If I listened to the advice* of my Facebook ‘friends’, the beginning of this post would read:
“The Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology beginning is a very delicately timed story of an editrix living in a hole in the ground…”
Of course, those were all separate suggestions—and some of them led to threats about the perpetrators getting their hands duct-taped to chairs—but they all added up to a preposterous, if entertaining, premise for a blog post.
Taking random suggestions from the internet for a blog post topic sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s something most beginning writers do every day. There are hundreds, if not thousands of writing advice blogs, books, and programs out there, written by everyone from best-selling authors to the kid down the street who published the first short story he ever wrote on his blog yesterday.
I remember when I was a newbie writer. If someone had actually published something, I considered them something like a minor god: they’d done something incredible. I read all those things, went to panels, listened and soaked everything in. If you’d told me that sacrificing blue chickens gave me a higher chance of publishing, I’d probably have done it.
And then I learned that not everyone who said ‘this is how it’s done’ actually knew what they were talking about.
Now I’m the one writing blog posts, sitting on panels, running workshops, and I’ve realized just how much bad advice is out there, and how many people don’t know how to tell the good from the bad.
There’s no way to root out all the bad advice. Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, and other watchdog organizations do their best to keep an eye on the business and keep the worst sharks out of the water, but that still leaves a lot of self-help gurus, get-rich-quick schemers, and just over-eager amateurs out there.
We talk a lot about keeping ourselves safe from predators and bad advice, and about keeping the industry safe. We don’t talk enough about nurturing the newbies, bringing up the next generation of writers. Clarion, Shared Worlds, and other workshops set the foundation of a professional career, but there needs to be support for the writers around the structured programs, too.
I firmly believe that anyone who wants to break into a business needs to set themselves up as well as they can. Do the research, read the trade magazines, attend the right panels and shows.
I also believe that we should make an effort to support, mentor, and encourage the writers around us. This isn’t a competition. As small and connected as the writing community is, the person you’re mentoring today might be acquiring your book for a publisher tomorrow, or writing the book that changes your life.
As professional writers, we have responsibilities:
Support our colleagues.
Look out for each other.
Commit to spreading good, solid advice and calling out the bad.
Remember we aren’t in a competition here.
*I am either coming down with a cold, or suffering from nasty allergies, so I make no promises about the coherence of the above, as evidenced by the fact that I have the phrase ‘Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology’ in a professional post.