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View Full Version : The Dreaded "Here, Let Me Show You My Work"



starrykitten
11-03-2008, 04:35 AM
I don't have enough street cred as a writer to be asked "where do you get your ideas?" and all the token questions like that.

But, quite often, I do find myself on the receiving end of "since you're a writer, I thought I'd share this with you." Regrettably, this generally happens on dates or with potential dates who I can only imagine are attempting to impress me with things like articles they wrote for their student newspaper about new parking regulations. Often there's no room to even object, and before I even know it, poems are attached to emails or, worse yet, read to me in semi-public places.

As a writer and weirdo, I'll admit to being kind of a snob if the preceding paragraph didn't make it clear. I don't expect people who've only ever written things like student newspaper articles to be literary geniuses. It's not that I think amateurs shouldn't write; I just feel like their writing often gets forced upon me, which puts me on the spot and makes me really uncomfortable. And the snobby part comes in when I have to admit that I've lost interest in people before over this.

I'm not even talking about people who want free critiques, though that's obnoxious too.

For one, I'd love to hear any funny stories you have about this phenomenon.

But I'd also like to know if anybody has found a good way of dealing with this. Is there a way to be polite and also keep boundaries?

October
11-03-2008, 04:54 AM
Some of my friends like to do that to me. What I do is I tell them that I can't, because I don't want to spoil it when they get published some day. I don't think they really believe me, but it gets them to stop. For strangers or people you don't know very well you can just tell them nicely that you don't critique for free. And if they offer to pay you, well, I guess that's cool.

donroc
11-03-2008, 05:19 AM
I tell them that my attorney recommends I do not look at anyone else's writing to avoid being sued if I have something in my books they feel I stole from them.

If they persist, say it is the industry standard in Hollywood -- no reading of unsolicted material.

Polenth
11-03-2008, 05:36 AM
If it's someone I don't want to critique, I politely redirect it. Often I can say I don't know much about that genre/topic (it's once in a blue moon that I'm asked by someone writing the same genre). Or that I lack time.

Whatever happens though, it doesn't hurt to be positive about it. Congratulate them for finishing or getting an acceptance. Often people are looking for general encouragement because they're excited, rather than an in-depth response (which reminds me of this cartoon (http://www.basicinstructions.net/2008/04/how-to-encourage-friend-who-doing.html)).

starrykitten
11-03-2008, 05:43 AM
That cartoon is great! :)

My general experience is that people are looking for a ringing endorsement from a "real writer" and don't want any critique, but just to be praised. I can understand that and I'm glad people write, but I do find it kind of manipulative.

I don't have an attorney so I don't think I can use that one convincingly, but I'll keep thinking.

CheshireCat
11-03-2008, 06:10 AM
I tell them that my attorney recommends I do not look at anyone else's writing to avoid being sued if I have something in my books they feel I stole from them.

If they persist, say it is the industry standard in Hollywood -- no reading of unsolicted material.

Best possible response.

If you don't have an attorney and don't believe you can fake it, just say either that your agent (if you have one) or agents you're submitting to (if you don't) insist on a strict policy whereby you never read the work of other writers unless it's published and on the shelves.

And if you feel more is necessary, you can add something to the effect that publishing is actually a huge business, in which your area of expertise is really quite small, and asking your opinion about their work is akin to asking a plumber to check the wiring.

Most people get it by then, or at least accept the refusal with halfway decent grace.

Carmy
11-03-2008, 06:19 AM
One reason not to let anyone know you write. I have a double-barrelled name and I'm published under one I rarely use, so I can stay "in the closet" to those outside my critique circle.

At a conference I attended, I sat next to a lady who was regaling two women in the next row with the story of her novel. I had no choice but to listen. She went into minute details of the characters and plot. When she was done, I asked where she was published. She hadn't even written Word One -- ever.

I've heard a lot of people talk about the great novel they were going to write. Of course, they always believe it will be published immediately. Few write a word. Writing is hard work and, if you're happier talking rather than doing, you'll never be a writer. At least you're seeing someone's effort.

Cybernaught
11-03-2008, 07:34 AM
Can't say it's ever happened to me.

Chasing the Horizon
11-03-2008, 08:00 AM
Never happened to me either, and I don't keep the fact that I write secret. I have had people I barely know ask to read my work, though. I always just say 'no', lol. Being polite isn't a major concern of mine (I think a lot of the strangers who want to read my work just want a free book to read).

payitforward
11-03-2008, 08:17 AM
I usually just tell them I'm a rather brutal editor, and to not show it to me unless they want blood and carnage. Of course, this makes me sound like the queen of goth, and certainly doesn't work on a date (unless I'm going out with the king of goth, then I'd revise said statement).

