Saturday, March 20, 2010


Young Writer Writes:
Why aren’t more successful writers willing to mentor others? I mean, no offense, but we could use some help.

No offense taken. I have been where you are. This is a heart-breaking, frustrating business.
I think most writers do mentor others in a way that allows them to meet their other obligations. But what they can do may not match up with what another writer needs, wants, or expects.
I'm fortunate enough to be a full time writer (finally.) Believe me, I AM SO FRICKING HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING AT THIS. Most writers—even published writers—have day jobs and many have families. For my first twenty-three years as a writer, I had a day job. I got up at 4 in the morning and fell asleep with my face on the keyboard at night. And then I used to hike three miles in my flip-flops through waist-high snow to the mailbox to mail off my manuscripts. Only to be blown off by publishers and agents alike. Year after year after year. With no guarantee that I would ever make any money.
I did get some help from other writers along the way, but it was mostly a reciprocal kind of thing—through critique groups, conferences, and blogs. I gave, and I got, and we all learned together. Participating in the community of writers is extremely important, if only because you will finally fit in.
I have learned the most from reading other writers’ books. That’s the best kind of mentorship. Reading really good books is like taking a workshop with a master—for free (if you get the book at the library.) But you have to learn to read like a writer, which is very different from pleasure reading.
I also read many, many books on craft. I have a shelf-full over my desk and still refer to them from time to time.
Many aspiring writers believe that published writers have more power than we do. My opinion is just that—one opinion, one set of biases. I’m not an editor—I’m a writer. Editing is a very different skill, believe me. In my one editing gig, it was always easier for me to rewrite something than to edit someone else’s work. That is not the kind of help you need.
I still work seven days a week (I’m trying to change that) but I do try to give back., while protecting my writing time. I blog on writing technique, teach writing workshops, do school visits, and try to answer emails from writers, either directly or through the blogs. I belong to three critique groups, one online, the other two in person. That’s what I can do, and meet my deadlines, and give my honey a hug now and then.
What most writers can’t do—for a multitude of reasons, legal and otherwise—is read your manuscript, edit it, and get you an editor or an agent. We can’t give you the magical shortcut to publishing success. Trust me—If I knew what that was, I would have used it myself.


AllisonMarshall said...

Thank God you're a full-time writer now, if only to save your frost-bitten feet. I hope you've gotten yourself a pair of snowboots or something.
As an aspiring writer, I've found your blog to be very helpful. Thanks for the little bits of advice you give here. It does go a long way.

CindaChima said...

Thank YOU, Allison! I expect today's aspiring writers to progress much more quickly than I did, because most of you are savvy about how to educate yourselves.

Jen said...

I have to tell you how great it is to hear from you - to know that you have struggled, too. And the editing - I'm just LIKE that with my kids' writing! I know it's not the right way, but I really struggle with that! I'm so glad to hear from you and if there are other blogs and sites that you can suggest for help with writing, I'd be thrilled to hear about them!