1. You ask them for their publisher/agent (or ask them to promote you).
2. You brag about how you don’t pay for books.
3. You give them unsolicited advice.
4. You tell them you’re going to write a book/be a writer...someday.
5. You delight in their every grammatical failure, or conversely, constantly tell them how bad you are at grammar.
6. You use the phrase “free exposure” in their presence.
7. You hector them about success.
8. You treat them like their work is no big deal.
9. You start right in on what you didn’t like about something they wrote, especially if you don’t even introduce yourself or say hi first.
10. Try to get them to buy your idea for 50% of the money.
11. You constantly ask them to read your stuff.
Serious writers generally express the amount of free time they have in NEGATIVE NUMBERS. They often have day jobs that put food on the table and keep their electricity running, so they can keep doing their writing thing. They write. They read. They may even like to do insane things like have interpersonal relationships, fuck once in a while (you know...with a partner), and play a game of Catan with friends so they can snicker about having "some wood for your sheep."
They probably don't have a lot of time to read your rough draft of the best zombie story ever.
|Oh no problem. I'm not busy at all.|
Photo by Evan Bench
If you want to stand out from this crowd of wannabe writers, write. Write a lot. Write every day. And in a few years, that writer (if you still feel like you really even need their feedback) will probably take notice of you, and be honored to read your work.
If you are already writing at about the same level of prose and that the writer is (and you both probably realize this if that is the case), they may be slightly more inclined to do an exchange of work as peer review--knowing that one day you will do the same for them--but asking a writer you see as having a more developed skill than you is asking them for a favor. Be gracious if they gently tell you they can't. If you stay after them, you're not really respecting how busy their lives are, and they would probably rather tongue clean a bathroom than deal with you.
And along that line....
Remember writers are writing. It’s true that some of us can sit around in pajamas and clock in a good day by noon, but if you think it’s because we aren’t really working feel free to give it a shot for a few years.
Don't forget to keep your "real" job so that you can pay the bills because eating rejection slips is great for fiber, but not so hot on vitamin C or protein. And if you don't want everyone you love to leave you, you probably should give them time and energy too. Oh, and don't let anything else in your life fall apart like your health. Whatever time you have left has to be crammed with decompression, social life, and that sort of thing in a ruthless hierarchy of priorities. Better write hard and fast when you can find the time to do it, and pay attention to everything you give up in life to have the time to do so.
Oh and hey, don't forget that your best and your worst days are hugely different (and if you somehow do manage to make some money from writing, you don't get paid by the hour). If you're still sitting there at eight PM in those same pajamas because the words just aren't coming that day, you just have to keep plugging until the shit gets done or it's chicken powdered Top Raman for dinner again.
How's that lackadaisical morning looking now?
Now imagine your friend calls you up and asks you if you can pick them up from the airport or feed their cats or take their kid to the zoo because you aren't "really working." Or get a phone call from family, try to tell them you're working and have them say "Chris, you're just sitting around. Give your mother a few minutes of your time!" (Or...um...maybe that's just me.) How's that feel? Now you know why your writer friends you've done this to have not only stopped inviting you to have drinks with them, but also act really strange when you're standing next to incredibly sharp objects or ledges overlooking very long drops.
Thank you for participating in a multi-year experiment so that I could prove a point about what a cross-town bus ride of uncontrollable sharts these people are being. From now on, if you're going to pull this shit on a writer at least act like you are asking for the kind of favor that would pull people away from their job--because that's exactly what you are doing.
13. You pressure them for free work.
I recently had someone ask me about commissioned writing who was so awesome about it that it broke my heart to say no. It was a neat sounding project, but was simply a fraction of the amount I make when I freelance. I mention this partially so that if she reads this, she never ever wonders if I’m talking about her (because she was awesome and I would develop an insta-ulcer from the tidal wave of worry if I ever thought she were upset with me), but also to let you know that there are ways you can ask for free (or very low paid) work without pressure.
