Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back Seat Writers (Part One)


You've finally gotten over the fear of labeling yourself as a writer.

The next time the opportunity arises, you will take a deep breath and say, "Yes, I write!"

You may want to immediately take it back when people start giving you unsolicited writing advice.

Today's Problem: Everybody seems to know how to make it in the writing world, except me!

Everybody? Well, almost:

Today, let's focus on the Avid Readers-- Maybe it's a fellow bookstore browser. Maybe it's your good friend. If an Avid Reader discovers there's a Writer in their midst, she'll usually have a few tips for you-- whether you like it or not-- especially if you don't have a book on the bestseller list, or a byline in a national magazine.

"You should write one of those vampire books, they are so hot right now."

"Why don't you just finish your novel and get it published?"

"You like music; why don't you write something for Rolling Stone?"

"You're writing a memoir? Has your life really been that interesting?"

"Send your book to Oprah!"

Excuse Editor Tip: Readers care about the Rabbit, Writers need to care about the Carrots and the Hat.

Non-Writing Avid Readers seamlessly turn hundreds of pages while they sit back and enjoy the stories, the articles, the work of Writers. Because they find the reading so easy, so natural, they sometimes assume that the creation of that work must have appeared magically on the page. Like the magician's apprentice, it is not up to you to divulge the secrets of the final products. You know behind the scenes, the smoke and mirror of metaphor had to be adjusted numerous times for the desired effect, the climatic scene had been tucked in the sleeve of the story until the exact right moment.

Treat the Avid Reader like a member of the audience. Instead of focusing on their theories about how the magic happens, concentrate on their reactions. What are they seeing on that stage of the written word that makes them laugh or cry? What surprises them? What does your bag of tricks hold that can influence them? Practice that on the page and get ready to perform. The stage may be totally unlike their vision. That is fine. There's enough room in the world for card tricks and disappearing elephants-- not every magician has to do both. Pick what is best for you.

Readers who give advice are more concerned about the final product; as a writer, you need to keep your eyes on the work: the process, the journey...the magic.
How do the  Back Seat Writer's in your life hurt your writing? How have they helped?


  1. Tina, this is so true! I am a "newbie" writer with a few very small successes under my belt....just enough to keep me writing. I can't tell you how much advice I get, all of it from people who don't write!

    At this point in my writing life, I just take it to mean that they are supportive of this new direction and trying to give encouragement.

    The best one so far was the family member who suggested that I could become a newspaper reporter (so far my writing has been personal essays)! Not even close to what I have in mind...

  2. Love this post. But my favorite is, "Well, it's so nice that you have a hobby."

  3. I have encountered many of those statements. I try to wrap my thoughts around their reactions rather than their words.

    Sometimes these comments help me realize how much I have learned.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think they all point to the fact that we need to stay true to our own "true writer" selves, and that it is just another part of the journey:)

  5. My favorite is "you should get that published."

  6. Deidre-- Oh-- I know!! You just wanna say: "Gee, never thought of that!" lol...


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