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Friday, September 27, 2013

Mastering Your Craft

by Edie Melson

When someone asks me what I do or where I work, I always hesitate to mention that I’m a writer. Not because I’m ashamed of it or think I’m not worthy to be called a writer, but because it often leads to some frustrating conversations. Let me see if any of you can relate to some of my experiences. 
  • “I've always wanted to be a writer. Can you help me?”
  • “I have a book I've written. Can you send it to a publisher for me?”
  • “I used to write in high school—maybe you could look at a few things and tell me what you think.”
  • “I've been through (fill in the blank) and want to write a book about it. Can you tell me how to get it published?” 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these questions, the problem comes when I answer them. I’ve found that most people don’t really want to hear the truth—they want a shortcut to fame and fortune, not the truth. 
  • There’s no shortcut to becoming a professional writer. It takes time and commitment.
  • I don’t have an inside track into getting your book published.
  • If I take the time to look at your samples, I’ll tell you the truth and that may not be what you really want.

There aren’t any shortcuts to becoming a master at any craft, and writing is no different. Even exceptional talent needs time and experience to hone it into brilliance. I rejoice when I find those who are willing to put in the time and really learn about the craft of writing. Those individuals are a pleasure and I love taking time to help them. 

Now it's your turn to share. What funny situations have you encountered when you confessed you were a writer?

Edie Melson is the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. Her popular blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands of writers each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her bestselling ebook on social media has just been updated and re-released as Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine. You can connect with Edie through Twitter and Facebook.


Rick Barry said...

Two days ago I received a phone call from a woman in another state. A pastor had given her my name, saying perhaps I could help her to get her collection of poetry published in book form. Ugh. I cringe whenever people start a conversation the way she did: "What company did you use to get your novels published?" Those words always reveal ignorance of the difference between mere printing and actual publishing. She had visions of doing author signings and making big $$. I also feared encouraging her to self-pub, because I didn't want to her to pay for the job, only to end up with boxes and boxes of leftover books after all her family members and her doctor had purchased the ones they promised to buy.

Ron Estrada said...

I've had a colleague ask me to help write his business book framed around a baseball analogy. And another guy, who I've never met but somehow became a facebook friend, just sent me an instant message--"can you help me write?" There are many others who say they've been thinking about writing a book, but I've met few who really understand, or even attempt, the work involved. Their eyes glaze over when I start talking about structure, character development, pacing, etc. It's pretty easy to figure out who is never even going to complete a manuscript, let alone go through the rejections and ensuing work to improve.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice said...

Since I'm yet to be published, I usually get rolling eyes. Followed by "How hard can it be? Nora Roberts and James Patterson write like 10 books a year and make millions!" Or "Books? Oh, I don't read." At which point I regret my confession.

Edie Melson said...

I know exactly what you mean. I hate encouraging unpolished writers to self-pub, too. It's almost a no-win situation! Thanks for dropping by!

Edie Melson said...

Ron, you're right. I've gotten to the point where I can spot that glazed look as well. When I see it, I begin to look for an exit. But it is fun when I get to help someone who truly is interested on improving and doing things the hard (right) way!

Ane Mulligan said...

I've had another writer friend give my name to new writers, telling them I'd help them. Those turned into beautiful friendships that have blessed me. However, it doesn't always work out that way. Another time, I offered to teach a monthly class for a fine arts association. One of the members, who had never had a critique, listened to what I had to say, but her husband (who obviously adored her) kept arguing against whatever I said.

I was sad to hear they chose to self publish her book instead of work on the story. It was a good premise, but her agenda's glare overshadowed the story. I think with work, she could have published it without the problems, whether she chose Indie or traditional.

Edie Melson said...

Kerry Ann, I think we're in for more of those, "how hard can it be" comments with all the self-pubbed successes on Amazon. They're not as prevalent as folks think, but there are enough that we need to be ready with answers.

Edie Melson said...

Ane, you are so right! I love helping those who truly want to improve. It's frustrating to see potential and know it won't be realized.

Dan Walsh said...

Edie, I've had all the same experiences you've mentioned and brace myself for an uncomfortable conversation whenever I mention I write novels for a living. Happened last Sunday, again. A guy found out I'm a writer and said, "I've been thinking God wants me to write my story."

The problem is, "What do you do for a living?" is part of every day smalltalk. I read a survey that said 85% of Americans have thought about writing a book. Put those two together, and I think this awkward situation has to be considered an occupational hazard for writers.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Love this, Edie. Someone once asked if I would write a book with her husband. Awkward...

Geoff Wright said...

I'm afraid I'm a bit of a pragmatist and a straight to the point person. If someone asks me about where they could publish their book, I refer them to a writer's group and tell them how long it took me to get published, and that you have to be VERY patient.

S. Kim Henson said...

Great post, Edie. I'm dealing with this right now. Since I haven't published my own book, I'm not sure why anyone would think I could help get theirs published, but friends hear "writer" and think "my book." Kind of funny if I didn't have to figure out how to diplomatically run.