(Admit up front you can't pay them, pitch your project, and if you have something that's non-income AND non-bullshit, pitch that as well. Don't tell them about "exposure" or future projects that will be paid--anyone who can write worth a piss won't be fooled by this crap.)
Just learn to have some fucking zen if they turn you down, and don't argue with them that it is the best opportunity they've ever had.
If your "opportunity" really does look like it might be even a little bit useful to the writer in terms of exposure or opening doors (rather than just squeezing the talent out of them and throwing away their twisted, empty husk like they are a toothpaste tube of brilliant sentences) they will probably give it some serious thought.
|Being a total cheapskate is admirable, right?|
If you put a writer on the spot, or keep after them after they try to graciously decline, they will probably just avoid you. Keep after them, and they will almost certainly begin to write you into their grisly horror stories as the victim who dies to show how the monster works.
The chances that a writer hasn’t got a plan for their next three or four major projects is generally pretty low, and if they wanted to work for free, they would just work on their own stuff. The writers who will do your stupid shit freelance project without wanting a paycheck for it or who will buy your candy cane bullshit about "exposure" and "ground floor opportunities" are probably going to give you about the quality of writing you would expect. Don't get too pissed off if it's written in crayon.
|You don't have to do yoga near a waterfall for this kind of gratitude.|
Just fucking say thanks.
If you DO get a writer to look over something you’ve written, for Zues's butthole's sake, thank them.
Maybe you showed up in spandex and lip gloss with a story about hoping to be a groupie and said "pretty please" in the sultriest voice you could manage and the fool of a writer fell for it, or maybe you just asked on a day where they had some free time and wanted to do something nice to erase the karmic debt from that day when they were twelve and wondered if the salt/slugs thing really worked. Either way they are probably going to give your work one of the most thorough, conscientious reads it will ever get, and letting them know you appreciate it (verbally, orally, threesomely, whatever) would be appropriate.
This may seem to fall under the auspices of human decency rather than something particular to writers, but something about those erudite little writer eyes apparently screams, "No need to thank me for those several hours of work. I love toiling away without acknowledgement." For some reason people think writers owe them two or more hours of feedback work and they don't even have to send a thank you e-mail or a fist bump at their next meeting....or a lap dance...or ANYTHING. Pull this, and a writer is probably really going to wonder what other parts of life you are an ungrateful lamprey about. If you can't at least say thank you, Miss Manners needs to side eye you so hard she sees the inside of her temple
I'm not sure if this is because most people are expecting "OH MY FUCKING GOD THIS IS THE MOST GENIUS THING I HAVE EVER READ. HOW DID YOU TURN 26 LETTERS INTO THIS DIVINELY INSPIRED MASTERPIECE?!?" and the fact that the writer had some nuanced feedback about how to improve things pissed them off, but it is so unbelievably common..
Or maybe I just keep running into seriously rude jerk-wads. Me and all the other writers in the world.
15. You give them back-hand compliments.
If there’s one group in the entire world who--as a general rule--are consistently and unerringly going to be able to see though subtext, it’s probably writers. A case could possibly be made that Lit Majors might be slightly better or maybe about the same, but basically you're dealing with the top of the curve of any group of people in all of ever.
So they’re going to see right through your bullshit when you say things like, “It was pretty good...for genre,” “It was terrific that your publisher was willing to take a chance on that sort of thing,” or “I like that you kept the language and ideas very accessible to barely literate troglodytes.”
It just won't go unnoticed.
The weird thing is, people still do this a lot. They probably don't realize they aren't fooling anyone with that thinly-veiled crap, but they're being especially dense if they think they're pulling one over on a writer. But for some reason it's kind of like it's a matter of pride to not really compliment a writer on what is probably a year or more's worth of work. Like they could have done it or it was no big deal. Your criticism was veiled a lot less veily than you think, and that's why the writer hates you.
If you want to talk criticism with a writer, pull on your big kid undies and respectfully tell them you have some criticism instead of being a passive aggressive butt-hole about trying to be clever in a way that is, to a writer, about as subtle as a brick.
Just fucking please say hi and introduce yourself first.