25 Bad Writer Behaviors: commentary

The subject article is by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds.com, and each point is amplified therein. Since I’ve long found a lot of fault with the way writers and authors behave, what I plan to do here is repeat the points (all of which are taken nearly verbatim from Wendig’s post, thus credited to him) and offer observations. Note: Wendig swears a lot, and some of it is gratuitous. If that bothers you, don’t go there. He’s a noteworthy science fiction/horror/thriller author with a long list of credits, and you can check out his work at his Amazon author page.

Here are Wendig’s bad writer behaviors, and what I had to say about them.

1. BEING AN UNPROFESSIONAL F’ING A-HOLE

This is pretty important, though I find it ironic that Wendig seems to consider terms like “cock-waffling” not to be unprofessional. He has a point, though. Even when you’re off duty, in public, you need not to damage your ‘brand’–a word I dislike as business-speak, but can’t avoid.

2. RESPONDING TO NEGATIVE REVIEWS (WITH MORE NEGATIVITY)

Writers who submit their work for public comment will usually receive it. Some of it will be stupid. If it’s stupid, ignore it. If it’s critical yet intelligent, you might learn something.

3. FIGHTING WITH OTHER AUTHORS

In addition to making you look insecure and unprofessional, it makes you look jealous. Don’t fight with other authors, but especially don’t fight with your readers.

4. NOT READING SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

That is, of course, assuming that you’re still buying into the model of begging for notice. But if you are, then at least show that you could and did read their guidelines. Acq-eds get a lot of material, and whatever makes it easier for them to winnow it is what they’re likely to do. They can start by throwing out everything from everyone who didn’t read what was asked of them, or didn’t care.

5. QUERYING AN UNFINISHED MANUSCRIPT

There’s a greater problem with this than the half-cooked chicken analogy: what if they say “Yes! Send us the whole thing! This is the best idea we’ve had all year and we have plans to release a book like this!” What would you say? “Uh…welllll…sorry, but I’ve only written four chapters. But it’ll be really really great when I get it done!” There is no logical reply to this on the part of acq-eds except dismissal.

6. ANNOYING EDITORS AND AGENTS

Again, the piece somewhat assumes that you’re still following the ‘beg and hope’ model. However, it’s a valid point outside that model. I did a lot of literary mercenary work, in which I worked for/with quite a few editors. At any time, they could have stopped sending me more work. They kept engaging my services. Since I’m not a lights-out writer, I suspect that I kept getting hired because I made their lives easier rather than harder. I didn’t bother them any more than I could help. Instead, I did my work.

7. RESPONDING TO REJECTION WITH RAGEFACE

If you can’t take rejection, you’re not ready to submit anything to anyone. In fact, you’re not ready for life. Applying for jobs entails risk of rejection. Asking people on dates, same. Playing a sport. Anything that is competitive. You can’t befoul your panties and lose your mind over rejection.

8. RAGEFACE, PART II: REVISION TIME

As an editor, I deal with some of this. It’s fairly common for someone to send me a portion of ms for a sample edit. Often the sample proves that the person a) can’t write, and/or b) is over-enamored with his or her prose. I fix it and send it back. They like their own version better, and decline to hire me. Am I enraged? Nah. It really isn’t that much fun to have to rewrite something lousy. And if the individual has shown that s/he is not interested in improvement, it would be a contentious relationship in any case. I prefer a collaborative relationship in which I help, teach, discuss, support, and advise.

9. DRUNKENLY TWEETING AWFUL THINGS TO PEOPLE

Not sure this needed to be on the list, but Wendig saw it happen. If your basic personality is rude, alcohol probably won’t improve it.

10. SPAMMING ANYBODY WITH ANYTHING EVER

A lot of this comes from authorial narcissism. Seen a ton of that. It says: “To me, there are two categories of humanity: the believers and the infidels. Believers are those who accept my writing as the center of the literary universe, buy my books, push my books, praise my books, adore me, and otherwise embrace the True Faith. The infidels are everyone else, including those who respond tepidly to the True Faith when its light first falls on their faces. Because mine is the True Faith, anything is justified, and if it annoys anyone, well…why don’t they pull their heads out and convert?” Amazon reviewers of any note will encounter this at some point. Several have spammed me, ignoring my polite “I”m just not interested.” This was not to their advantage.

11. ACTING RACIST, SEXIST, MISOGYNIST, ANY OF THE HATEFUL -ISTS

Also, bear in mind that your own definition of an ‘-ist’ isn’t what matters. It’s the public’s definition. That’s pretty unfortunate, because these -isms have warped definitions in the public mind. Reality: ‘redneck’ is a racial slur, for example, and thus should be objectionable. The public doesn’t object to it. Even though I’m right, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I (and other authors with public presences) do not say things that the public might interpret as racist, whether they truly are or not. Same for other -ists. Vile terms for the penis and testes are just vulgar in the public mind, but acceptable to deman a male; vile terms for the vulva and vagina used to demean a female are not merely vulgar in the public mind, but tend to draw accusations of sexism. If one is, both are…but in the public mind, they’re not. You can’t win this with logic. You can only refrain from doing yourself professional harm. Or don’t refrain, and see where it gets you.

