Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Experienced Writers Won't Babysit You

A lot of newbie writers ask experienced writers for help, and then get very upset at the response they received. Why? Because the experienced writer does one of two things:

1) Graciously, or sometimes not so graciously, refuses to read what the newbie has written.

2) Doesn't tell the newbie what the newbie wants to hear.

Let's start off by saying I've made this mistake as a newbie, and yes, my fee-fees were hurt. Years later, I understand where the experienced writers were coming from.

First of all, writing full-time is more than a full-time job. A career writer works 60-80 hours a week. So every little e-mail takes time away from either work or their personal life. And it's never one request.

For example, I'm no one famous, and I still get a couple of requests a month. Someone like Neil Gaiman or Nora Roberts gets thousands. There's no way they can possible answer them all, which is why a newbie will get a polite "Sorry" or "Please see Famous Writer's FAQ" from Famous Writer's assistant.

The experienced writer, who falls between barely known and famous, knows the newbie wants to be told they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Actually Betty White IS greater than sliced bread, but that's a story for another day.) The newbie may be. But usually they aren't. If the experienced writer gives the newbie advice, s/he knows from bitter experience that they will probably be cussed out. So why put themselves in that position? So they give a polite "No."

Unfortunately, the newbie doesn't understand why they've been told no, so they cuss out the experienced writer anyway. Which is why writers like Harlan Ellison chew a new hole in a newbie's ass if s/he dares to ask  him for help.

If the experienced writer does give any advice, the advice is usually rejected. I've been called several "B" words, the nicest of which was "brutal" when I didn't tell the newbie writer she was perfect.

So I've learned my lesson. If someone wants to talk business and s/he's finished AT LEAST one novel, I'm more likely to reply to a question. Otherwise, the newbie is still learning craft, and I'll steer them toward books/blog/classes that can help them.

I'm not trying to be cruel if I don't answer your question. We all have to learn to walk before we try to run a marathon. And the only way to learn to walk (or write) is to practice.

So hang in there and practice. Even Michael Jordan practiced twelve hours a day after he got his first NBA Championship ring.


  1. This reminds me of that post from a few years back, from a screenwriter guy, titled something like, "No, I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script." He said basically what you did, plus the possibility of being accused of plagiarism, and was flayed alive by most of the internet. I'm one of the few people who blogged about his post in a positive way, 'cause yeah. I mean, I enjoy helping newbies if I have some time and they seem like sane human beings, but generally I have either not enough time or not enough spoons, or both.

    When you're actually a newb, the best thing you can do is write lots of stories, and read a lot of stories. (Shorts, novels, whatever you're into.) And that's write stories, plural, not write one story (or novel) and then rewrite it six times and polish it twelve times. Lots of individual stories. You learn infinitely more from writing six stories than you do from writing one story and rewriting it five times.

    Try telling that to a lot of newbs, though. [sigh]


    1. Yeah, I remember screenwriter guy. The vitriol was coming from the newbs, and the experienced folks stayed quiet if my ancient, faulty memory is working right today. A lot of these folks aren't interested in the writing as much as the secret handshake to achieve fame and fortune.

      I don't necessarily agree with no rewrites, but that takes experience to understand where you went wrong, and even then, I limit it to one. *smile* But yeah, I totally agree. Write lots and lots of STORIES!