Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: A Law for Online Freelance Writers

I can’t remember which of the earlier installments revealed the Law, but I do remember Virgil teaching it to others in Battle for the Planet o the Apes.

Ape shall never kill ape.

Yeah, it’s nothing more than a variation of “Thou shalt not kill”, but it’s a little easier to apply laws made by and for monkeys to the freelance writing world than to go straight at the Judeo-Christian source material.

There’s no reason to anger the faithful with a trivialization of Commandment One.

That’s why I’m going with the version that appears in the Lawgiver’s scrolls instead of the one from the stone tablets.  It’s better to work with the one involving Astronaut Charlton Hesston than the one with the Moses Charlton Hesston.

“Ape shall never kill ape” is good policy.  Anything that originates with John Huston wearing prosthetic wise old monkey features probably is.

If you want your society to flourish, it’s a good idea not to beat up on one another.  The gorilla shouldn’t whack the chimp.  The chimp shouldn’t poison the orangutan.  The orangutan shouldn’t put a contract out on the gorilla.  Etc.

Things only work when the divisions between us aren’t potentially fatal.

We could easily start pontificating on that principle and what it says about the way the nations and religions of the world treat and kill one another, but I’m going to dial it way back.  I want to talk about The Law and the various groups of freelance writers who share the same Internet.

There’s a lot of ape-killing going on out there, folks.  That statue of the Lawgiver is weeping again and this time the tears aren’t open to multiple interpretations.  It’s all about sadness stemming from our transgressions.

The comments on a recent FWJ post are a great example.  There are enough dead apes to dissuade a number of writers from engaging their peers.

  • Ape kills ape when the pennies-per-word content writers sneer at the haughty, elitist dollars-per-word people.
  • Ape kills ape when the high-rate writers attack the low-rate writers and when they decide to “take pity on those poor fools who know not what they do.”
  • Ape kills ape when the refined essayist condemns the hardnosed copywriter who loves screaming, red-headlined direct response work.
  • Ape kills ape when that copywriter starts calling others “shitweasels” ala Joe Vitale and when the cool kids who don’t believe in “push” piss over those screaming red headlines.
  • Ape kills ape when cliquishness trumps community and when back-biting beats collegiality.

Today, I’m a zealot in support of the Lawmaker’s number one rule.  That’s the way it usually is with recent converts, right?

You see, I haven’t always embraced “ape shall never kill ape”.  I’ve killed in self-defense, which I hope is forgivable in Mr. Huston’s eyes.  I’ve whipped other apes for sake of amusing those who are predisposed to agreeing with me in the first place.  I’ve also killed out of frustration and I’ve even buried a few of my fellow monkeys just because I could.

Overall, I think I’ve done okay.  But I know I’ve been a smart-assed chimp, a vicious gorilla and a know-it-all orangutan at one time or another.  Now I see the light.

I’m done with it.

That doesn’t mean I’m done with the discussions.  I’m not going to silently nod and eat a banana when I hear something with which I disagree.  I’ll still speak up.  But I’m going to do it with a little more tact and a lot less bloodlust.

I know that Deb has mentioned her intent to stay positive.  From a distance, I’ve always thought that sounded like a damn good idea.  Personally, I didn’t know if I could do it.

I’m a natural born smart-ass and I actually enjoy (like REALLY enjoy) a heated argument.  As twisted as this may sound, I also like pushing people’s buttons during those arguments.  I have a full buffet of sarcasm and a pitcher of ice cold mean to serve and I’ve always been willing to dole out seconds.  I also come from a background in competitive argumentation, where a little viciousness was recognized by all involved as a way to inject some humanity into otherwise analytical exchanges and where no one took it personally, unlike the way they do in the real world.

That’s why I’ve advised others to argue things out and to grow thick skins in the process.

That’s still good advice, I guess.  I still believe that frank, open, smart disagreements can transform perspectives and push us closer to the ever-elusive truth.  I’m a recent convert to the Law, but I’ve always been a marketplace of ideas adherent.

And there will be many apes who will disregard the Law.  It’s good to wear a fireproof tunic over your thick furry self when you enter into arguments with those people.

But that doesn’t justify being mean.  “Ape shall never kill ape” is good law for a reason.

When we’re not snarky, sassy, pissy, mean insult-tossers, we actually increase the likelihood of having others listen to our arguments.  You get style points for the best “yo’ mama is so fat” line,  but that rarely persuades anyone to change his or her mind.  If the argument is worth having, it’s worth giving up the mockery and attitude to improve the dialog.

Plus, it’s nice.  You know what I mean?  It doesn’t hurt people’s feelings.  Even the thick-skinned have feelings.  Sometimes it’s their sensitivity that led to the development of those tough hides (even though they’d never admit to that).

If I disagreed with you last week, I probably still think you’re wrong.  I won’t pretend otherwise.  But I won’t engage you in the debate or blog about your position in a mean-spirited or negative way.  It’s a bad habit that’s just not really working for me anymore.

It’s not that fun and it’s way too easy.

I might slip up here and there.  Okay, I will.  But I’m gonna give it  a try.  I hope others do likewise.


