Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Friday, October 5, 2007

Advice Seekers

I've seen it several times - a writer gets approached by another writer who's looking for guidance through the maze of this industry. Perhaps the first writer is published while the second is not. Maybe the first writer is just more seasoned. Either way, the act of seeking guidance is initiated.

This is all well and good. Most writers I've encountered are more than happy to help. Lord knows I've had several writers help me, and I hope I've helped my share in return. For me, I like doing it. If I can teach someone some of the things I've learned about this business, I'm happy to do it. The only time I'm not happy is when I take the time to give assistance to someone who's asked, only to have that person ignore me.

Now I'm not talking about differences in style. If you're critting someone else's work, there are bound to be those, and they're natural. For that matter, I don't expect every suggestion I make to be taken on faith. I'm not a megalamoniacal twit, for pete's sake. (Well, not all the time anyway. :wink:)

No. I'm talking about things where it's clear the second writer hasn't done his homework. He's sending out queries addressed to Dear Agent, for instance. Or he's telling agents if they want to know more about him, visit his website. Or even the most basic: he has no clue about basic spelling and grammar. Any of the above, and probably dozens of other gaffs you can think of from your own experience.

You sit down and commit hours to providing useful and insightful suggestions on how his work can be improved. And he basically pretends you're out of your mind. He's going to do it his own way. Dammit.

I'm all for individuality. I'm all for doing it your own way. What I'm not for is asking someone else for help, and THEN doing it your own way. If he was going to do it his own way anyway, why did he waste writer #1's time asking for advice?

Another advice seeker that gets on my nerves is the kind who begs for assistance and then after you've given advice, rewrites everything and sends it back to you to fix again - making a myriad of changes without a single change you suggested. Like I said, I don't have a problem with stylistic differences. I don't even think every suggestion should be adopted every time. I'm even okay with one writer saying 'everything you suggest is insane, so I'm not doing any of them'. Sometimes writers can't agree. No big deal. Find someone who suits your work better. I not only recommend it, I encourage it. But for pete's sake, don't ignore me and then send me another piece of work I'm just going to mark up and send back. That's insane.

The third person is the kind who wants the magic key. (I haven't encountered any of these people personally, but I've heard about them.) They make no allusions to wanting to improve their work. They already wrote it, and now they want it published. They want the magic key to getting their work published. And they want you to give it to them.

You can tell them there is no magic key. You can tell them the only magic key is hard work. It doesn't matter what you tell them. They won't believe you. The only thing you can tell them is they are absolutely right - there is a magic key and you're happy to share. That's the only answer they'll be happy with, so once you see one of these people, don't bother trying. They want the easy way out, and since there is no easy way out, they'll never be happy. (They'll only be the ones with a big target painted on their chests for all the scammers in this business.)

So, be careful when you ask for advice - you just might get it. Be careful when you offer advice - they may just take you up on it. Don't get me wrong. For the most part, writers helping other writers is a good thing. I'm just saying to be careful. Know what your expectations are going in, and don't be afraid to politely cancel the relationship if it gets too hairy, scary or just plain frustrating.

1 comment:

Alex Adams said...

The "magic key" types don't want to be writers; they want to "have written." To me, half the fun of writing is the struggle to make it as good as I can get it.