Sunday, May 24, 2009

A hand up, not a hand out

When I was in school, my mother routinely asked me to help Jimmy and Carol with their homework since she didn't understand how to do the new math and wasn't really a scholarly type of person. I helped but soon found that what was required wasn't my help but me doing their homework. They didn't want to be bothered and it was easier, they thought, for me to do it for them instead of listening as I explained and diagrammed what to do and how to solve the problems. I refused and they whined and complained to Mom whose response was always, "Just do it for them." I refused and was punished, sent to my room, which was really not a punishment as far as I could see. I could listen to records and read and write and be alone.

My boys were the same way. They didn't want to actually have to learn anything, but for me to do it for them or tell them the answers. I didn't let them get away with it either. I explained and assisted, but they had to do their own work. I am always willing to help someone learn how to do something for himself, but I will not do the work for them. The same holds true for aspiring writers.

I'm willing to discuss plot points, characterization, how to show and not tell and even do a little editing, but that does not mean I am a full service reference section ready to do the work for you. If I point you in the right direction, you should be able to get what you need and not keep asking me to check and recheck your findings, not if you're not paying me and I'm doing it as a favor. At that point, you are abusing my generosity and I will shut you down, as nicely as possible, but without leaving any doubt in your mind what I mean. Now I understand why professional writers get so cranky when aspiring writers keep asking questions. They've run into the same situation so many times they refuse to help at all to save themselves the trouble of explaining that the aspiring writer has become a pest abusing the writer's time and knowledge and is obviously too lazy to do the work.

Before any of you get your knickers in a twist, it isn't anyone on here -- yet. It is someone I made the mistake of encouraging and who has now become a lazy pest whining and whinging about not having enough money. Guess what? I don't have a lot of money either and you have flamenco-ed my last nerve until it is raw and bleeding. Yes, I am cranky and my responses are going to be quite terse from now on because you're not listening. I have given you all the information and resources you need to make money with your writing. Use them. Read them. Don't ask me any more questions because the answers are about to get flat out rude.

It is simple courtesy to ask a professional writer if they would mind reading one of your pieces. It is abusing the writer's hospitality to keep revising something and sending it over and over asking for an opinion. It takes time to read the work and make comments. To further trample the writer's hospitality by sending everything on your hard drive for an opinion puts you on dangerous ground and whatever common ground once existed is eroding past repair.

There are writers whose work I enjoy reading -- when I have the time -- and I consider it an honor to take a look at their work because they don't send me everything they've ever written and ask for an immediate opinion. There are writers whose opinion I respect and ask from time to time to read something, but it's not something I do often. I'm too busy earning a living and reading and writing and dealing with my own deadlines, and I know their work and time is just as valuable.

My time and work is just as important as a lawyer's or doctor's or any other professional, despite the fact that many people see writers as dilettantes who don't work for a living. I don't ask doctors or lawyers or any professional for free advice; I pay for it. Writers deserve the same respect and consideration. So here is a rule of thumb. It's all about respect.

If you want a professional writer's opinion on your work, hire them to edit, proofread or otherwise peruse your work. Have the courtesy to request some time, but don't expect immediate results. You weren't first in line. You don't work for free and neither do writers. If you cannot afford a writer, one will not be appointed for you by the court or the government or the local writer's guild. Learn to research and read. Join a writer's group. Get help. Don't take a professional writer's time or experience or attention for granted. You wouldn't like it and neither do we.

That is all. Disperse.

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