So from time to time every writer runs across something in our world where we have to make a decision that we know involves doing something “questionable,” to either further our work or our careers. These choices range from trashing another writer’s work to taking shortcuts that border on plagiarism. A lot of these shortcuts that we know are “cheap” may, on the surface, appear like the fastest shortcut to a great future.
Every writer has some sort of manifesto, some invisible set of rules that we rely on to benchmark our career’s progress and our path to infamy and glory. This set of rules covers what we will write for (and what we won’t), what pay we’ll accept, what rights we’ll sacrifice and how we’ll help each other out. Some of us live with flexible rules that bend and twist as we continue plodding our path forward; some of us don’t. Maybe we’ve intentionally over-committed ourselves to writing projects, knowing that we can’t deliver on time. Maybe we handed in poor quality work, relying on an editor to clean our projects up because we didn’t like them. Worse–maybe we sniped, poked and prodded other writers behind their back, because we were jealous of their success.
Regardless of what you believe your ethics are as a writer, I ask you to remember that this is a fluid industry that ebbs and flows with change. Where you are now will probably evolve in as little as two years, five years or ten. Everything we do builds not only our online reputation–but memories with fellow writers who are trying to get to that same level of achievement that we are. When we make concessions to our ethics, we run the risk of someone else remembering what we had done, and our career may suffer for it in the end.
No, this is not a diatribe for preaching what those ethics or decisions are, because quite frankly that’s a personal decision; every writer has to do what is within their comfort level. The point I’m trying to make here, is that ethics are important because they affect more than just you, personally. Ethics shape your future and (in many, many cases) it speaks to how publishers treat writers as a whole. Every time we blow deadlines, don’t bother following project guidelines or create drama, the consequence is that the publisher has an impression that goes far beyond us personally. If time and time again writers do not act “ethically,” then the publishers who encounter more than just the odd writer out will take that into consideration when they’re reviewing things like contracts or pay rates.
If we writers want to be treated with respect for the work that we do, we need to act responsibly and professional. Not only do we need to back up what we say we can do, we need to support each other. This, in my mind, is how ethics are created because not only are we looking at how we influence our tiny corner of the universe–we’re looking at how we impact each other.