Write Tips: How To Check The Ego & Be A Better Artistic Citizen With Fellow Creatives

You know, watching Celebrity Apprentice, a guilt pleasure, has actually brought back unpleasant memories this year of my days working in theatre and why I burned out. There’s something that happens when you get creative people together that can be very unpleasant: a clash of the titans, I mean, egos. If you’re artistic, you’re passionate, if you’re passionate, you’re ego driven, and if you’re ego driven, and Western, in particular, you’re likely an individualist. Those three traits combine to make collaboration a challenge for most of us. It can be hard enough dealing with editors, publishers and critics commenting on our ideas, our art, etc., but to have to create with someone equally driven and deal with their opinions too can just push you over the edge. But art is often, at its best, in collaboration. So proper care and feeding of the ego is important.

This post is not as much about how to collaborate well as how to be a decent artistic citizen, let’s get that straight, How to be professional and courteous when working with others, i.e. how to play nice.

1  ) Respect Others’ Gifts. You are not the only gifted person on Earth. It’s best to remember that. Think back to the last time you wrote embarrassing prose. Yesterday? The day before? Everyone writes crap, no matter how experienced or trained you are. Sometimes it’s quickly overcome and tossed aside, other times it consumes your frustrating day. You’re not above it, so before you pump up the ego and get cocky, give yourself a little flashback. Nothing tames the ego like a reminder of your own frailty.

2 ) Remember Your Last Bad Review. We all have gotten them. We all dislike them, even when they teach us stuff. It’s just not fun to have someone criticize a piece of your heart. Before Mister or Miss Ego mouths off to someone else, try to remember what it feels like to get a bad review. That ought to temper your words or at least slow you down enough to think before you speak.

3 ) Check Your Motives. Why are you there at that moment interacting with those fellow artists? Did you get invited or did you choose to come? What value can the interaction provide you? Unless they’re crashing a hot date, chances are, they’re there for a reason and you should take advantage of the opportunity to network and build relationships. These could be the people who recommend your work, vote for you in future awards or introduce you to your next publisher or agent, after all. No artist is really in competition with another. Our selling point is our unique voice. And, in the end, networking is so key to everyone’s success that we all need each other, so check your motives and remember that.

4 ) Your Art May Be About You But The World Isn’t. Yeah, sorry, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Ask the biggest names you know: Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Kris Rusch, etc. They’re all quite secure in their gifts and their goals and yet, they’re nice and respectful toward others. Why? Because they know that they are one of many: many have gone before them and many will come after. You can make a choice: do you want to be remembered well or badly? It’s your call.

5 ) Learning Rarely Occurs In A Vacuum. Sure, working out the nitty-gritty issues with craft can occur on your own in your office or studio, but chances are the interaction which gave you the insight needed to know where and how to make improvements in your craft came through interaction with others. People speak into our world all the time unexpectedly and without even being aware of it. If you view every opportunity to interact with other creatives as a potential learning opportunity, the chance to get better at what you do–even if it’s learning from someone else’s mistakes or wrong thinking–then your attitude during such encounters will adjust accordingly.

6 ) You Can Control Yourself, Not Anyone Else. Okay, so one of the other creatives is being an egomaniac jerk. So what? You can’t control their behavior, you can only control your own. If it gets too bad, you can always leave, yes. If it’s someone with whom you have a good relationship, you can try to pull them aside and let them know. But beyond that, it’s out of your control. Don’t let it stress you out or change your behavior. They’re the one who’ll really suffer from their behavior in the long run as long as you stay out of it. Remember what you can control and let go of the rest.

7 ) Listen More Than You Speak. One of the best ways to control that ego is to let someone else talk more than you do. Look at the interaction as an opportunity to practice listening skills. For most creatives, listening is key to learning things which we’ll later try to capture in our art. So…look at the opportunity you have to listen first and talk later. Make sure when you do speak that what you have to say matters. People who feel you’re listening to them are much more likely to listen to you anyway.  And frankly, the less you speak, the less chance you have of saying something dumb, right? Especially if your ego is making you tense.