Ms Hollands
11-03-2008, 11:37 AM
Nobody has ever asked me either, despite two friends each writing novels and another writing children's fiction. If they asked - or any friends who had written anything wanted me to read it - I wouldn't be as condescending as to assume they're amateurs before even reading their work. If editors thought like that, nobody new would ever get published.

Until you're the BEST writer in the world (and perhaps even if you are), I'd suggest a little more humility might actually aid your writing so you do get the 'street cred' (if that's your motivation to write - it's certainly not mine) that you say you don't have.

JamieFord
11-03-2008, 03:04 PM
Call me a sucker, but I've given quick critiques to more friends and acquaintances than I can count. I've also had dozens of job shadows from the local high schools and spoken to half as many English classes. When I was an advertising creative director, I was always asked to review student portfolios and such. I guess the habit stuck...

Bufty
11-03-2008, 03:51 PM
I think you are polishing the cherry a tad, starrykitten. Or the ego.

Deccydiva
11-03-2008, 04:55 PM
Personally, I would be highly flattered if anyone asked me and I would do my best to say something helpful and point them in the right direction, whether that be "keep writing" or "here's where you find details of Agents and publishers" (and a good website lol). :) I wouldn't judge it as such - who am I to criticise after all - but in the same way that I would crit a piece on SYW - I would make it clear that I was looking at it as a reader not a writer. If it was not the genre or style that I am used to and enjoy, I would put my hands up and politely decline on the grounds that I am not "qualified" to read that kind of material.

L M Ashton
11-03-2008, 05:48 PM
I don't give critiques to people who are outside my genre, but that's more of a practicality thing than anything else. I have a friend who writes literary/chicklit/humour and poetry, none of which I read. What do I know about what's standard, derivative, normal, or even proper within those bounds? How could I possibly know what's good, bad, or ugly? How would my opinion have any value? And that's exactly how I discussed it with her.

Strangers I won't critique either, but that's more so due to me not having the desire than anything else. Friends or acquaintances who aren't writers but need to get something written for work - well, not unless they're willing to pay me. Someone who I owe for other reasons, ah, whole other ball game.

In other words, my response is quite variable depending on the situation and the person involved.

NeuroFizz
11-03-2008, 06:03 PM
It has happened a few times, and I try to be encouraging about learning to write. I dodge any direct involvement by telling them about AW and the kind of information, help, and crits they can get here. I don't know if anyone has ever come here on my suggestion, but the strategy seems to get any critting off the immediate table. And the best part is that it is sincere--if they want to learn to write, what better place to come?

underthecity
11-03-2008, 06:20 PM
It hasn't happened at any event or booksigning I attended, however, a coworker asked if I could read a "fictionalized memoir" his wife wrote about her time working for restaurants from the 1950s to the 1980s. The story was primarily the career and personal growth of a carhop. I had no problem reading it, and asked if she wanted honest criticism, and he said yes, please be brutal.

I read it. The story itself was interesting, but was buried under very bad, amateurish writing. I offered a list of points that needed to be addressed with the manuscript, and he thanked me and that was the end of that. Apparently his wife doesn't want to go any further with it. She simply wanted to write the story down for family to read. And that's fine, I suppose.

Shara
11-03-2008, 06:21 PM
When it happens to me, and the person involved is someone I like, I tend to ask, "so which kind of critique do you want - the brutally honest one or the one where I just pat you on the back?".

Most of the time, fortunately, people who ask me are doing so because of my long involvement with my writing group and experience in doing critiques, so they are looking for an honest critique, warts and all.

The day that someone says, "I just want you to tell me how good I am" I might have to make some difficult decisions!

Shara

starrykitten
11-03-2008, 07:10 PM
Until you're the BEST writer in the world (and perhaps even if you are), I'd suggest a little more humility might actually aid your writing so you do get the 'street cred' (if that's your motivation to write - it's certainly not mine) that you say you don't have.


I think you are polishing the cherry a tad, starrykitten. Or the ego.


Please underline the part where I said I knew I was a better writer than any of these people.

Or you could read the part where I say I'm uncomfortable with being put on the spot and suddenly spending an hour listening to student newspaper article recitations. If being uncomfortable with that makes me egotistical, I'll live with that and assume that anyone who finds that egotistical would love to spend that hour listening to the student newspaper articles when just trying to have coffee.

My issue isn't with people asking for my opinion--I'd gladly critique friends' writing or give general advice to new writers. My issue is with having writing forced upon me rather than being asked. It's a bit similar to doctors complaining about being asked for medical advice at cocktail parties.

