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  1. aberdeen
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    aberdeen Member

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    How much help have you really gotten from other writers?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aberdeen, May 22, 2014.

    I could go on and on about this topic but will be very brief. I have been writing for a couple of years now and hope to publish a collection of my essays within the next few months. I realize that my situation may be very unusual . Since the vast majority of people here concentrate on fiction, it's possible that none of you will be able to identify with my own situation.
    Whether justified or not, I must say that I have been disappointed in my contacts with other writers. Everyone needs a helping hand, and it only makes sense to at least try to reach out to others. If only a few prove to be of meaningful assistance, it would still be worth the effort.
    I have written to several dozen leading authors and columnists in the past few years and received little to no real encouragement advice, or even information. I admire their work, so how come they aren't interested in responding to my letters and emails? Are they just too busy, self-absorbed, or arrogant to reach out to beginners such as myself? That seems to be the case.
    I know a writer near where I live in Connecticut (USA). She has read some of my emails and tells me that I write very well. However, has she ever encouraged me to write for a living, or even asked me if I even do anything with it these days? The answer is a big no. Despite her twenty books so far, she has told me that it's been hard to make money in the field in recent years.
    I met another author at a New Years Eve party a few months ago. She has six books to her credit and told me how difficult it is for her and others to write these days. Why not mention my over a hundred essays so far and my desire to publish them? I told her that my goal was to sell ten thousand books. How did she react? Quite strongly and rather harshly I must say. She was adamant that I wouldn't sell
    see more than a hundred books. Why is that? It's probably because she struggled at the beginning and her top seller was seven thousand. Of course, some newcomer to the field can't do better than she. That probably accounts for her rather discouraging attitude towards me.
    Is writing really such a lonely life? Everyone being on their own, with the established ones telling the newcomers that the game has changed, so just give up your dreams? Sure, maybe only one in a hundred of us has what it takes to do well. As for the others, they might eventually have to settle for a regular, boring job. What happens to the one who truly has the ability and drive to do well? Must they struggle alone?


    Bill
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Busy most likely. I bet they get hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of emails and letters each year. Answering each one is impossible. Also, in some cases, the emails/letters you send go to the writer's publisher or agent, so the writer never actually gets to read them unless the publisher/agent forwards them to him/her.

    She's being realistic. If making money is your goal, then you're in the wrong business. Most writers will not be able to support themselves through writing alone. That's why a lot of writers have second jobs.

    She was being a bit harsh I admit (she should've been more encouraging and supportive), but what she's trying to say is true. Making a living as a writer is damn hard, so chances are you won't sell very many copies. Of course, that shouldn't stop you from trying.

    I can't speak for everyone here, but I'm not writing because I want to be rich and sell a ton of copies. In fact, it's actually the opposite (strange, I know). I'm writing for like-minded individuals, so I'm going to have a small audience. What drives me to write is that I love it. I can't imagine myself not writing. As I said above, if you're in this for the money, you're going to be disappointed. You should do it because you love it.

    I should add that I'm not trying to discourage you in any way. I do hope you achieve your dream and sell a bunch of copies and strike it rich. I just think you should be aware of the reality.
     
  3. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I second everything @thirdwind said. I mean, I wouldn't expect to get a response from Stephen King, Paulo Coelho, or Terry Pratchett; their inboxes are probably flooded day in, day out.

    Anyway, to respond to the thread's title question: yes, other writers have helped me and @KaTrian, my wife/writing partner, a great deal. More than we'd ever dared hope. Granted, none are famous big-name authors, they are all either like us, unpublished but dedicated writers, or published, but not (yet) household names.

    Usually we've exchanged manuscripts: we beta-read theirs, they beta ours. Or if their day jobs are such that they know a lot about something we need to learn about, they might help us, often basically out of the goodness of their hearts: of course we want to return the favor, but if they're not working on anything we could help them with at the time, they're essentially doing us a favor.

    We've gotten a lot of such "pro bono" -help from medical practitioners (nurses, doctors etc), professional soldiers, law enforcement officers, self-defense/martial arts instructors, scientists etc. They have shared their knowledge when our own knowhow about those subjects hasn't been enough for the scenes we've struggled with. And all that even though some of them have been world-class experts (e.g. one is an active Navy SEAL, a couple are self-defense instructors/martial arts experts known and respected worldwide in their respective fields etc).

    And the beta-readers... well, let's just say that our current WIP wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for our dear betas. They have provided so much insights, caught so many mistakes, plot holes, and inconsistencies that the quality of our manuscript, albeit far from perfect, has improved exponentially from what it was e.g. before we joined this forum (most of our betas are from here).

