My Depression, My Community: Am I Doing Enough To Help My Fellow Writers?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My Seasonal Affective Disorder this year manifests itself in terms of a perfectly normal life, then getting knocked akimbo by unexpected events. A fight with a sweetie of mine pretty much paralyzed me for an entire day.  And an accusation from a friend has kept me up all night, when normally I’d shrug it off.
In this case, though, his concern was something that worries me: he accused me of being a “quid pro quo” writer, only helping others when I had something to get in exchange from it.  (Specifically, critiquing only to get critiques, though my fear cuts deeper than that.)  And I think part of that was me getting overwhelmed and having to call amnesty from critting for a while last year, for which I felt terribly guilty, but…
…I don’t know.  I feel a deep responsibility to the writing community, which is why I write posts on the lessons I’ve learned in writing.  They’re by far my least-popular, least-discussed, and least-linked essays, and they take three times as long to write as me tossing off yet another essay on polyamory or depression… but I do it anyway, because I spent so many years wandering lost, trying to figure out what doesn’t work with my fiction, that I’m forever trying to save someone else.  I do the Clarion blog-a-thon because I think that, too, is important for writers.  I hang around forums – not as often as I should, as I’m terrible about forums, but I weigh in because I believe that I’m helping.
And I crit stories when asked, or try to.  I have the memory of a sieve, and there’s probably a handful of stories I didn’t crit in the last year out of forgetfulness… but never out of intent.  If someone asks me, “Hey, Ferrett, would you take a look at this?” then dammit I try to.
But I am forgetful.  Maybe those number of lost crits is larger than I’d like to believe (and I know from experience how much a forgotten crit can sting a writer’s fragile ego).  I don’t go to my local writing group as often as I’d like because it’s on Sundays, and Sundays are often terrible for me.  I haven’t been seeking out short stories to crit because I’ve been head-first in writing a novel, which is so much more consuming than writing short stories, I could never have believed it before I started this time around.  I don’t interact on other people’s blogs as much as I should.  I don’t pimp as many of my friends’ projects as I should.
And then there’s that inevitable factor that comes in everywhere for me: My primary method of interfacing with the Internet is my blog.  I often feel like a lazy turtle, too afraid or unmotivated to crawl out of my shell, just posting and commenting here and expecting the world to drop by.  Is that selfish?  How bad is that?
I don’t know.  It could well be my depression speaking, but there’s that nagging feeling that maybe I’m a drain on the community more than a boon to it, and maybe my advice is foolish and ill-considered (which would explain the low interest).  I want to help.  I know what it’s like to burn to get that first publication, to have that first time someone who’s not your friend loves a story, to feel that vast chasm between “Where you are now” and “Where you need to be” and feeling that despair of being completely unable to know how to cross it.
I want to help, I do.  And every day, when I wake up, I ask, “How can I help more?”  And I try but I know I could be doing better, and if I can then please tell me how to do it.  I’ll listen.  If I fail, it’s not because of interest.  And I apologize, profusely, if I’ve slighted you in any way.
(EDIT: And you can tell it’s my depression, because of the uniquely head-in-ass way I’ve phrased this: if I was in a better headstate, I’d probably raise it more as a global question, as in “What do we as writers owe to the community?”  Alas, it’s a personal question for me right now, so it came out this way.  Again, apologies.  Stupid SAD.)


  1. Seamus
    May 29, 2013

    I am calling shenanigans.
    There is nothing that entitles your fellow writers to critiques from you pro bono. Critiques are a privilege earned by goodwill, mutual critiquing, and an intrinsic desire to support a fellow writers art because you believe in them and want to promote their success. That is YOUR call, or a commitment to a mutually beneficial relationship. No one gets to call you out on that.
    All we have is our time. It is the ultimate coine of the realm, and yours is heavy tasked. I find it odd that you, who spend so much time working out the blocking and tackling of relationships in your poly can’t see that professional relationships should follow some of those same lines.
    How would you feel if a sweetie called you out for not spending enough time with them, or pointed out their opinion you are short changing your relationships by not giving them enough time? I would imagine you might have an opinion about that after a certain amount of emotional faffing about along the lines of, “My relationships are my business, and we work out those functions between ourselves.”
    Writing partnerships are a relationship, and like everything else in life, they come with rules, expectations and limits on how much of yourself you can give.
    Don’t let someone else question the boundaries you have established so you can be a productive professional.
    Giving back is noble, and we all support it. I do it with my time and Paradise Lost. You do it with this blog, and your writing group, and with your writing relationships. Those interactions are subject to our choices, our time and our needs. You own them.

  2. Cassie Alexander
    May 29, 2013

    You already know what I think about conserving time.
    I love to help people out but Sean’s right, your most precious resource is time, and sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day to be as helpful as you want to be and get your own stuff done. As harsh as it sounds, your own work needs to come first.

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