I like your idea, Shara, and saying that before you read anybody's writing is good to do in advance. If anyone I don't know super-well asks for a critique, I'll try that.

CaroGirl
11-03-2008, 07:15 PM
The only items from acquaintances that I've been asked to look at are resumes and applications. What did I do? Well, I did it, of course. Why not?

What if I were asked to look at fiction, outside my crit group? I might suggest the acquaintance join the crit group, even for just one meeting to get a feel for whether it would work for them.

I think kindness, support, encouragement and humility would go a long way to making this world a better place. If I didn't want to read and crit something for a friend or acquaintance, for whatever reason, I would then choose honesty.

Toothpaste
11-03-2008, 07:38 PM
I think that something people may want to take into consideration is the second you get published, to ANY degree, suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork wanting you to read over their work and recommending them to their agent. I have certain friends with whom I have exchanged MSs since I was little. I have some new author friends who I will do the same with. And on the rarest of occasions I will read something a child sends me. BUT. If I said yes to every single MS sent my way, I would simply have no time to do my own work. I have to prioritise. Also, while some people genuinely want my input (though I have no idea why), most see a published author not to get a really in depth beta read, but more as someone who could help them get published, and that's a little irritating to be honest. I don't like feeling used.

Anyway, it isn't simply about one or two people asking, it's about the numbers adding up.

CaroGirl
11-03-2008, 07:43 PM
I think, starry, that something you may want to take into consideration is the second you get published, to ANY degree, suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork wanting you to read over their work and recommending them to their agent.
Well, then, I look forward to having this problem. :)

Toothpaste
11-03-2008, 07:53 PM
I know you were making a joke, but truly imagine what it is like to have people think you OWE them something. I will pay it forward as much as I can, I reply back to every email sent me and in detail, making sure to answer any queries I can about the publishing world. I am very loyal to friends, and will drop everything to read their work if they have a deadline looming or whathaveyou. And every once and a while, if I happen to have the time, I will say yes to doing a critique. Yes getting published is amazing, but it isn't perfect and it comes with its own set of stresses and frustrations. You may look forward to having this problem in that you look forward to getting published, but truly it is an issue just as one has issues before one gets published.

Vincent
11-03-2008, 07:59 PM
My own recurring problem comes from my grandfather, who is constantly asking me if I've gotten around to reading the faded, 20 year old manuscript I said I'd look at in one of my weaker moments. From what he's let slip, I've gathered that it's at least semi-autobiographical, and includes a sex scene.

I just can't bring myself to read it.

CaroGirl
11-03-2008, 08:01 PM
I know you were making a joke, but truly imagine what it is like to have people think you OWE them something. I will pay it forward as much as I can, I reply back to every email sent me and in detail, making sure to answer any queries I can about the publishing world. I am very loyal to friends, and will drop everything to read their work if they have a deadline looming or whathaveyou. And every once and a while, if I happen to have the time, I will say yes to doing a critique. Yes getting published is amazing, but it isn't perfect and it comes with its own set of stresses and frustrations. You may look forward to having this problem in that you look forward to getting published, but truly it is an issue just as one has issues before one gets published.
Oh, don't worry; I've lived long enough to know that getting one thing I want won't make my life "perfect," whatever that is.

Thanks for your insights on your writing life; they're always appreciated.

Oh, and I have a new middle grade novel ms I'm working on. Do you mind if I send along to you so you can give me your opinion?... :)

Cybernaught
11-03-2008, 08:25 PM
Maybe the reason people force writing on you is because they believe you actually have something of value to say. Much like these cocktail party doctors.

mysterygrl
11-03-2008, 08:32 PM
I ran into this problem for the first time about a month ago. I'm not a published novelist, but I'm published in short fiction, I work as a freelance writer, and I've edited a few children's books for authors. A friend of one of my clients approached me, asking for my opinion of his memoir. I explained that I was not familiar with his genre and couldn't give him helpful feedback. He emailed me and again asked me if I could review his full ms when it was done. (No mention of payment, of course.) I suggested he join a critique group or pay a professional editor who was familiar with memoirs. I also gave him advice on searching for a literary agent, which he asked for. I never heard from him again. Not even a thank-you. (Insert eye roll.)

celticroots
11-03-2008, 08:42 PM
I've never had this happen to me personally, but I've seen people doing it plenty of times on Yahoo Answers. These thirteen and fourteen year old kids will post work that isn't up to par yet, and when someone offers sound writing advice, they get angry. Kids that young aren't looking for a critique, just praise. Many of them didn't have thick enough skins yet either.

