Writing is hard.
Writers are whiny little bitches.
Obviously I’m generalising. Maybe, for some people,
writing is blissfully easy. Likewise, I’m sure there are some writers who
stoically grapple with writer’s block and rejection without a single word of
complaint. Generally, though, getting any kind of success in writing is a
struggle and us writers like to keep reminding everyone of that.
The result is that well-intentioned people like to
offer encouragement and advice. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes, however,
it’s a pain in the back pocket because people have a habit of saying the wrong
thing. If you find yourself chatting to a writer who admits that they’re having
a difficult time of it, here are some things to avoid saying.
“Keep trying. You could be the next JK Rowling!”
If I had a pound for every time someone has tried to
encourage me by using JK bloody Rowling as an example, I’d be as rich as …
well, nowhere near as rich as JK Rowling. But I’d have, like, seven quid.
JK Rowling’s story of poverty and multiple rejections,
followed by enormous success, is a lovely one. The problem is, THERE IS ONLY
ONE JK ROWLING. Telling a struggling writer that they’ll be the next JK if they
just keep trying is a bit like telling your friend with boy problems that
she’ll be the next Kate Middleton, and marry a prince, if she just keeps
dating. It’s a cute idea, but we all know it’s not going to happen.
“Maybe you should try writing a kid’s book.”
Oof. This one is a double kick in the balls. I’m sure
it’s usually meant kindly, but it sounds incredibly patronising – as if the
writer in question should give up on trying to write anything serious, and just
sit down at the kiddie table and do some colouring.
It also shows a huge lack of understanding of the
writing process, as writing and publishing a children’s book is every bit as
difficult as writing and publishing a book for adults. Kids are discerning
readers, so you need to pay just as much attention to plot, pacing and
character, all while keeping the language manageable but not dull or
Basically, suggesting that a struggling writer should
try children’s fiction instead is telling them to do something very difficult,
while simultaneously making them feel like a bit of a moron.
“Maybe you should try short stories instead of a novel.”
This one sucks for similar reasons to “Maybe you should try writing a kid’s book.” It sounds like you’re telling the writer to take a step back. Invest less time and energy. Aim lower.
It also doesn’t make sense, because short stories are
actually really f*cking difficult to write. Some would say that writing a good
short story is more difficult than writing a good novel, as the writer of this
blog post https://www.scribophile.com/blog/short-stories-are-harder-to-write-than-novels/
argues very effectively.
Short stories have much less room for character
development, world-building and creating a satisfying narrative arc, so writers
have to be ruthlessly economical as well as creative. Suggesting that a
struggling writer switch to short stories really doesn’t solve any problems.
“Have you tried self-publishing?”
The implication here is that success in
self-publishing is more likely. Certainly, the chances of actually getting a
book published are improved if you aim for self-publishing over traditional
publishing, but that’s where the advantages end.
What are the chances of people actually buying a
writer’s self-published book? That depends on the same things that traditional
publishing depends on – good writing, hard work and savvy marketing.
Self-publishing is not a short-cut. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts for
“Here’s an idea for you … as long as you give me 50% of the profits, haha!”
Ooh, boy, where do I start with this one? If a writer is fresh out of ideas, you may feel like you’re doing them a kindness by offering up your own. But this is really not the way to go about it.
Let’s start with the practical considerations. There
is negligible copyright protection for ideas, so if you give someone an idea
and they write a novel based on it, they have no legal obligation to pay you a
penny. If you want to make money from your ideas, you’ll have to do the work
yourself and get them down on paper.
Then there’s the idea itself. If you have an idea for
a story that comes from your own lived experience, then trust me – there is no
better person to write it than you. Give it to someone else, even a talented
writer, and it will inevitably lose nuance and flavour.
Of course, the flipside of this is that sometimes the
idea in question just isn’t that good. And the writer ends up nodding and
smiling awkwardly, the person whose idea it is notices, and a bad time is had
“Sorry you’re struggling. I’ve never had that problem – whenever I try to write something, it just pours out of me, y’know?”
No, I don’t know. Piss off.