Friday, July 31, 2009

Don’t Be Shy

Meeting other writers can be challenging because writing is a solitary activity. Most writers who are serious about their work are more concerned with spending face-to-face time with the computer than reaching out to other writers. For many writers, “networking” is what they hope the Geek Squad will do for them one day.

But writers do need to meet other writers, if only because non-writers don’t give a fig about the overuse of adverbs and dialogue tags. You’ll have to find other writers to talk to if you want to ask questions about the proper way to write a book proposal, how to pitch a story idea, or the best way to learn SEO writing. Whether you are writing as a career or because you simply love to write, finding other writers can be as important as learning how to use Word. Writers are all over the Internet, and for those who prefer to converse with a human, writing groups, workshops, and seminars can be found in almost every city.

Pick your method for meeting other scribblers, and don’t be shy. After eight years as a professional writer, I still get what I call “Author Awe” any time I talk to writers with more experience and better clips than I have. And never, not once, have any of the more esteemed writers I’ve met, in person or on the Internet, been anything other than helpful and gracious. That’s not to say there aren’t some stinkers out there; I’m sure there are plenty of surly and anti-social writers in the world. In my case, however, I can honestly say I haven’t met them.

I’m always surprised when a busy and successful writer takes the time to ask me about what I’m writing. Honestly, the last time this happened, I was shocked. Author Awe hit me. Why would anyone want to talk to a regional writer like me? Well, if you’re a writer, you know that writers are curious. We ask questions. We tend to be nosy. And we like to talk to other writers. After I got over being shy, I had a good e-mail conversation with the other writer (and mostly got over my Author Awe).

If you get the chance to talk (or e-mail) with a more established/published writer, don’t be shy, but don’t overwhelm her, either. To make the most of the contacts you make with other writers, especially those a few steps ahead of you, I recommend:

--Be friendly, but keep it professional. Don’t share your unabridged life story in the first five minutes. Actually, unless you become exceptionally good friends, don't share the unabridged version at all.

--Asking simple questions is fine. Asking the other writer to read your 1,000-page novel and give you a critique is not.

--If you’re at a writing group or seminar, keep your questions on topic. A writer speaking about the techniques of writing narrative non-fiction isn’t there to answer your questions on copyright.

--Be brief. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Every writing group, seminar, or workshop I’ve attended included one attendee who just couldn’t seem to stop talking, and talking, and talking… all while the writer who was speaking tried desperately to get the talker to shut up. If you have a long story or involved question, ask the other writer if you may contact her via e-mail or telephone.

--If you are e-mailing, remember to use proper punctuation, spelling, etc. Every piece of correspondence leaves an impression. Most e-mail correspondence should also be brief.

--If you’ve met on a social networking site (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), a little extra friendliness is fine, even appropriate. Just remember that while your old college pals might think those pictures of you after an evening of Jager Bombs are oh-so-funny, your new writer friend might not.

--Be sensitive to the clues that the conversation/e-mail exchange is done.

Don’t be shy, but don’t be a bonehead, either. Keep some simple guidelines in mind, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how willing other writers are to talk to you.
Picture courtesy of Kylie White at

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