A popular post from August 2012
by Annette Lyon
Talk to any published writer, no matter where they are on the ladder of success, about their challenges, and you'll get an earful.
A truth: Every stage of the writing life, from your first story until you die (even if you hit the NY Times, get movies of your books made, and end up with actions figures from them) has its challenges.
One of those challenges is that, the more successful you become, the more of your time is sucked up. (I know; it's a problem everyone hopes to have some day!) But it's true: Suddenly, you don't have the luxury of taking five years to finish a novel; you have to turn the next one in by X date. And then there's revisions and edits and galley proofs. And after it hits shelves, there's promotion, and, likely, during all of that, new deadlines for the next book. It's a merry-go-round that, at times, writers feel like they cling to with both hands so they don't get thrown off by the speed of it all.
And this doesn't take into account trying to keep up with regular life, like being a spouse or parent or doing things like grocery shopping and making sure you have clean underwear.
I wouldn't call myself a major publishing success, but I've been published in one form or another for nearly fifteen years. I do freelance writing (articles, technical scripts), freelance editing (for Precision Editing Group and other clients) and, of course, I have my fiction. At any given time, I have multiple deadlines looming over my head.
I also have four active children who need their mom involved in their lives, a husband, and I'm the homemaker of the family.
In the last month, I've had two family birthdays (with another around the corner), two family reunions (one of which required travel and several days), a camping trip with one side of the family, summer school for two teenagers wanting to get ahead on their graduation requirements, family health issues, school shopping (oy!), and more.
I've also had at least twenty writing and editing deadlines of one sort or another (yes, I checked and counted, and no, I'm not making that up). I've been known to stay up late after the family is in bed to meet a deadline. On a family trip, I brought a portable battery to the wilderness so I could work on my laptop in the car on the road and then while camping. I still have multiple deadlines I'm trying to meet.
It's a constant treadmill. Yes, I chose this life. And I'm grateful for the blessings it brings to my family. But it's not easy, and it requires sacrifice. I used to be an avid scrapbooker. I used to watch television. I used to do a lot of things that I simply don't have time for anymore.
Unfortunately, I'm so busy that this includes having to say no to most writers who want favors from me. Even when I really would like to help someone out, I can't without dropping something else--and that "something else" could likely help me pay a bill, which means I have to say no to the other thing.
Without exception, I simply cannot do free edits, critiques, reviews, or blurbs for anyone not in my critique group and beta reader circle (two places where critiquing favors are always reciprocal; it's a must). I just can't do it for others. Sometimes that extends to my publisher nixing a blurb before I can even reply to it.
The crux of this post:
If you're an up-and-coming writer, and get a no, the person higher up on the ladder isn't saying no simply because they're snooty and they think you're beneath them. They aren't being mean. They may have no choice but to say no. That doesn't make them arrogant or difficult.
I'm not the only person who is (really truly!) too busy and must, at times, say no. This is a topic that has come up with many of my writer friends, and they say they same thing, including the fact that they'd love to help more than they actually can. And that they help less than they used to, because they're busier now than (insert time period) ago.
What's particularly hard about this, though, is when someone asks for an endorsement or other favor and we must say no, but the other person decides to lash back. Even if it's sideways and not direct, it hurts. We're real people too, and we're doing the best we can.
As one of my writer friends said (quoting with permission):
Sure I'll read your book and do a write up on it, if you'll come over
and play with my three-year-old, read for an hour with my
seventh-grader, do algebra homework with my sixteen-year-old, drive her
to and from dance, make dinner, clean the bathroom, do a couple loads
of laundry, help my mom with whatever she needs that day, and then
babysit so I can spend a couple of hours with my husband. And that's all
I'd ask because I'm a fast reader.
And that was said only sort of with tongue in cheek. We have busy lives, and what time we find that's not sucked up with professional duties is going to belong to our families, and, if we're really lucky, a nap to help catch up on our chronic sleep deprivation.
Knowing how to handle these situations--and being a total professional about them!--will actually help you climb the success ladder faster. Being kind and understanding with any writer, regardless of the rung they're on, will develop for you a reputation as someone who is totally awesome to work with. That may open doors for you, and it will definitely keep them open.
The flip side is that someone who talks smack about another writer (especially for something as small as a "sorry, no") will quickly see that their reputation isn't what they hoped it would be. (Bad form!)
I had an experience several years ago where I gave what I intended to be help to a writer, clarifying a common misconception about publishing. The other person attacked me, saying that they would hope that a "real" writer would try to help other writers. I was stunned.
What this person didn't know is that in the last year, I'd taught several workshops for free. I'd judged three writing contests (providing page-long critiques for each entry) for free. I regularly answered emails asking for publishing advice. I'd spent hours and hours, plus a lot of effort, in giving back. This person assumed I didn't help, judging me, ironically, when I was trying to help.
They have since changed their tune toward me, because they learned, I guess, that I really do help when I can and that I'm not an arrogant turd. But if I ever need to find someone I can totally trust to be a professional in a situation, you can bet I'm not calling them.
The publishing and writing world is pretty small; word travels fast in this sandbox. So be kind. Give back when you can, and say no when you need to. Don't talk smack (or even hint of smack) publicly, because chances are, the person you're talking about will hear about it. And so will their best industry friends.
When you're on the receiving end of a no, understand that if someone really can't fit you into their schedule, it's not personal.
It also doesn't mean they're suddenly less "cool" than you thought.
Remember that one day, if the stars align, you'll be the one who really has to say no.