Sometimes, when you’re a writer, you are approached by people who are dabbling in the medium. People who–how should I put this–shouldn’t be.
I was recently approached by someone who said they bought my book. Great. I hope they like it. I’m always happy to hear my books are being read…if somewhat nervous and ‘squiggy’ feeling. It’s not about the royalties. They either come or they don’t, right. It’s about someone reading my words and getting something out of them. So, I thanked him and told him I hope the book is a good experience for him. He’s a friend. I appreciated his support.
The thing is, he actually told me he’s not going to read it until I look at something he wrote.
Why am I suddenly this person who has to read your work? It was almost a threat. He has my book…but it’s being held for ransom until I read his writings. Seems like a fair exchange, right?
I try to be nice to everybody who shows an interest in writing. I try to be supportive. I guide them to the best places on the web–and in meat space–where they can congregate with like-minded people and learn more about the craft…and frankly, celebrate the craft with their fellow worshipers. I volunteer on a Board of Directors for a writing conference in my area. I critique the work of fellow writers. I’m an active participant in my local writing community, the WCDR. I try to be approachable and helpful when writers contact me. Sometimes to my own detriment. But I do these things because I feel indebted to the community that has given so much to me. I always feel I have to give back to writing, since writing itself has given me innumerable gifts…simply in the act of allowing me to call myself a writer.
But what’s this bullshit?!
I knew–ladies and gentlemen–right away that I was in for an unpleasant experience. I can tell. Writers…we can tell. When people say, “Yeah…I’ve been thinking about writing a book…about all the wild stuff I’ve done. You know…a biography. I’ve done some pretty amazing things.” When people say things like that, instead of, “I want to write…I want to BE a WRITER”, you know you’re in for a little bit of a nightmare. What I don’t get is the way that these people feel justified in approaching us and throwing their handfuls of loose paper on us and asking, “Well? Is it good?”
I’ll tell you now…before you read any further…that this is a venting post. I’ve been saddled with a handful of loose paper with one-dimensional dreck scribbled upon it. I didn’t even say, “Yes…I’ll read your work.” It was just handed to me, with the assumption that I’ve been waiting for the masterpiece all of my life. Why do people feel okay with this? Foisting their ‘writing’ onto people like this?
So now I’m stuck with pages and pages of, ‘…and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened.’ There is no flow, no voice, no grammatically correct sentences. For the love of fuck, there isn’t even attention to SPELLING! Does this person not have a word processor?!
I have to tell this person that his writing needs work. It’s not ready for the public eye. It will NEVER be ready for the public eye. He will never be a writer. Writing is something that is miles ahead of, “I have a story to tell.” Writing…when done well…is a state of grace. Not everyone with a story to tell becomes a writer. I’m so frustrated right now. I didn’t ask for this. I hate discouraging people. Even if they are bullies who foisted their work upon me. How do I deal with this person?
What gives these people the justification to do this? I don’t like awkward situations. Just sayin’…
I feel ‘small’ for talking about this…but I’m hoping other writers understand. I know we all get the, “Yeah! You’re a writer? What have I read of yours?” or the, “You write? How much do you make?” or the, “You write! How many books do you have out?” or many of the other questions non-writers ask writers. Sometimes you’re afraid to mention the fact you’re a writer in certain company…it’s like you can almost guess what some reactions will be. I can deal with this kind of thing. I just blow it off. Some non-writers think you’re not REALLY a writer until you have books out…and not just books in some cases, but books that they may in fact have read. Or, you’re not really a writer until you can afford to buy the second home from the staggeringly sickening royalty cheques coming your way. I can zone out this kind of noise. It’s the people who are not writers who think they can just throw some words together because everybody is dying to know the gritty and enlightening details of their wonderful life who make me insane. It’s the way they think they DESERVE and have a right to my time. Bottom line, though, is that I could have said NO. I was just cornered at the time…and I felt there was no way out. I guess the rant wasn’t quite over.
Time to face the music…
I so get it… I have learned to tell people that I am a donut maker so they won’t begin to tell me their problems or the problems of their “friend.” It is easier then saying her is my card make an appointment.
Psychotherapists get it all the time. You and I need to tell people NO, I don’t have the time, or in your case send it to an editor. or something like that.
People always tell me I should write a book. The next time I’m told that I’ll refer them to your “rant” I’m not a writer and I despise books that may have information but are poorly written.
Oh dear Kevin, you made me laugh so hard my coffee came out my nose again. Touché for having the chutzpah to put your feelings into words… I’ll bet you feel better now 🙂
Kevin – take a breath, let it go. Tell that ‘writer’ he needs to get his hands dirty. Really dirty. Then find a shredder and shred that crap. Wink.
I know how you feel. It happens to me too. *hugs*
On one hand, I want to stick up for all of the super newbies who make extremely dumb mistakes just by pure ignorance. I mean, I actually sent my favorite author an email asking if she’d be willing to give my “stuff” a read. I still feel like such a loser now that I know how much of a no-no that is.
BUT, what you’re describing is a total newb who is ignorant in the negative sense of the word, AND who has pretty screwy interpersonal skills. There is a way to approach people, even if you’re a poor sucker about to make a not-so-great request. My fave author sent me such a nice reply so I can only assume I came at her with a harmlessly ignorant request.
“Kevin, I got your book and you are a terrific writer. I was so inspired by the way you put this story together. It’s got me thinking about how I’d really love to put my effort and energy into writing. I have no idea where to start but I would love to learn from you. Do you have any advice or tips?” Wouldn’t that have been so nice?!
It’s the same when you compare cocky ignorant query letters to good ones–no wonder agents can get so vexed by how they’re approached.
