Why I Avoid Talking About Writing to People Who Want to Know About Writing

Part of me knows this story/article is going to be perceived negatively, and I totally understand it and why. However, I’ve recently felt a need to share this because it’s one of those things that, as a writer, it’s almost impossible to avoid.

Some background (for those who might not know me): I have written 15 novels, a collection of short stories, published about a hundred short stories, and have written more articles than I can begin to count. My writing career started more than 30 years ago, and it’s had its ups and downs, although sometimes it can feel more down than up. But it’s been over 30 years of productive writing.

Since then, I have mentored a LOT of people in writing. Some were novelists, some short story writers, some article writers, playwrights, and basically every kind of writing you can think of. Over the years, I enjoyed giving out advice that could help someone break through the first ten or twelve years of trying to break into the writing business. And in case you didn’t know it, there are a lot of pitfalls built into the system, and quite often falling into those holes is what separates a successful writer from an amateur.

One of the largest problems inherent in any beginning writing career is how the field, and thus, the process has changed over the last twenty years. An example: When I first started writing, to become somewhat successful, you usually followed this model:

  1. Write and publish short stories in small journals or anthologies.
  2. Begin to get published in larger magazines and trade journals.
  3. Attract an agent before or after writing up a novel proposal.
  4. Get agent to sell your novel proposal.
  5. Write novel.
  6. Continue to have agent sell future novels.
  7. Profit!!!

By the time this model fell apart, I was in Step 6 and writing my seventh novel. But like I said, it all kind of fell apart right then there.

Why? You might ask.

The Internet. And Amazon. Both of those entities turned a time-practiced model into a complete shambles. Now, people could publish their own stuff, put it directly on Amazon, and then become rich and famous.

Except, that’s not what really happened. Instead, a few people who were better social networkers than they were actual writers, figured out how to maximize the system in a way that if you weren’t already famous or beyond lucky, you were going to triple the time of the original model, and quite possibly never get an opportunity to break-in whatsoever.

You see, part of the new problem is that because anyone could become a “writer”, we were going to end up with such a sludge pile of crap overwhelming the available books so that becoming successful was practically impossible without some gimmick hook that has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of writing.

Which has led to an interesting dilemma that I don’t think most people know about, or even care about. Back in the day, I used to get dozens of letters from people a week asking me for advice on writing. Because of instant communication, that’s now dozens a day (not to count the hundreds of throw into spam folders because I’ve lost the ability to respond to everything asked of me). You’d think this would be a good thing because of the “new” readers, but it hasn’t translated that way. Instead, I get more and more requests for information from budding writers and absolutely no new influx of readers. It’s like we have hit an era of people who all want to be writers, but none of them actually want to read anything.

Now, if you’re name is Stephen King or anyone of a number of superstar young adult writers who sell millions of books, this probably isn’t even a second thought because few of them are engaging readers as anything other than as their fans. A King doesn’t go around giving out writing advice to people as a public service (no, he writes a book about it and makes more millions), so the problem doesn’t fall into that demographic of the writing community. Basically, it’s people like me who thought it was a public service to help people become the writers they can be that essentially filled the troughs with writing information.

It was very recently that I decided to just stop helping people out on a one-to-one basis because I started to discover that the person I was helping was relying on me way too much. He wouldn’t write a few lines without asking me a question about how to develop character interactions. Or even worse, my other favorite line: “Can I get you to read these few pages to see if they work?”

No. And why not? Because they’re most likely not going to work. What I have started to ascertain is that people start to fall into a crutch of wanting validation for lines of text they have written 30 times after sending it to me 29 times before that last amount. And then they will honestly tell themselves that it was “all them”.

Last week, I told one of these people that I was no longer interested in reading what he had to write until he was done with a first draft (OF THE NOVEL). And even that was overly nice of me because what I also discovered (and this not known by a lot of people) but when I’m reading someone else’s work, it quite often stymies and halts my own writing for weeks because my process is a continuous writing process where my mind is thinking of a story each and every moment I’m doing something else. Unless I’m editing someone else’s work. Then my brain’s creativity turns off. Completely.

On another subject (but similar), I’m in the middle of beginning stages of my latest novel, which is probably the most important piece of fiction I have ever done. When it’s done, I might be done with writing for good. And I may not even try to publish it but just toss it into a golden trash can once it’s printed out and done.

Why? Because it feels like I’m writing to the wind now. I got into the whole writing gig in the first place because I love to entertain and tell stories. When your stuffed animals aren’t even listening to the stories any more (even though they stare at me and pretend they are), it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.

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