I threw my hat into the #pitchmadness ring and plan to try #PitMad this week too, because WHY NOT. This has not helped me focus when sick and tired, but damn, it has been awesome for meeting fellow writers. I'm one of those people who started going to writing workshops at the age of 10, and meeting others who shared my particular brand of weird and crazy was always a source of unvarnished delight. Hey! You get it too! Amazing! As an adult I've long been wondering where everybody went and how to find my people again without shelling out time and $$ for workshops. AND LOOK.
Interestingly, while this was going on, I kept running across examples of the opposite mentality. Take this paragraph from a litany of the horrors of the literary life (hat tip to Rob Boley and Raw Dog Screaming Press):
Meanwhile, you have to deal with the envy of watching your rivals - and authors see rivals everywhere, however much they deny it - being apparently more successful than you (naturally, you don't pay any heed to the invisibly large majority who are less successful). Writing is not a convivial, supportive business - as John Dos Passos observed: 'Writers are like fleas, they get very little nourishment from one another.'
O rage. O désespoir.
I've certainly noticed this side of the creative community. It's not just authors. Musicians, artists, crafters - get any group of people together who have staked their self-worth (or their livelihood!) on their creativity, and insecurity will generate an impulse towards competition and snottiness.
Just look at any of the people bloviating on the intert00bz about how genre writing is trash with no redeemable value - you can dependably find them in the comments on Lev Grossman's essays about writing fantasy, for instance, or on articles exploring why adults might read YA books. A particularly egregious recent example has a former MFA instructor moaning about the mediocrity of his own students. When those people get in charge of a creative venue - a workshop, a show, a classroom - the results are downright toxic (an effect I've never had to cope with firsthand, thank god, but you hear stories.)
But if our decline into competitive snottiness is inevitable, we're not obligated to do anything about it, right? Easier to sharpen our broadswords, soldier out into the arena, and get back to cutting each other down. Sink or swim. Every man for himself. Be rugged! Be independent!
If you insist on approaching the arts like that, it's going to be a lonely and anxiety-inducing business indeed. Even if you triumph over every challenger, the only way to maintain your championship will be to keep your weapons to hand at all times; you won't get a lot of sleep, and you won't ever get out of the arena.
It's harder when you're older and more self-conscious, but we all have the option of bonding over enthusiasm instead of letting fear sow bitchiness and isolation. Look at the cheerleading and networking that happens during something like #pitchmadness - yes, it's a competition. But it's also founded on the imperative, created more by leadership example than by specific rule, that you cheer other people on. The name of the game isn't sizing other people up as competition; it's learning from their awesomeness. Pitch swaps! Query swaps! Blog hops! Free advice!
If you want to build a convivial, supportive business, there is something you can do RIGHT NOW: go forth and say constructive things to people on the internet. It is totally possible to suffuse our little corner of the intert00bz (or our table at the coffee shop) with encouragement and generosity of spirit and establish that as the dominant social contract. In the most cynical terms, when you put it out there, it generates the obligation for other people to do the same. It doesn't erase the insecurity and the nasty voice we all have in the back of our heads, but it makes it easier to ignore. We're not competitors; we're colleagues. There are always going to be people who sneer at this as coddling weakness and justifying mediocrity, but you know, if those people are right that we're doomed to get nowhere, at least we'll have had fun and good company on the way.
"May the odds be ever in your favour," as they say, but remember what happened when the tributes banded together.