The majority of teenagers who posted things on Yahoo Answers were just looking for ego boosts. I usually kept quiet if work posted on YA wasn't that good, but if they were talented, I'd tell them so.

starrykitten
11-03-2008, 08:57 PM
My own recurring problem comes from my grandfather, who is constantly asking me if I've gotten around to reading the faded, 20 year old manuscript I said I'd look at in one of my weaker moments. From what he's let slip, I've gathered that it's at least semi-autobiographical, and includes a sex scene.

I just can't bring myself to read it.


HAHAHA! That's wonderful. I imagine the sex scene isn't as bad as some of your imaginings, but wow. I'm imagining the sex scene being pretty graphic and I'm also picturing your grandfather as rather eccentric, just to make the story better.

Cybernaught
11-03-2008, 08:58 PM
I've never had this happen to me personally, but I've seen people doing it plenty of times on Yahoo Answers. These thirteen and fourteen year old kids will post work that isn't up to par yet, and when someone offers sound writing advice, they get angry. Kids that young aren't looking for a critique, just praise. Many of them didn't have thick enough skins yet either.

The majority of teenagers who posted things on Yahoo Answers were just looking for ego boosts. I usually kept quiet if work posted on YA wasn't that good, but if they were talented, I'd tell them so.

You have to remember that these are kids. At their age they need encouragement. They're still trying to find their identities and they're going to be discovering new things that interest them along the way. They should be embraced and nurtured, not criticised.

Unless of course, they're cocky little brats. Then perhaps a good chiding is in order.

Ms Hollands
11-03-2008, 09:51 PM
Please underline the part where I said I knew I was a better writer than any of these people.

Or you could read the part where I say I'm uncomfortable with being put on the spot and suddenly spending an hour listening to student newspaper article recitations. If being uncomfortable with that makes me egotistical, I'll live with that and assume that anyone who finds that egotistical would love to spend that hour listening to the student newspaper articles when just trying to have coffee.

My issue isn't with people asking for my opinion--I'd gladly critique friends' writing or give general advice to new writers. My issue is with having writing forced upon me rather than being asked. It's a bit similar to doctors complaining about being asked for medical advice at cocktail parties.

I like your idea, Shara, and saying that before you read anybody's writing is good to do in advance. If anyone I don't know super-well asks for a critique, I'll try that.

Sorry if I offended you. I did get that impression from the paragraph you mention: use of the word 'snob' twice and saying you don't want to discourage 'amateur' writers, as if you turning down their request would discourage them from writing.

Are these people you know? If not, how do they know you're a writer? And if they're being so rude as to demand you read it, why not just reply with a quick explanation that they need an editor or a proofer or both, and not a fellow writer, who also needs editing and proofing.

aka eraser
11-03-2008, 10:34 PM
I've never had a friend or relative ask, thank goodness. I've been approached many times by strangers, via these boards or my website, and most are deterred when I mention money. :)

CheshireCat
11-03-2008, 10:50 PM
BUT. If I said yes to every single MS sent my way, I would simply have no time to do my own work. I have to prioritise. Also, while some people genuinely want my input (though I have no idea why), most see a published author not to get a really in depth beta read, but more as someone who could help them get published, and that's a little irritating to be honest. I don't like feeling used.


Quoted for truth.


I know you were making a joke, but truly imagine what it is like to have people think you OWE them something. I will pay it forward as much as I can, I reply back to every email sent me and in detail, making sure to answer any queries I can about the publishing world. I am very loyal to friends, and will drop everything to read their work if they have a deadline looming or whathaveyou. And every once and a while, if I happen to have the time, I will say yes to doing a critique. Yes getting published is amazing, but it isn't perfect and it comes with its own set of stresses and frustrations. You may look forward to having this problem in that you look forward to getting published, but truly it is an issue just as one has issues before one gets published.

And again.

Cassidy
11-04-2008, 03:45 AM
If I said yes to every single MS sent my way, I would simply have no time to do my own work. I have to prioritise....

Anyway, it isn't simply about one or two people asking, it's about the numbers adding up.

I'll second this. I actually love reading other people's work, I love talking about writing with teenagers (I write YA and visit middle schools and high schools to talk about writing etc) and I love hearing people's ideas for their own novels and stories. I would really like to be say yes when others-- especially kids and teens-- ask me if I can read their work. The thing is, I have three good friends who give me great feedback on my manuscripts and I read theirs when they ask... and I have trouble finding time to do that. I have a little kid and a job and I want time to write... so while I am happy to respond to e-mails and talk with people about writing and suggest resources, I don't usually agree to look at people's writing.