gen·er·os·i·ty – noun \ˌje-nə-ˈrä-sə-tē, -ˈräs-tē\
: the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish
: the quality of being generous; especially
: willingness to give money and other valuable things to others
Jealousy is no respecter of position. I’ve gathered from listening to the struggles of some very well-known writers that this condition is not reserved for those of us who put “aspiring” as a caveat to our creative dreams. People with tens of thousands of followers feel it. People who’ve published fifteen books feel it. People with household names feel it.
You know who didn’t feel it (at least not for long)? Mary Tyler Moore*. In watching a recent interview featuring the sitcom star and her cast of friends, writer and blogger Stacey Thacker was struck by Moore’s all-too-rare selflessness. Looking back on Moore’s legacy in the normally dog-eat-dog entertainment industry, her friends said, “She was so generous with lines. She would say, ‘You take this line, it sounds more like what your character would say.’”
Generosity begets gratitude and gratitude begets solidarity. Just watch those ladies on camera together all these years later. They cooperate and care for one another, competition aside. All this got Stacey thinking, “Who am I being generous with? What other mom, writer, blogger or friend am I pushing to the front and saying, ‘You take this one’? I want to be generous like that.”
Founder of The Write Practice and Story Cartel, Joe Bunting says generosity is the best way to grow a flourishing writing community, or any vibrant collective. When you ask “What does this writer need?” and “How can I help?”, when you give more than you receive, you watch a stranger first become a friend, and finally, an ally. And suddenly, you’re not on the outside looking in anymore.
But let’s get real–it’s easiest to feel generous when another writer is paying attention in return. There is this fear deep down that we’ll invest time and energy in someone who will take and take and take, watching us build their kingdom, and never show reciprocal interest in our work.
Or is that just me?
In a speech to a hall full of students at King’s College in 1944, C.S. Lewis spoke on the concept of jealous striving and the good that comes when you finally focus on the work itself instead of the prestige surrounding it.
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.”
Lewis experienced this kind of creative energy in working with his fellow Inklings to improve on epic works like his own Chronicles of Narnia* and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings*. They left their desks and met around a table in a pub to read and tell jokes and write together. They turned from their own projects to give insight to their fellow storytellers. They prodded each other to keep going with the writing and eventually to put it in a publisher’s hands. They could have hoarded their attention and affection for their own pursuits. Instead, they chose to be generous.
This winter as I’m leading The Story Circle with (in)couragers, I want my writer friends to experience what I crave for myself. We are putting our energy into cheering each other on by reflecting and commenting on each other’s work and sharing it with friends who may enjoy it or benefit from it.
One Friday evening recently, I started a game of electronic tag. I visited a few of my writers’ online spaces, commenting and then sharing their work. I tagged them, and then those friends sought out someone else to encourage and tag. By Monday, all had been pulled into the conversation and many reported that they themselves had come away with a new perspective on important issues because of what they had read.
When we focus on the message and on being happy when the right person communicates each part of it, we can cease striving. We can stop grabbing for our own line or byline. We can feel grateful for the craft itself.
Our gifts are just that, gifts. We didn’t make them. We don’t own them. We got them from the Giver of all good gifts to begin with. The surest way to go stale in our own work is to hold tight to our gift as if it were for our own benefit.
But when we pass along the beauty and wisdom we’ve received, and then give the gift of attention to others as they use their own gifts, we set in motion a refreshing cycle of creative camaraderie. And something as rare as that is sure to get attention.
WORD COUNT: 933
Darcy Wiley thinks creativity is a team sport. She spends a good deal of time perfecting proposals for her husband’s literary agency clients. She has tons of fun interacting with the very generous writers in her (in)couragers writing group, The Story Circle. And she will drive through a half a foot of snow to see Charity and other Plume writer friends in person as they meet each month. She’s currently working on her first novel. You can find her at Message in a Mason Jar where she writes about finding the loveliest things in the most ordinary containers. She’d love to connect at her blog and on Twitter.
Photo by Nate Embry. Used with permission.
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