I have a couple of writer friends in particular that I’m thinking of right now who have selfless hearts.  They are quick to lend a hand (organize conventions, organize book signings, put together writer retreats, become a one person publicist for their friends, be a marketing guru, read/crit stories, and otherwise bend over backwards) for their people.

It reminded me of a conversation I had at Necon many years ago, when I had but a few short story credits to my name.  A rather physically imposing writer sidled up to me.  A big burly guy, fresh off his motorcycle, with arms the size of my legs, and he put one of those massive tree trunk arms around me and pulls me aside with the words “we need to talk.”

And he was not a man to be refused.

“I’ve been watching you, he said.  You run around and do all this stuff.  You’re on message boards, you’re helping friends, you’re reading and critting stuff for folks, you’re organizing events and are pitching in to help out.  So … do you actually write?  I know that you do, I’ve read your stuff.”  [insert inner squeal at the thought that *he* reads *me*] “It just seems to me that you’re so busy doing stuff now that you aren’t taking the time to finish things and nurture your own career.  I know you want to help people wherever you are and I love that about you.  And I can see by the look on your face that this is not computing.”

And he was right.  Because I am looking at the kind of guy he is:  helpful to all writers, no matter what stage of their career they are and willing to put himself out there to lend a helping hand.  Which was one reason why his words seemed counterintuitive to the point of contradictory.

“Think of it this way:  take a bit, focus on your career, push through to the next level and think of how many others you’ll be able to help from that next level.”

Now, on more than one occasion, I have had a bout of “fear of success”.  The sudden sense of contentment where I am rather than risking continued heartache (read:  possible rejection) by sending my stuff out there for possible publication.  But his words cut to the quick of the matter from another angle.   It was easy to play at being a writer, doing enough stuff—book reviews, con attendance, even wrap yourself up in a cloak of good deeds, etc—to keep me in that world.  But that’s not what I wanted from things.  I wanted to be a writer.

[And we’ll skip the part about how much time I had lost trying to help those who either didn’t want or weren’t ready to be helped.  Or getting bogged down by the sheer amount of users, takers, sponges, and all around general dirt bags who can suck up so much of our precious, precious little time.]

So I decided to go back to doing my job as a writer and put aside a lot of the other stuff for a little while.  I needed to focus on what I was meant to do and held on to the belief that I could still pay it forward once I was in that position.
Of course, I say all this and look around.  The gentle soul who imparted those words to me, as well as the collective of friends that we share, ARE SOME OF THE WORST EXAMPLES OF SELFISHNESS!  They’re all still quick to read the work of a newbie, dole out advice to all comers, mentor when they can.  I can only barely refrain from fixing each of my fans breakfast in bed and inviting them over to the house.

So, I guess in short, change, but don’t change.  The heart of generosity and selflessness should never be diminished or discouraged.  We need as many lights in this world as possible.  Just don’t forget to do what you were meant to do.

And, uh, but you can still help me out on occasion.