    That is not to say that everyone's stumbling over each other to help us improve our story, but I wouldn't even want that. We choose our betas carefully because we've found that even though you may write similar material, if you don't get along on a personal level, it won't work.

    Likewise, you might be writing completely different genres, but if you see eye to eye otherwise, if you have mutual respect between one another, it can work out great (and it has). For instance, one of our betas is a romance writer while our current WIP is military-esque sci-fi. Sure, we sometimes poke fun at each other's genres, but that's all in good fun and doesn't get in the way of the symbiotic relationship we share.

    So yes, other writers have helped us a great deal and we only hope we can someday repay those debts.
     
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  4. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I dunno about successful authors who have to make deadlines, but if my own writing is anything to go by, it leaves me time for little else, and when something, or someone interrupts, me, I feel pretty resentful about it. And I'm under no pressure or obligation at all.

    I have had exchanges with a well known author and he was great, really helpful, but I didn't approach him about publishing, I approached him about the craft, and I believe that is why he responded back to me. Otherwise, I think he'd have avoided me like the plague.

    I don't quite get why, just because you enjoy and respect someone's work that you feel they should be indebted to you in some way. I would feel the other way around.

    I've come across many liked minded individuals and have received help and assistance when I've needed it, so I definitely don't feel alone. Will these people help get me published? Not directly, no... but they inspire me to do better and improve, and even then I think that's more than anyone has the right to expect.

    Like @thirdwind says, making a living from writing is hard and precious few manage to do it, but we're all here ploughing on in hopes that, just maybe, we'll be considered worthy enough, or just get plain lucky, but I doubt many of us are holding our breaths. To quote Joe Abercrombie: 'You've got to be realistic about these things.' And that's why, to me, it's so important to love what I do, for it's own sake, for that might be all that will come of it.
     
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  5. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. At the moment, nobody's paying me and Kat to write. Maybe someday they will, but it doesn't really matter. Even if every single person in the world except us disappeared right now, we wouldn't stop writing. That's simply because we love it and can't imagine life without writing.
     
  6. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I belong to a writing group. It is very supportive, and there is a lot of help between the members.

    I would not bother a well known author with my questions, since they are noob issues. Would you go to Einstein to help you with your trig homework?

    Why not find a local group of writers to associate with?
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If what you need is a tutor - then colleges and university and workshops are the places to go, not emails to authors and columnist. Those successful writers who are willing to teach do host workshops and seminars, but they charge for their expertise, as they should - why not sign up to one of those?

    Otherwise, those people write for a living - they do not teach for a living. Just because you love their work doesn't mean they're indebted to you and thus must help you. The offer of help is a courtesy, not an obligation.

    And these professionals have lives you know, they have jobs, they have their writing. Likely they're busy. What you've sent them is akin to fan mail. How many celebs respond to fan mail? And remember, while on this forum people are here with the mindset to share and help, these pros made no such agreement, have joined no such group. They're just getting on with their lives. You can't complain that people who never agreed to help refuses to help you - they never agreed to, nor wanted to, and if they do help you, you should be grateful, but such help should never be expected.

    And selling 10,000 books of essays is probably a little ambitious. You don't even know if you'll even get published, let alone sell, and when you sell, you don't know if it'll make it big. Yes, it's good to aim high and dream big - maybe it might happen for you - but it's important to know that it probably won't happen. That shouldn't be why you write. As others have said, I don't even know if anyone would read my book, would like my book - I'm just hoping some people might like it, and no one's paying me to write.

    As for myself, yes, writers have helped me - mostly through moral support and just knowing I can talk to someone about it, it helps lighten the load. From this forum I've learnt a lot about publishing and genre and writing etc.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a tax guy. That's been my career. I can't tell you how often I've been approached for free tax advice. It's irritating at best and a major imposition at worst, depending on the timing and the degree of insistence on the part of the other person. I know doctors and lawyers who have the same problem to deal with, so it doesn't surprise me if some writers react the same way.

    It's nice to hope to sell a certain number books, but for an unknown beginner to have a specific target is extremely unrealistic, and your writer-acquaintance might very well have been put off by that. No established professional in any field wants to hear about a newbie's dreams. They know too much about the real world.

    So, to answer your first question - as I've posted in other threads on this forum, I was fortunate enough to meet Rachel Simon, author of the novel The Story of Beautiful Girl and the non-fiction work Riding the Bus with My Sister (made into a film starring Andie McDowell and Rosie O'Donnell) last October at a convention dealing with serving people with developmental disabilities. She had given the keynote address, talking about both her life with her sister and how Beautiful Girl came to be. Something she had said triggered an idea for me regarding my own daughter, and I told her about it. During our conversation, I mentioned that I was working on a novel. She asked me what it was about and then gave me some very strong advice and support.

