Writers etiquette

Thoughts on being thoughtful, after 30 years as a writer A friend and colleague recently shared an experience on social media that I, and many other professional writers, could relate to. When an aspiring writer approaches you for feedback or advice beyond what you have the capacity to give freely, how do you graciously decline? Acknowledging that he’d been helped by others along the way in his career, my generous spirited friend found he had a hard time saying “no,” though he ultimately did. Yet he felt troubled by the fact that this novice writer seemed to expect him to bend over backwards to help her. For free. How do you to pay it forward while maintaining your own sense of professional pride—and a few necessary boundaries? Having been a professional writer for three decades, I’ve been on both sides of this issue. While I am happy to help new writers break in, and know how much a mentorship can mean, I also believe it behooves both novice and seasoned writers to develop healthy expectations and behaviors. Writers, here are some tips for sharing your expertise without spreading yourself too thin: - Don’t do informational interviews. If kids of friends request one (it’s pretty hard to refuse them), ask them to send a resume and a statement of purpose, and offer to send thoughts and pointers. - Post something on your Web site and answer the inquiries with a URL. I point them to an essay on my Web site on "How to Break In" and suggest they noodle around there for stuff that might be helpful. - If you teach, alert new writers to classes you’ll be teaching and invite them to register. I list classes on my Web site and also recommend specific conferences. - Consider sharing a site with colleagues. ProseDoctors.com, is a site I share with a couple other writer/editor/coaches. We put an essay on "The Art and Craft and Cost of Editing” to help us deal with the endless inquiries and to set expectations. - If you’re asked to read something, be straightforward about your hourly rate. Executive summary: Write some things, put them on a Web site, and have a stock answer with links ready. Spread the idea of giving and sharing and understanding the exigencies of others. On the flipside, if you’re seeking advice from a writer, please remember that writers are often generous and eager to help those just starting out. A “thank you” will go a long way, but they’re often busy and broke and overwhelmed. If you want to ask time of a professional writer, offer something in exchange, and something they might really appreciate—a better bottle of wine than they could afford, a cabin in the woods where they can go and write, or the purchase of a dozen of their books in an independent bookstore.

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