Thursday, January 3, 2013
What to say to your fellow travelers.
Number 1, have you written anything they've read: Based on careful study random memories, I'd say about one in thirty-seven people, upon learning I'm a writer, ask a variation of "Have you written anything I've heard of?" I usually frown thoughtfully before responding: "I don't know. What have you heard?" (If you are not into role-playing games, btw, the answer is almost certainly 'no'.)
Number 3, want you to employ talented relative: About six months ago someone did suggest I have his daughter 'draw' the cover of my next book, though as a proud papa myself, I don't fault him for it.
Number 4, asking if you write like [popular series]: On hearing I write science fiction and fantasy, people often do ask if I write things like Star Wars or Harry Potter, though in recent months many have asked if what I write is like Twilight.
If the person asking is an aspiring writer who's expressed interest in writing and is serious about wanting to develop her craft, it's a bit more complex. I owe my start to a lot of supportive writers and editors who encouraged me along the way; I can't not support a new writer. On the other hand, I can't be a personal coach and mentor to everyone with a story to tell. (Actually, I tried that early on, thought I owed it to everyone who asked. Wore myself out and made enemies of a dozen neophytes who equated critiques of their work with attacks on their person.) These days I try to gauge what level of advice or guidance to give. Many benefit most from guidance to a few websites and some recommended reading - becoming a writer is at its core a solitary experience, after all. A few anecdotes - not many and not long - to illustrate possible roadblocks, dead ends, or easily missed opportunities might also be useful.
The one time I sorta mentored a writer, we exchanged fewer than a hundred words. I wrote all of Wolf Hunters at the Port City Java at Independence & Shipyard; ninety-seven four to nine hour days in a row. For about a month of that time a young man spent an hour or two each weekday at the table next to mine working on his original story. He had asked if he could work next to me because he had trouble focusing; he was easily distracted and didn't finish projects. He told me sticking close to me while I was writing, even though I couldn't see nor cared to look at what he was doing, kept him honest; it motivated him to stay off the internet and write. I don't know his name or what the story was about or why he stopped coming - though I like to think it was because he didn't need me any more.
What about you? If you're an established writer, how do you respond to new writers who ask your advice? If you're a new writer, what sort of guidance do you hope for from a professional writer?