12. THE AUTHORIAL MELTDOWN

Remember that you can always melt down in private. It’s much better for your career.

13. PLAGIARIZING SOMEBODY ELSE’S HARD WORK

It’s one thing to cite, attribute, quote and otherwise credit another author, as I’m doing here with Wendig. It would have been another to jack his piece. One is easily caught these days at all forms of plagiarism. Even if you do not refrain from it out of pride, refrain because you aren’t a professionally suicidal idiot. At least, I hope you aren’t.

14. BLOWING OUT YOUR DEADLINES

Professionals are timely, and that makes them pleasant to work with because they’re considerate of others. It also may mean some bleary-eyed late nights, early risings, and other minor hardships. But professionals produce on time without excuses, often enough that a real emergency or disaster will be pardoned as the exception. Amateurs always have an excuse: their computer broke down, the cat got sick, the kid threw up, car wouldn’t start, books didn’t arrive, etc. Professionals get the job done anyway–on time.

15. IGNORING YOUR ASSIGNMENT

Absolutely. Wendig is dead-on. One time, I made the mistake of failing to read my guidelines with great care. I ended up sending in work in a style completely at variance with what I’d been hired to do. So I’d already worked on twelve projects of the (in this case) mistaken style, to great acclaim and encore. That didn’t absolve me of the duty to read them afresh this time. Happily, my acq-ed pardoned this brain spasm and let me rewrite them. And I did, real fast, and with very great care.

16. MAKING A BUTT-TON OF EXCUSES

This might be Wendig’s best point. Amateurs are full of excuses. Professionals produce.

17. WRITING WITHOUT EDITING

This applies even to writers who also get paid to edit. Your first readers (I hate the term ‘beta reader’) are not editors. Your spouse is not an editor unless other people pay him or her to do so. I have an unpublished travel manuscript I may one day publish. It needs extensive revisions before I’d consider it worthy of publication. When I consider it worthy of publication, it’s ready to go to an editor, who will show me why it wasn’t yet worthy, and help me make it so.

18. SELF-PUBLISHING YOUR WORST INSTEAD OF YOUR BEST

I guess some people do this. I think it’s foolish, as does Wendig. I admit that here, at times, I don’t bring my A-game. I do bring my A-minus game. I’ll let myself get away with an occasional clunky wording usage. Then again, this is free content to the reader. What I’d never do is self-publish a dog of a book, thus making me look incompetent while proposing that people pay me. Unacceptable.

19. FIGHTING IN THE TRENCHES OF THE ANY IMAGINARY WAR

Yes. While I think trad-pub has cancer and that the radiation and chemo won’t take, I have nothing against anyone going that route. I question what they are likely to gain, but we all define gain differently. Same for all the other battles.

20. FLINGING SOUR GRAPES AT AUTHORS MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN YOU

Nicely positioned by Wendig in sequence, and addresses an elephant in the room: self-published people who secretly wish they were traditionally published and resent that it didn’t happen. Don’t envy or resent. I knew Cornelia Read and David Abrams back when they were writing at Epinions. They’re now traditionally published, and to significant acclaim. They’re great at what they do and they seem happy with the result. I’ve read books by both and I hope they keep enjoying the success they deserve.

21. BLUDGEONING FOLKS WITH YOUR EGO

This relates to several previous points, since it is often the source of bad behaviors. You need a certain amount of ego in order to think you can write something that people would pay to read. Just that much, and no more.

22. ACTING LIKE A BULLY

Is always contemptible.

23. “HEY, WILL YOU READ MY MANUSCRIPT?”

The biggest problem with this is that most people aren’t self-honest about what they want. Most will say they want honest feedback, when in reality they want praise. As Wendig points out, it also leads to intellectual property concerns. There’s a reason Weird Al Yankovic doesn’t even look at song ideas sent in by fans. He can’t afford to, even if he didn’t have plenty of ideas of his own. If you want a reader for your manuscript, don’t seek out an editor or author. Seek out a reader, someone you know and trust who might buy the sort of thing you propose to publish.

24. FAILING TO APPRECIATE YOUR AUDIENCE

A big one for me. I always say, “Like your reader.” Much follows from it. If you like your reader, you will be motivated to write things s/he will consider worth his or her time. You will respond courteously to him or her. You will treat him or her with respect. You’ll enjoy writing more, because you’ll be thinking of how you might entertain, educate, uplift, encourage, or some other positive verb.

25. TALKING ABOUT WRITING WITHOUT ACTUALLY WRITING

Why I’m not in a writers’ group, and don’t go to writers’ retreats. If I want to talk about writing rather than write, I’ll go to a themed convention with panels where I can pick what I’d like to talk and listen about. I have often said that at any given time, you want to write or you do not. Right now, I want to write, and am doing so–I’m writing about writing, which counts. (Wendig also was, though he doesn’t consider it writing; we differ there.) Later tonight, I will probably not want to write. I will probably watch a trashy reality TV show and a crime drama while hanging out with a dear friend who is visiting us. One reason to have a blog is to have a place to write when one wishes to.

In short, Chuck Wendig said a lot of things I might also say, though our styles would differ. If you think you want to write, I can’t see how any of his guidance will do you anything but good.

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