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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tough love for new writers...

I spent part of my morning catching up with the other freelance writers' blogs I like to read. I came across a fairly recent entry at Deb Ng's blog, "Finding the Right Words," about new writers who solicit advice from established professionals--particularly those who go beyond seeking guidance and instead are looking for a handout. Here's an excerpt from Deb's post:

"Today I read a post from a woman who decided she wants to write e-books. Fabulous! The more the merrier. My issue is with this question: Does anyone know of any good subjects to write e-books on?'

Excuse me?

This is the second woman in a few weeks who wanted others to provide her with successful, profitable topics for her book."

Deb goes on to vent her frustrations with those who don't bother doing any of their own preliminary learning before entering the field. I share some of those frustrations.

Many would-be writers seem perfectly content to fire off question after question to those already in the industry. I can understand the need to fill in some knowledge gaps or to seek some guidance on something tricky. I am always happy to help folks who email me with those kind of questions. Like Deb, however, I am really put off by those who are expecting free mentoring and disclosure of hard-earned strategies or information who clearly haven't done any of their own homework.

Why does this happen so often?

Information sharing is common in many industries. Dr. Bob may call Dr. Joyce to ask her opinion about how to deal with a particular medical issue. The new insurance agent may call and established agent to ask a question. In these cases, however, the contact is always "professional to professional." Dr. Bob may have a question, but he is asking it to a peer. Both are trained professionals, one just happens to have some added expertise. That new insurance agent will never call the veteran to ask an incredibly open-ended question like "tell me the best way to sell policies" or a ridiculously simple one like "what is life insurance?" If s/he did, the old-timer would probably hang up in a split-second.

With freelance writers, though, the questions from "newbies" are often like those of the hypothetical new insurance agent. "What should I write about?" "How do you get business?" "Tell me the best way to make a living writing content."

I think this occurs in the writing field because people have been misled into believing a basic command of written language is the only prerequisite for a career as a writer. After seeing a few thousand ads telling you anyone can become a writer, it is easy to think you can be a successful freelancer tomorrow. Writing doesn't require particular certification or education. It's a low-overhead occupation. Thus, it often attracts the unprepared.

I never hesitate to ask questions of other writers, but I consider our exchanges a professional courtesy. I don't hesitate to provide opinions when asked by others in the field.

I am, however, less than excited about offering free mentoring and hand-holding services.

If you are new to the business and want to make it, here's my suggestion. Don't ask others to hold your hand from cradle to grave. Begin by doing extensive and serious research. Learn the trade's vocabulary, its structure and its personality before quizzing others. Bring something to the table other than a vague notion that you "want to be a writer."

If all of that research work and learning turns you off, your probably not looking into the right career field.

Remember that old saying "there's no such thing as a stupid question?" Well, it's not true. Or, even if it is, there is such a thing as an annoying or inappropriate question.

There is nothing wrong with being new and having questions. There is something a little creepy about being new, completely uninformed, and seeking a business plan from others.