10 responses
  1. Deb Ng Avatar

    Thank you for your post, Carson. It’s nice to see I’m not the only person taking a vow of positivity. And lest you think that means only being Polly Perky, let me assure you that’s not true. Being positive means that you can contribute to an argument without stooping to finger pointing and insulting. It means you can disagree in a respectful manner with calling those who aren’t on the same page an ass. It also means you can write on a not so positive subject without being a bully.

    Also, you said, “That’s still good advice, I guess. I still believe that frank, open, smart disagreements can transform perspectives and push us closer to the ever-elusive truth. ”

    I love frank discussion, but I think so many people feel that being frank or “brutally honest” means being rude. If my Great Aunt Martha has spinach between her teeth, I can take her aside and tell her so in a way that doesn’t embarrass or belittle. I wouldn’t yell out across a room, “Jeebus, Auntie M, brush your teeth. What kind of idiot are you for not knowing that anyway?” It’s called tact. We’re writers, we should know how to be encouraging (or discouraging ) without stooping to insults. I’m not going to say I haven’t been guilty of it in the past, because I have. However, I’m no longer going to be consumed or angered by what the other guy is doing.

  2. allena Avatar

    I agree with your bullet points! But where does being proactively critical come in? As in, this was the longest post I’ve seen on FWJ!
    .-= allena´s last blog ..What Folio Says About Working at Home =-.

  3. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @allena- I think criticism is a good thing. It’s criticism for the sake of criticism and criticism laced with ad hominem that’s more problematic.

    It’s also a matter of how we respond to criticism, right?

    I’m noting your objections (alluded to here and mentioned on FB) and will take them under consideration. Seriously. I’m not saying, “Allena is one of *those* shallow people who wants everything to be under 200 words and nothing but bullets–the kind with TV-commercial attention spans who can’t bother to read more than a f-ing cereal box.”

    We should always feel free to offer constructive criticism and to express our perspectives. I’m just making a renewed effort to do that without being a jerk. 🙂
    .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..More on Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Post at FWJ =-.

  4. Christi Avatar

    Great post! I too have a rather acerbic sense of humor and can cut someone to the core with extreme efficiency! I’ve been reading the book about how to lead a complaint free life and they too mention humor and how it can hurt people. I will have to develop new ways of arguing and how to find the humor, but it will test my creativity and that’s always a good thing! Thanks again!

  5. Jeanne Avatar

    I always brace myself when someone warns me that they tend to be “direct and frank.” It usually translates to, “I’m going to feel free to stomp all over your feelings, but hey, I warned you, so it’s okay.”

    Frank discussions? Great. Let’s be honest. And like Deb says, positive does not equate to Polly Perky (love that phrase, by the way.)

    But I refuse to get into arguments and I don’t admire people who are biting, sarcastic or bitter. Present your facts. Be passionate in your debate. I won’t support attacks though.

    My two cents, given free, so you got a bargain today.

  6. Jodi Kaplan Avatar

    I think that a lot of the arguing starts because people willing to work for low pay think “Hey, it’s money, and I need money.”

    Meanwhile, the high-cost writers think, “The low-fee people are pulling us all down. How dare they!” Doesn’t matter if it’s writers or graphic designers or video producers, the same fight seems to break out.

    In my opinion, the key is not what the other guy does, it’s how you separate yourself, create your own niche, and build your own value. Cartier ignores WalMart; and vice versa I’m sure. Different markets, and different customers.

    Just my 2 cents on a chilly morning. Right now, I’d pay extra for heat!
    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..Copywriting Lessons from a Real Estate Agent =-.

  7. Angie Papple Johnston Avatar

    I love this post. I’m not big on attacking other writers – because as long as I don’t have a problem finding clients who want to pay my rates, I don’t really care what other people charge.
    .-= Angie Papple Johnston´s last blog ..Write for Freelance Writing Tips =-.

  8. allena Avatar

    It was recently really really rough for me to respond to an editor who had 3 pages of edits on an article. What I really wanted to say was How the **** am I going to fit in all that without adding words? (among other things) Instead, I bit my tongue and worked the piece over. And THEN I thanked her for the little bit of free education that she gave me that I knew would take to the next piece.

    Now, I MIGHT MIGHT be one of those commercial-quick people. Especially early in the AM when I want to get thru my feeds and see whats up in the freelance writing world. I loved your title, but then you lost me til the bullets, which is where I was back on board. I was thinking “just give me the facts, ma’am!”
    .-= allena´s last blog ..What Folio Says About Working at Home =-.

  9. Anita Avatar

    Loved the post, Carson! And for the record…I agree with the choice of Law Giver! ;-D

  10. Brian @ ArcticLlama.com Avatar

    Who are you calling ape, you low-pay taking, commercial headline writing, elitist, haughty, essay writing, academic, award chasing… um, you…

    Yeah, I got nothing.

    Apes or no apes, positive always works out better in the end. If nothing else, it keeps you from getting the ice-cold shock that comes when someone innocently asks, “Why is your writing always so angry?” Not that I would know anything about that. I’m cynical, hard-nosed, and biting, not angry. Or, erm…

    How ’bout those Broncos?
    .-= Brian @ ArcticLlama.com´s last blog ..Freelancing Sick Time =-.

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