16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part One)

Warning: It’s about to get real up in here.

Every profession has its list of petty annoyances. I’m sure doctors get sick of everyone they meet asking them about their physical ailments at cocktail parties. I’m sure stockbrokers would probably like to talk about their favorite movie once in a while instead of constantly being pumped for info about which investments to choose. But I don’t know much about being a doctor or a stockbroker, so I’m going to tell you about what drives writers nuts…because THAT, I know. And, hey, our writing teachers’ mantra was always, “Write what you know.”

I’ve compiled a list of 16 things I think every professional writer has at some point wanted to say (or scream) to someone. But since that’s a lot to scream at once, these are the first 8. I’ll post the remaining 8 next week. And if you have any to add in the meantime, please comment! Here we go….

  1. It’s really awkward when you ask for an agent referral. Every struggling writer hoping to have a book published knows an agent is a must or at least a huge leg-up in the publishing industry. The way to get one is to do your research and send query letters. Occasionally a friend of a friend might make introductions on your behalf, but when you ask a writer, “Will you refer me to your agent?” it puts us in a very awkward spot. In the first place, you’re assuming we love your work. That’s a big assumption. Sometimes people whose work we’ve never even seen are bold enough to ask for an agent referral, or sometimes it’s someone whose work we don’t love but we’re not mean and heartless enough to want to say so. So how would our agents feel if we kept burdening them with potentially less-than-stellar submissions they have to carefully consider because the person is a friend of ours? And then how awkward for the agent to say no when it’s a friend of a client? In my case, my agent already has a full client list, so I can avoid any awkwardness just by sharing that information. My advice: just don’t ask. If your writer friend loves your work enough to recommend you to his/her agent, he/she will suggest it without your asking. (Oh, and apologies to the authors I asked this question when I didn’t know any better.)
  1. Would I like to read your manuscript? No. Practically every author I know gets a request about once a week to read someone’s unpublished manuscript. One friend of mine has a particularly funny story of going to the restroom at a writer’s conference, only to have a bold conference participant slide her book manuscript under the stall. Most of us are already trying to balance our writing time with jobs and family, and we simply don’t have a lot of free time to read and critique others’ work. Once again, my advice is just not to ask. If your writer friend is dying to read your manuscript, he/she will ask you. Instead, take a writing class online or in person or sign up for a critique session at a writing conference.
  1. I’m afraid to tell you what I really think of your manuscript (if I read it). On the occasions when I have taken copious amounts of time to read and critique a manuscript, I’ve found it was a complete waste of my time. Why? Because so many writers don’t really want a critique: they simply want me to tell them how brilliant they are. That’s another reason I’m reluctant to take the time to read someone’s unpublished book. Creative folk are notoriously sensitive. I’ve known professional writers who have destroyed friendships because one of them didn’t love the other’s latest work.
  1. We especially don’t want to read your unpolished manuscript. If for some reason we do agree to read your book—like, say, you saved our dad’s life in Vietnam or you gave us a kidney or whatever—please, please do not preface the reading with, “This is really rough and I haven’t had time to read through it, but just go ahead and take a look.” REALLY? That’s basically saying, “My time is too precious to put the work into this, but your time isn’t valuable at all, so you fix it for me and let me know when you’re all done.” Umm, no, thanks. If a writer is generous enough to read your manuscript, make sure you give him/her your very best.
  1. Please don’t lump us in with the Grammar Police. Often when I meet new people and they find out I’m a writer, they respond with, “Ooh! I better watch what I say around you or you’ll correct me!” Why? Why would I do that? I’m not a seventh grade English teacher. And even when I WAS a seventh grade English teacher, I didn’t correct people’s grammar and usage outside of the classroom because that’s just rude. As a writer, I break grammar and punctuation rules all the time for stylistic purposes. Right now, I’m working on a series of elementary chapter books with a fourth-grade narrator, and you can bet she’s a lot more believable if she doesn’t correctly use who and whom. So, really…you don’t have to be careful what you say around me because of your grammar. However….
  1. You should be careful what you say around me. Because if I like it, there’s a pretty good chance I will steal it and put it in the mouth of one of my characters. You’ve been warned!
  1. No, I’m not impressed that you wrote this poem/book/short story in ten minutes because inspiration flowed freely through your genius brain. Whenever someone tells me he/she “just sat under a tree and wrote this whole thing and it came out perfect,” right away, I’m dubious about the work’s literary merit. Why? See number 4. Unless you happen to be John Keats. In which case, disregard everything I’ve said here. I would love to read your poem and whatever else you’ve got.
  1. When I tell you I don’t know anything about children’s picture books, I am not being modest. I really don’t know anything about children’s picture books. I’ve come to the conclusion that about 90% of the population aspire to write a children’s picture book. And 90% of that 90% seem to be under the false assumption that I can help them do it. I have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked for advice on picture books. Trouble is, I don’t write them, and I know less than nothing about them. Seriously. I can’t help you. It’s a whole ‘nuther genre and the only thing I do know is that it’s not nearly as easy as people seem to think it is.

Thanks for letting me vent! Tune in next week for numbers 9-16!

0 Responses to “16 Things Writers Wish You Knew (Part One)”


  • No Comments

Leave a Reply