Ultimately, any successful creative’s career involves interacting with other creatives and those who support them. My experience in television and film was that the most successful and longstanding people in Hollywood were the nicest. The ones who’d just appeared or risen quickly were more likely to be jerks. There’s always exceptions but that tended to be the trend. From my experience so far in publishing, I’d tend to say the same rules apply. I’ve already met people who fall into both categories. What about you? The best advice I ever got on entertainment came from Ted Danson, off the cuff, after I’d interviewed him one day. He said: “Always surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you the truth. You’ll get lots of people telling you how great you are all the time in this business, but what you need is someone who’s still willing to tell you when you’re being an asshole.”

Good advice for all of us, if you ask me. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.



Write Tip: 10 Tips For Doing A Good Interview–As Both Interviewer and Subject

Interviews are a fact of life for successful people–especially entertainment people like writers. At some point, you’ll be asked to do an interview about your work. How do you prepare? How do you stay calm and fight nerves? How do you overcome introversion or shyness? Interviews require different things from an interviewer and an interviewee. I do both, so here’s some suggestions to help you in whichever role you find yourself.


1) Be Yourself. The interview was requested because of a desire by readers and the interviewer to know the person behind the stories. So don’t let them down. Be you. Yes, you should try not to be you at your most obnoxious, but don’t overdo it either. Relax, take a deep breath, and be honest.

2) Ask To See The Questions In Advance. Most interviewers will happily supply a list of potential questions in advance. If they don’t, don’t assume they’re out to trip you up or embarrass you. They may just be unorganized. But if they do, go over them, think through and practice potential answers, trying to smooth out the rough edges so you can give them good soundbytes. Public speaking takes practice and even if the interview takes place in private or by email, it will be published in a public foreign so practice makes perfect.

3) Practice. As I started to say above, practice is a vital part of your preparations. Ask someone you trust–your agent or a friend or spouse–to interview you. Sit down like you would in a real interview and field questions. When you stumble, stop, and do it again. Get used to talking about yourself. It’s something many of us are not good at and never comfortable with. That’s okay but you should at least be able to exude confidence and calmness. And that may take practice.

4) Be Prepared To Say No.  You don’t have to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable. Sort out in advance where your boundaries are and stick to them. Personal and professional can and should be separated for your own mental health. Some people are more comfortable sharing things than you might be. That’s fine. Being yourself means knowing where to draw line and not being afraid to do so.

5) Have Fun. Interviews are more fun both to participate in and read if you have a sense of humor. Don’t be afraid to use it. Figure out the things you like about what you do and share them with a healthy dose of humility. People like those who can laugh at themselves. And your attitude goes a long way in helping you fight off nervousness and relax.

6) Keep It Short. Don’t ramble on and on. Be as concise as you can in answering questions. It’s the interviewer’s job to ask follow up questions if he or she needs or wants to know more. Besides, holding back leaves you with more to talk about later in the interview. Don’t use all you’ve got on the first few questions.

7) Know The Audience. Who’s the interview for? Fellow writers? Talk about how you write, why you write, what your writing day and approach to craft are like. Readers? Where’d the ideas come from? What are the themes and how did you develop them? Who are these characters and why did you write them the way you did? Etc. Knowing who will be the target audience for the interview will help you comfortably shape your answers to  keep them interested.

8 ) Dress Comfortably.  It’s not a job interview. So don’t dress to impress. Dress to be comfortable so you can just relax. If you like wearing a tie, wear one, but if you don’t leave it at home. Don’t dress hot. Don’t dress cold. Be yourself but look presentable so neither you nor the interviewer are distracted by other issues. You’re there to relax and have a conversation. Make that easy on yourself.

9) Arrive Early. Don’t put the pressure on yourself of running late if you can help it. You don’t want to be disheveled or out of breath. You want to be able to relax. So arrive a few minutes early to give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the location and the interviewer before you get down to business.

10) Bring Bottled Water. Many interviewers will provide this for you. Sometimes your publicist will. Don’t be afraid to ask in advance and, if you forget, ask when you arrive. Have cool water to drink when your throat gets dry. Skip the soda or juice or other thick liquids which coat your throat or cause belching or otherwise inhibit smooth speech. Just have water so you can stay lubricated when you need to.