    As for your last question - I think it's as lonely a life as you make it. Most of the friends I've made here seem not at all lonely, and some have even attained a measure of success in the field. Everyone knows the odds of success - and they're nowhere near as good as 1 in 100. We accept that at the beginning, if we know what's good for us. And, yes, the game is always changing...just like everything else. No one is telling you to give up your dream; they're just letting you know the reality up front.

    Personally, I hope you stick with it.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2014
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  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    OK, let's see what you've got.

    True, and that's what we do here on the forums. We offer advice, point people in the right direction, but they have to do the bulk of the work. After all, it's their story, not ours.

    They're busy. Disregarding the fact that they get tidal waves of emails after email every day, they're busy crafting their own stories. I wouldn't lump all writers into one big group, because that would alienate the writers who do want to help you.

    I took two creative writing classes with a published author and she, too, says I'm a good writer. That's all the encouragement I need. Writers don't have time to hold the hands of every single new writer and walk them through the process, otherwise they're not going to get their own writing done. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself and receive the bruises of your mistakes.

    Writing is a harsh, harsh business. 99.9% of writers have day jobs to help rake in the extra cash; only a selected few are actually so successful they can live off their writing alone. She was probably shocked when you told her that you'd sell ten-thousand books, figuring you had no idea how the publishing system worked. Was she harsh? Maybe, but she probably did that so she 'spook' you into reality as it were. Again, don't go around assuming published authors are egotistical dickweeds. Not a good way to start if you want to get help/advice from writers.

    In a word, yes. Do you think Stephen King routinely checks up on J.K. Rowling and says, "So how are your characters, Mrs. Rowling? Want to talk about them? Want me to look at some drafts?" and vice versa? No, they do it alone. Sure they can get advice and tips from other writers in their area, but we all write this alone. Why? Because our stories are our own. If Stephen King helped Mrs. Rowling with her story, then it becomes his as well. She does her thing, he does his thing. They would never tell new writers to give up on their dreams, but they're also not going to spend 50% of their time on any given new writer's story, not only because of the logistical chaos, but then they wouldn't be able to get any of their own stuff done.


    Link the Writer*

    * See, this is an example of someone being a dick.
     
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  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I see two problems in this. Firstly, and forgive me if I got this wrong, you seem to feel entitled to support and help. As if your reaching out somehow obligates the recipients of your letters and emails, to respond supportively.
    It doesn't. Famous people are busy, and your reaching out might be one in ten thousand they got that week. Also, if you are fishing for compliments and encouragement, that will come across as desperate and demanding, and not even I, let alone a famous writer, would want to get involved with that.

    The truth is, famous writers are giving you all the help they can possibly give you. Their books are a heart and soul of them, the distilled essence of everything they know. You can lean everything you need to learn, from reading their work. One day, if you earn the privilege through your own hard work, you might be lucky to become a part of that exclusive circle. There are no shortcuts. Nobody owes you anything.

    I had a minor brush with writing fame through a successful fiction-writing blog. After a few months, I couldn't keep up with few dozen emails every week, asking me for personal involvement such as advice or friendship, and I became quite selective as well as able to 'smell' an emotional vampire or a demanding fan from a mile away. I imagine those feelings and abilities are greatly amplified in really famous people. It's the only way to ensure you are spending your energy on creating rather then pandering to requests of others.

    Secondly, I'm sure that writers can be an odd, misanthropic bunch, others are very introverted. But in the end, every successful writer realises one thing - in order to be a writer, we have to take the plunge, wounded and insecure as we may be, and find our own voice, our own truth, our own stories. There's tiny little place for helpful others (such as financing us so we can survive to create, help and support of friends and family, if we are lucky to have them), but getting pep talks and encouragement from others will not affect our writing. Writing is lonely and painful at its best, it's like a labour of love, the road we must walk alone.

    Treat your fan letters as just that, you thanking the writer who is helping you every day, through his or her works, and do not expect a reply. Keep working at your craft, it takes an awful long time to master it. Good luck! :)
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2014
  11. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    This got me thinking. Let's say a writer sweats blood and tears for years and manages to land a publishing contact for his/her debut novel. Do they sit back on their laurels thinking: Ha! That's it I'm a Master now. I somehow think not. If it were me, I'd probably be flattered but freaking, thinking: But what if my first attempt was a fluke, what if I can never reach those lofty heights again? Shit! What if I can't make the deadline? (Given that the debut took 8 years from concept to publication and the publishing house have allowed me three years to get the new one to the presses.) What if, what if, what if.... ;) I wonder if that feeling would ever go away? I know it's true of musicians and I'm sure it can be applied to many writers too. It's a big responsibility and also by this stage, a public one. I can just see the headlines. So and so, didn't get her contract renewed.