You’re too nice, my friend. I wouldn’t be where I am now if you hadn’t nudged me along and offered your support and expertise. It takes a lot of time and energy to do that and if you’re someone who says “yes” automatically (I’m like that), you can end up with a lot of crap along with the good.
I’ve had this happen too. Last year, someone I work with–also a friend–struck up a conversation about writing and told me, just after explaining they would NEVER read my “horror book,” that they were retiring in five years, so they figured in about four years they would sit down and write a book so it could be published just when they were retiring and they could do the “book tours and stuff” and could I let them know the publishers they could send it to? As though these publishers were sitting, anxiously clicking their “Send and receive” buttons on their Outlook, eagerly anticipating this person’s submission.
I tried to explain the process, bring them back to some sort of solid ground, but they looked at me, smirked and said, “Okay, I get it.” When I asked what they “got” they explained that they could understand how I might be concerned about a “little competition” from them. I wished them luck with their endeavour.
Smile, nod politely in the right places, Kevin. Then point them to the nearest writing course or suggest they join the WCDR. But don’t take that manuscript. Because you’re right. We know when it’s going to be a trainwreck. We also know one thing more…
If we actually decide to be HONEST with them and explain to them all the reasons it IS a trainwreck, they’ll either ignore us as not knowing what we’re talking about, or they’ll get pissed with us. They won’t, however, thank us.
Don’t do it, my friend.
Yep. When an acquaintance learned that I write about home-improvement and have a blog on the subject, the first thing she said was, “Hey. I should do that. I can do about anything. You mean they really pay you for that? What easy money!” Yes, dear, easy money. Indeed. You are an excellent carpenter. But can you write about how to build/make/paint/sew/otherwise create something in a way that anyone would want to read it? That’s what I wanted to say, anyway.
I’ll go further than you, sugar. When someone says, “I want to BE a writer,” my reaction is “You’ll never be one.” Because you either are or you’re not. And if you ARE, you’re not out saying, “I could write a book if I wanted to”. You’d be writing one.
Bravo!! Well said, Gail. Writers NEED to write. It’s not a wish/want sort of thing. I’ve had this happen a few times and have sent the tomes back (quietly) with a few guiding words. Tobin’s right about pointing them in the direction of the nearest writing circle. And we all know it can happen there too (right, Kevin?)
I have been writing for a few years now, and I feel happy knowing that I have never tried to get authors I “know” through social media or met at events to read my work. Have I been tempted to ask? Well, yes, yes I have. But I know my mateiral is not ‘there’ yet and I don’t want to come off as one of ‘those crazy people’ that do things like what you describe.
Oh, man, I feel you. When I started interacting with other writers (mostly beginners like me), I was willing to read almost anything that people wanted feedback on, building good will and learning through critique and all that. It didn’t take long to realize my mistake. What I found was the the people who just instantly asked me to read something without any relationship or any offer on my part were often the ones who were (a) least ready for anyone to read this stuff and (b) least amenable to feedback. And in that case I feel justified, if I’m too shy to say “no thankyou,” in doing what I’m sure is all kinds of wrong: Handing it back with vague positive feedback. “I think you’ve really got something there” is not a *total* lie 😉
You should never forget that you were a newby once as well. I always say you can find something good in everyones work no matter what kind of writing. Surely there is something good in this persons work. I had a few cases where it pained me to find something worth saying, and then redirected them to join writers groups.
Thanks for the comments, all! Every once in a while, I hit a nerve. (-: Interesting comments. Wise posters. (-:
Don’t know if I agree with you Suzanne. Yes absolutely we were all newbies and we all likely committed unconscionable sins due to our lack of the proper etiquette. And yes, you likely can find something good in the work, but honestly, I think Kevin’s point here (or at least the way I see it, anyway) is that this person essentially blackmailed him into reading it. They said they would only read his book if he read theirs, which is not that big a deal…hey, they bought, no one’s holding a gun to their head to actually read it. But to essentially shove the manuscript into his hands without even asking? Nope, they don’t need coddling at that point, they need an introduction to the real world.
As Kevin would say,
There are too many people out there who say they have a story or they want to be a writer for us to help all of them. I think it fair for working writers (published or not, people who write most everyday and complete projects is my definition) to say they don’t have the time to help everyone. If someone thinks they can push through our busy schedules to demand that we read what we have written, my gut response is to say that success in writing starts with seeing where other people are coming from and getting outside of one’s own needs and perspective. That said, if it were me and I’d spent time reading and of his words, I’d tell him one positive thing and one critical thing, and then tell him my standard phrase (which I believe all the way to my bones) that “all writing leads to better writing,” but that the threshold for publishable is extremely high. And then I’d point him to a few books on writing technique. Just because you’re a good-natured writer doesn’t mean who have to answer every single question posed to you. Folks put good books on getting published out on the market all the time. Mentor who you want to mentor.
And besides that, you can tell. You can tell after a while whether it’s a sincere budding writer (and I’ve helped a few of those) who will LISTEN to what you tell them and aren’t only looking for a ‘Oh, that’s great!” It’s the attitude. I’ll help anyone who sincerely wants to learn. Someone who thinks they already know it all? Nope. And you can TELL.
Wow, I’ve never had that experience, Kevin, and I hope I never do. To have your book held to ransom, and to read work you didn’t ask for, that’s nuts. But it seems this person had a feeling of entitlement. How much nicer is it when people actually use manners – first, read your work, and secondly, ask for advice about where they can start. As a newbie, it’s hard to find your feet. I was lucky to find the Romance Writers of Australia early on in my apprenticeship.
But this person has lost your respect because of the attitude. Like you said, the normal comments non-writers say are to be expected and fobbed off. Take a deep breath. If this person IS serious about writing, he will pursue avenues. Maybe, say ‘dude, in the writing world, we just don’t do that. Start here.’
Hope you’re having a better day.