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By Alton Gansky
Years ago a writer friend told me a story. This occurred during his formative writing days. By that I mean, he was still learning the ropes. Let’s face it, there’s a lot to learn about writing. My friend had an acquaintance who was making a living penning nonfiction books so he seemed a natural source of wisdom. From time to time my pal would ask the writer a question or two. Finally, the writer said, “You know, it’s not my job to train my competition.”
An odd statement, seeing as my friend was focused on writing novels. He would never be in competition with a guy writing computer books. If the man said, “I’m so busy that I can’t make the time to answer your questions,” then well and good. We can all understand that. I routinely turn down a multitude of “will you take a few minutes and read my 400 page book, tell me what I need to change, then endorse it?” requests I receive. A writer can spend valuable writing time jumping through other people’s hoops.
That being said, the question remains: Should we invest time and effort in training our competition? It seems a lousy business practice, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine Apple teaching Microsoft how to make phones and computers. I can’t imagine Microsoft teaching Apple how to make killer word processors that will become a worldwide standard. Yet, many of us take a writer under our wing, or teach at a writer’s conference, or post material on blogs to encourage new writers.
Writing is a difficult craft to learn. Working writers see problems immediately that newbies don’t recognize. They might be plot or structure problems, bad syntax, or a thousand other faults. They can do that because they’ve made the same mistakes. Most of us who have been published got a boost from someone along the line. It might something as simple as a word of encouragement to actions that go above and beyond such as mentoring or writing “How To” books.
Back and my preacher days, a new church started near the one I served as pastor. Several of my parishioners worried about the new “competition.” I gave their concerns some thought then reminded the congregation that the only competition the church had was the devil. Was it possible that a few of my members might migrate to the new church? Sure. Where one worships is their choice, but were in the same business and serving the same Boss.
We who write for the Christian market have a dimension to our careers not present in writing for the general market. Yes, we want to entertain, but we also want to create something that causes the reader to think. Our fiction and nonfiction is different than what is found in the general market. There’s nothing wrong in that. I don’t apologize for writing in the Christian market. If I wrote for the general market, I wouldn’t apologize for that either. [I did write a novel for the general market. A CBA publisher bought it and paid a bigger advance. Go figure.]
Should we train our competition? The answer is, in my mind, a non sequitur. Can another writer really be our competition?
Over years of teaching and leading writing conferences I have found several able writers whom I have, in some small way, helped on their way to publication. Occasionally, one of those writers will work in a genre that matches mine. Some have gone on to be bestsellers, but I don’t view them as the competition. I view them as talented people who needed a push in the right direction. I feel no animosity toward them. I do, however, feel great pride.
In some ways, when we help some worthy new writer along the path, we’re helping their readers too, readers whom we would never have reached. In doing so, maybe, just maybe, we’ve changed the world a little bit.