    And yet there in my inbox lies a a letter from someone looking for me to help them. I think I'd have more pressing concerns.

    I guess it's a bit different if you write for fiscal gain. You quit when you've earned enough. But to those who do it for the love of it primarily, rejection, or the fear of failure would probably hang as heavily as it ever did, if not more so.

    Didn't Rowling write her last under a Pseud? She wanted to see whether her newest work would succeed without her name and the legacy of Potter... even that didn't go as planned. Success and money only mean so much. Deep down many of us have a deep seated desire to prove to ourselves we are worth the faith placed in us. And I'm sure that best selling authors aren't immune to that, no matter how much they've got stashed away in the bank.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I thought it was because she had qualms of how soft porn would be received from the creator of Harry Potter. I also suspect that her being "outed" in the matter was contrived, but that's the cynic in me (working in large corporations made me that way and working for the government cemented it in place).
     
  13. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I actually watched an interview with her and she gave that as one of her reasons, though this was after the debacle, and she was voicing why she was upset. She wanted her anonymity in order to judge reception, much as we would put work up for critique.

    But, I have to admit... I did think the timing was kinda convenient.

    And yeah...working for the Govt. will do that. ;)
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be the same :D I don't think learning ever stops. I also don't think that publishing=mastering the skill. I agree with you though, if money is the sole gain, then such a project can be brought to an end, like with a job and retirement. But if writing is a vocation, a passion, an all-consuming interest, as it tends to be for most writers, then it's a never-ending process.

    I think there comes a time in any highly skilled work, when we accept ourselves as masters of the trade, we know the job through and through, there is no problem that we don't have an effective solution for, the performance anxiety diminishes and we can feel competent. But that little bit extra that sets us apart from the rest, the spark of creativity, the innovation, maintaining interest, that's what we have to keep working towards, and this is where continuing improvement comes in.
     
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  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    bill...
    back in the early '80s when i first started to write seriously, to establish a career as a writer, i was living in westport, which, as you're a connecticut resident, you'll know had been a famous writers' and artists' colony for a good half century then... as i was an active member of the wesport arts center and the westport country playhouse, and arranged gallery opening receptions at the center, plus dinners, cocktail parties and musical events in my home, the 'old mill house' at old mill beach [home to many 'names' in the arts], i came to know quite a few of my famous fellow residents, including successful authors such as bob ludlum, robin moore, and noel behn... plus a plethora of well known artists and theater luminaries...

    did i get any help with my writing?... no... but i never would have thought of asking for any, as i would consider doing that to be unseemly... and as rude as asking a doctor or lawyer acquaintance for free advice...

    did i get any help with publishing my writings?... only once, and only in that the late cartoonist mel casson offered a personal referral to his agent, the renowned toni mendez, when my novel was ready to 'go out'... i accepted the unasked-for favor gratefully, but wouldn't have been crass enough to ask for anything beyond that...

    which is why i have to second all the comments above, in re expecting or asking writers for help with your own writings...

    writing is a solitary pursuit... as it must and should be, imo... 'serious' writers know and accept that fact... i suggest you get used to it and not expect help from those who've 'made it'... or complain because those you pester for it don't do what you want... instead, why not spend all that time and energy on writing and doing what all writers have to do to get their work published?

    love and hugs, maia
     
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  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. It can lead to complacency, the antithesis of mastery.

    We must always and continually challenge ourselves to, if not improve, certainly evolve.
     
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  17. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    What Jazzabell said and Maia. Just because they're a writer and you're a writer doesn't obligate them to help, or encourage, or even acknowledge you. If they help then hey, free help, but if they don't, you shouldn't be resentful. I'm an attorney in a small town and I can't even eat dinner out with my family without someone interrupting our meal to "just ask me a few questions. This will only take a minute." twenty or more minutes later I'm starting at a cold plate wondering why I even bother. I'm sure they feel the same way about their time. Writers want to write, not answer emails and help people learn what they spent years learning.