There’s 10 Tips to help you as subject of an interview. Now here’s 10 more for conducting one.


1) Do Your Research. Research not just the subject, but read their books. Read past interviews they’ve done. Talk with people who have met them. Get to know how they talk, their speech cadence, typical vocabulary, hobbies, marital status and anything else which can help you. The more knowledgable you are, the more comfortable they’ll be. Know which subjects to avoid, too. Unless you’re working for a tabloid, your goal should be to make both yourself and the subject look good.

2) Prepare Your Question In Advance.  Don’t wing it. Follow-up questions can be done on the fly but your main questions should be written down and refined before you show up. Whether you memorize them or read them off a cue sheet is up to you but have them ready. Know what the intended audience wants to know so you can word your questions appropriately. Also know what the interview subject most wants to discuss so that you can be sure and ask about that. Be prepared.

3) Dress Appropriately. Like the subject of your interview, things will go better if you’re relaxed, but don’t show up looking like you just got out of bed. Be well groomed and well attired. It doesn’t require wearing a suit and tie, just not dirty or torn clothes and shoes. Look professional, even if it’s casual. So the interviewee feels respected and takes you seriously. A confident interviewee is a better interview.

4) Practice. Just like the interviewee needs practice so do you. Once your questions are prepared, run through them. Practice enunciating and talking slower than you might normally so that you articulate well and can be understood. Think up follow up questions which might need to be asked based on various answers the subject provides. Get comfortable with your wording so that you can avoid confusion and stay in control.

5) It’s Your Job To Set The Tone. If you’re relaxed, the subject will feel more relaxed. If you’re tense, so will the other person be. So be prepared to set the appropriate tone. People who are relaxed and comfortable talk more freely and longer.  Make it like a conversation between friends, not a police interrogation and you’ll have more success not only getting through interviews but scheduling the next one.

6) Choose A Good Location. You need a location where both of you can sit comfortable and relax with minimum distractions. If you’re interviewing a celebrity of any level, you don’t want fans interrupting for autographs every five seconds. You don’t want tons of friends hollering ‘hellos’ across the room at either of you. The best location would be somewhere quiet and out of the way, not public. Follow Hollywood’s example and scout the location, even if it’s an hour before. Give yourself time to adjust what needs adjusting, even the location itself.

7) Don’t Be Late. The Subject can be late but you can’t. Keeping somebody waiting whom you’ve scheduled for an interview is not just unprofessional, it’s rude. They are giving you their time out of a probably busy schedule. Any time you miss, will be time you lose, if they have somewhere else to be right after. Also, you’ll want time to relax and feel prepared so be on time. Early even.

8 ) Bring Liquids. Don’t let yourself or your subject suffer from dry throat. Have bottled water or a pitcher of water and cups ready to help lubricate your throats as needed. Don’t even let them ask. Just have it there where they can see it and help themselves. Your preparedness is part of setting the right tone to help them be comfortable as quickly as possible. And your consideration will go a long way in helping a stranger feel like you’re a friend.

9) Make Small Talk. Before you jump right in, make sure the person is comfortable with you. If you’ve met before, it may require only a few quick greetings, but if not, a bit of small talk goes a long way. Ask them about their day, offer water, make sure their happy with their chair, etc. Set a the relaxed tone with your attitude of treating them with respect and care and they’ll assume you’ll do that through the interview and feel much more at ease quickly.

10) Get It Right. Don’t put words in their mouths. If something’s missing or unclear as you review the interview notes or recording after, call or email to follow up. Clarify. Don’t assume. One of your goals is to capture their voice, so be sure it’s them, not you. On the other hand, take out any pauses or stutters or stumbles. Fix obvious bad grammar. Make them look and sound good. They’ll be pleased with you and both they, their publicist, and their friends will be more willing to interview with you in the future.

Well, those are 10 Tips For Conducting Interviews from a guy who has done a lot of them. I hope all 20 tips in this post are helpful. If nothing else, you can understand the responsibilities and concerns of both sides of the interview. Going in informed is always helpful. Have other tip? We’d love to hear them in the comments. Don’t be shy. We’re here to help each other.

My latest project:

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.