great deal of anguish, I've taken risks that other people (ie my then agent!) regarded as crazy. But I always believed that beuing truthful to myself would get me through in the end - and that in the long term, this was the eigvht decision to make. It has made me stronger as a writer, and I feel more confident than ever now that I made the right decisions.
Time will tell!

Bernita said...

I'll add another: Louise Penny.

ORION said...

What wonderful comments on this post.
It really does give me hope that (to paraphrase Anne Frank) that people really are basically good at heart.