7 Things New Writers Should Stop Doing Right Now
As writers, most of us begin in the same place without a single clue as to what we should do to write the story/book, get feedback, etc. When I started writing in the 1990s, I often found myself frustrated because I didn’t know how to get my stories out to the world. Looking back, I know that was a good thing, especially since my writing style wouldn’t be truly ready for another two decades. However, that twenty-year-old trying to get started in the big world of publishing had no idea how to go about it.
So, what did I do, you may ask? I asked people to do it for me.
As a now-professional writer, I can tell you that one of the most annoying things I see is a new writer asking me to do the work they should be doing. It’s easier than ever to find information nowadays. In the late 1990s, I didn’t have access to the internet. I didn’t even have a home computer until around 2000. I did all of my writing on a word processor my mother-in-law gifted me when I lamented over and over again how much more I could write if I didn’t have to do it by hand. Funnily enough, my mother-in-law also gifted us our first computer. A hand me down that served us well for more than six years. I was devastated when we finally had to say goodbye.
In fact, I think it still had my floppy disk copy of Oregon Trail stuck inside when it crapped out.
In the early 2000s, I put so many “feelers” out to other writers. How do I do this? How do I do that? To which I was always met with terse answers that left my baby writer's heart wounded. I didn’t realize then that I was asking another writer to take time out of their work to do mine.
That, my friends, is a no-no.
Never fear, this is why I’m here. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.
Without further delay, here are 7 things you should stop doing right now (if you're doing them).
1) Stop asking other writers to give you plot points. If you don’t know what to write about, that’s your problem. When I’m trying to figure out what to write about, I look to current events that intrigue me or past events that scurry across my mind from time to time. Think about what kind of story you would like to write, what kind of character you would like to write, and go from there. Never ask a fellow writer to give you the plot or stakes for your book.
2) Stop asking other writers to write your story for you. Even if it’s just a sentence or a paragraph, this is a huge no-no. Granted, you will find those on the internet willing to bust out a paragraph for you because they’re such brilliant writers they can’t help themselves, but, often, those writers are just as green as you are. Even if they don’t think they are. Trust me, if they’re writing stories for another writer and they’re not a ghostwriter, they’re green, green, green. Either that or egomaniacal. I think I’d rather be perceived as green.
3) Stop asking other writers to find agents for you. Recently, I saw a post on social media where the author stated they were finished with their book, and they would like for the people reading the post to tell them the best agents for them. Even gave a quick summary of the book and the genre. There are so many ways to find agents. Twitter, Manuscript Wish List, QueryTracker, Poets & Writers, etc. There is a measurable amount of work that goes into finding the right agent to represent you and you should never, ever ask another author to take time away from their projects and their agent quest to find one for you. It’s unprofessional and, to be quite honest, lazy.
4) Stop asking other writers to edit your work for free. I hadn’t seen this for a very long time. I suppose it’s because I’ve focused solely on the group page for the women’s writing group I’m part of. I expanded my horizons some months ago and joined a few other groups on social media. It didn’t take long to start seeing the “I need an editor, but I can’t pay” posts. Look, I get it. Editing isn’t cheap. I know because I do editing work. I know what I charge and that’s well below the average for the industry. I also get it because when I finished my first novel, I couldn’t afford an editor. I had a young family and a lot of bills and just couldn’t, in good conscience, spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on an edit. That was before many editors started accepting payment plans. So, I self-edited and published. The title has since been unpublished because I was nowhere near as good at self-editing as I am now. In short, it was a mess. Still, I didn’t dare ask another writer to edit my work for free. Why? Because I knew then what I know now. Editing takes a long time. Editing a full novel can take weeks, and it certainly takes dozens of hours. Especially if you get a line edit. That time has to be paid for. If you want someone to read your work for free, make writing friends, join a writing group, and then find a few critique partners. Also, learn how to self-edit. I don’t mean like you do now. When you can look at your work and not see your baby, you’re ready.
5) Stop asking other writers to be your mentor for free. This is another thing I see in social media groups. “I need a mentor, but I can’t pay.” I’ve never paid for a mentor. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with and studied with some very gifted writers who took me under their wings. Those relationships aren’t found by the equivalent of a cold call in a writing forum. This is a person you mesh with, someone who is interested in your talents who wants to help you develop them. If you want a free mentor, join a writing group, hang out with writers, go to school. There’s no guarantee you’ll find a mentor that way, but it works for some of us. You can also pay for mentor or coaching services if you have that luxury. There are many talented people to be employed, but never ask them to do this work for free. Would you hang out with a stranger and put hours and hours into making them better at something for free? Chances are, you wouldn’t, so why would you expect someone else to?
6) Stop asking other writers to find online resources for you. This is the twenty-first century. There is no reason why you can’t click away from the Facebook or Twitter window to type keywords for a resource into Google’s search bar. No reason at all. When you ask another writer to take time away from their work to find resources for you it shows that you’re unmotivated, entitled, and lazy. If you want to know how many books self-pubbed authors need to sell to appeal to an agent, go to your preferred search engine and type in, “self-pubbed sales to attract agents” or something of the sort. Don’t ask someone else to do it for you.
7) Stop asking other writers for critique if you have no intention of giving back. The critique process, like the workshop process, is give and take. You give a critique, you get a critique. Unless, of course, you work with the same critique partners, and you don’t have a current WIP to share. Still, you read their work and critique. It’s just good manners. This is the moment you can ask someone to read your work and give you an opinion without paying them with money. You pay with your thoughts on their work. And don’t half-ass this part. It is your promise to your partners that you will read their work as carefully as they read yours and you will provide them with a critique that is designed to help strengthen and improve their work. Otherwise, it’s just a group of people sitting around patting one another on the back. How is that helpful?
So, there you have it, seven things you should stop doing right now (if you're doing them). I know it’s difficult to figure out which way to go in this writing world. It’s a scary place until you begin to understand the landscape, and even then, it can still be pretty damn frightening. There are plenty of us here that are happy to lend a helping hand. We want to see you succeed, want to see your writing grow stronger and you become more confident. That being said, we don’t want to be treated like all we have is time for you. We choose to give our time and we expect common courtesy when we do.
This may sound harsh. Goodness knows, straight-talking sounded super harsh to me when I was starting out. But, in this day and age, when we carry our computers in our hands, it is unacceptable to ask someone else to do what you should be doing. You can ask for guidance and you can ask if someone knows a starting point, but that’s it.
The bottom line of these seven points is this: Stop asking other writers to do the hard work for you.
Browne, R. & King, D. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print. William Morrow, 2004.
Dunham, Steve. The Editor's Companion: Editing Books, Magazines, and Online Publications. Writer's Digest Books, 2014
Martin, Tiffany Yates. Intuitive Editing: A Creative & Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing. FoxPrint Ink, LLC, 2020