    I have many strange groups of friends. There are certain career paths that just attract the odd and weird. Painters. Veterinarians. and definitely writers. What other profession requires people to be alone for hours at a time, fiendishly hoarding keyboard time, so that you can make crap up? We gotta be loony to be doing it. Then when we finally have enough confidence to turn our babies out into the world, we get shredded by our critics. Lunacy in the profession is a given.

    mammamaia offers help to most everyone on the board, although I think some are scared of her brutal honesty.
    There was also someone who posted a link a few months back to an article titled "Hell no I won't read your manuscript and here's why" or something along those lines. It might give you a little insight into the other side of your argument.

    Don't take these things so personally. As a writer you have to have thicker skin, you are putting everything about YOU out there for others to read. Sometimes they will snicker at you. Keep asking for help, eventually the right person will respond. If you don't ask you will never know.
     
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  18. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    A tremendous amount.

    Keep in mind that it's not like many writers go on forums and say "HELP ME". It's very often asking for other writers' opinions on various things, and most of the time they are kind enough to be honest and share openly about what they think.

    I made one post about a synopsis and included a short snippet. I got many responses with extremely honest answers, and because of that, I was able to modify and polish my book description.

    Just like any other community, some are willing to offer their helping hand and others, not so much. But those who take the time out of their day to register on a writing forum and actively participate wouldn't do so if they didn't want to help others out or offer their honest opinions.
     
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  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing is an extremely personal and private thing during the creation process. The true core of creation cannot be "helped". There are limitless sources of help for the technical aspects.

    But I cannot see why one writer should be obligated to offer encouragement to another one whom he or she doesn't know personally. Most of the time a blunt and honest opinion would not be appreciated anyway.

    I have always wanted to write, and I've always known what I wanted to write about, and nothing has ever stopped me from doing it. I have never sought encouragement or advice. Even if a famous writer came up to me and said "Your work is crap" I would still continue doing it anyway. Why? Because I am a writer.
     
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  20. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    I've received a tremendous amount of help from other writers who have yet to make it big through encouragement and critique. I've only ever corresponded with two well-known authors, both which began through fan mail and my own aspirations were minimally discussed. I would never have the audacity to expect help from someone just because they're successful. Put yourself in the shoes of a famous writer. I don't think your priority would be to take every wannabe writer under your wing or discuss at any length a project that isn't your own. That's not because you are a snob or too high on your horse for the up and comers but because you have your own life and writing to contend with. Any committed writer knows the amount of energy it takes to pursue the path of publication, let alone just making it to the end of a draft. No one owes us anything and you shouldn't feel slighted because someone who's made it and doesn't know you, doesn't have the time or patience to string you along. We all have to pave our own path...unfortunately, there are no free handouts in the writing world. :oops:
     
  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I should mention that I've gotten a lot of help from people on this forum, and we're all writers here, right? ;)
     
  22. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @aberdeen put yourself in their position - as others have pointed out - before judging other professional writers as self-absorbed, or arrogant, as you put it. For example, I'm a secondary school teacher, and every time I meet a parent I got the "Hey, being a teacher maybe you could help my kid with (insert subject)!" Hm, yeah, sure, no problem, but that's called private tutoring and it's 15€ per hour! "Well, if you could just give him an advice..." Hm, yeah, sure, but I still have to sit down with the kid, go through school curriculum, locate the problem, try to work out the solution...and we just ain't such good friend :)
     
  23. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I work in a university as support staff. There is a Creative Writing department staffed by individually reasonably successful (in that they are published a bit and have a university gig to make ends meet) writers. These are the only published writers I know, and I havent told them I am trying to write myself.

    The one person to do with the University CW dept. who I have told was a visiting Fellow from another country, who is also an actually successful commercial writer. One of my tasks was to help him settle in to the UK and the University. I got on pretty well with him and we shared some genial emails post his departure back overseas. Eventually I plucked up my courage and mentioned casually at the end of one of my emails that I am trying to write a book too.

    I have never heard from him again.

    My impression of writers is that they are a pretty solitary and rather mercenary bunch. If they are in any way mid to low end career they just dont think there is enough to go around. They dont want to share contacts or connections and absolutely wont tell you anything about what they are working on in case you try and steal it.

    If they are successful writers (like the Fellow was) they just think you are after their connections or will be bombarding them with terrible manuscripts you will expect them to read.

    I might be wrong but thats my take.
     
  24. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    I feel that if you are looking for help from other writers, you need to be looking in your own field and level of success. Look for help with other people in your own gang of writers. As an example, look at the Bloggess. Look at Jen Lancaster. People like that helped and were helped by people in their own situations.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2014
  25. aberdeen
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    aberdeen Member

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    A few months ago, I would have said that you just a bad experience, and that somewhere a beginning writer could find some help and guidance. No more. Good luck in the future.
     
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