Sunday, January 07, 2007

The trouble with (wannabe) writers

Publishing my article in Writers Weekly earned me a lot of emails, guestbook entries, and other attention. I have to admit this felt rather nice - most of these people assumed I was wildly successful, and more than just a few sought my approval. However, I also got a number of highly amusing emails from would-be writers who wanted me to confirm their delusions of grandeur.

One such writer wrote to me to tell me how she had also always felt wrongly discouraged from being a writer. Okay - that I can understand. She also talked about how she dreamed of being a world-famous novelist. I gave her what I thought was some perfectly sound advice for achieving her dream: start small. Most of today's successful novelists started out publishing short stories, newspaper articles, or anything else that allowed them to make a reliable income writing and earn a name for themselves. I told her the more you publish, the easier it is to publish more, so start with the easy stuff.

Her response was rather hoity-toity. I had the distinct impression that she thought of herself as a real writer, and was talking down to me. She started out by telling me,

It gives me great honor to inform you that I have completed my first suspense-thriller. It is a novel that took six years to finish, and I am currently searching for a literary agent... I feel confident that an agent will see my raw God-given talent, which has been polished from my education, and give this first-time author a chance.

Wow, is she in for a shock. I wonder how she'll handle her first dozen or so rejections.

She concludes her email with this unbelievable statement:

I strive to reach nothing but perfection as I compose each inspiring, meticulous word. Hopefully, after people read my thought-provoking words, they will view life rather differently and contribute toward the betterment of mankind.

The last statement in particular reminds me of the kinds of things you hear out of beauty pagent contestants, each with Barbie's smile pasted on her lips.

Another would-be writer wrote to me asking for advice on starting his career. He started out by asking - no, demanding:

What are the proper channels a writer needs to seek to become a high-paid writer? Does one need credentials? Define credentials? Out of the choices of having a book published, working on a team, writing for a paper, blogging, or movie screenplays....what's the best one?

He then continued on to describe his disappointment that his writing hadn't been "discovered" via MySpace. (That part made me laugh quite a bit. Does he think there are talent scouts out there combing MySpace for the next Stephen King?) Finally, he explained his goals as a never-been-published writer:

I realize there are several routes I can take to make a name for myself, but the only one that reall [sic] appeals to me, is either 1) getting a book published and/or 2) being part of a creative team writing for a movie or T.V. show that's already made a name for itself.

And therein lies the rub...

This guy also thinks he is not just going to rise straight to the top, but start at the top. I tried to explain to him the natural order of things, but I don't think he understood (or appreciated) my advice, because I never heard back from him.

Although it might seem like I'm making fun of these people (okay, I am, but only a little), I'm really posting about this for a couple of very good reasons. For one thing, I think other already-established writers will see the humor in a bunch of wannabes being rather too big for their britches.

However, I am also posting this because it reminds me of who I - and probably every other published writer - was when I was just a dreamer and a wannabe myself. Back in high school, when I wrote whole novels only to stuff them in a drawer because I so feared editing, I too thought that becoming a writer was my destiny. And in retrospect, I think I was right, but only because I got myself here. Writers aren't born or discovered; they achieve their dreams at the price of their blood and sweat and tears. And although I've only traveled a short distance upon this path, I am proud of every single step I have taken.

As for the betterment of mankind... Well, it's quite enough for me right now to know that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is reading words I was paid to write.


Dawn Coyote said...

Well, they say a writer needs to have a good, solid ego - all that time alone, no one to pat you on the back and tell you what a great job you're doing, etc. - but these folks have really taken it to heart.

Katharine Swan said...


I agree that writers need to have confidence in their work. But, as you pointed out, there's a big difference between having confidence and having what these emails demonstrate. I think the main difference is that a writer with confidence still thinks they're going to have to put hard work into achieving their dreams, whereas these two seem to think that all they need to do is "write it and they will come."

I think any writer who has achieved success knows that it didn't come easily. Oh, sure, we all have dreams of wowing editors and agents alike with our obvious talent... But when it comes down to it I don't really believe that's going to be the response to every submission I send out!

TypeWriterMom said...

what you say is true swan..most creative people value the journey more than the destination - because they realise that in strife and rejection there is great learning.
yet, we must remember that we live in fast food times, where reality tv makes overnight celebrities of till now nobodies. we are a generation in fast forward who does not want disappointment to ruin our deadlines for success. we cover our fear (of failure) with projections of confidence.and life unfortunately does not humour us.sooner or later the truth shall face us and then the true worth of the artiste's desire will shine thru. only time and failure will tell whether those people who e-mailed you in their confidence of being 'real' writers - will bow down to the reality of rejection and humiliation or chug forward, persevering in the face of the unknown in full faith that their voice has a soul.


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