Remember when you were just starting out as a writer, and you were hesitant about sharing your work with other people? Maybe you were eager to do so, but couldn’t find the right people to give you constructive criticism. Now that you’re past that point, part of your role as a writer should be, at least partially, to encourage aspiring writers to build up their confidence and get their work out there. Here’s how.
Offer to read a few pages of their most recent project
“Can you please read this thing I wrote, because you’re a writer and I value your opinion?” We all hate this question, but its implications aren’t as ‘annoying’ when we look back on how we felt as beginners. If you have never really written anything before, you have no idea if you’re ‘doing it right.’ Though you won’t have time to read their entire body of work, offer to look over a few pages. It’s not much, but it’s a start – and it will mean a lot to them that you’re giving them something, even something small.
Ask them if they want feedback on those few pages, and what kind of feedback they want. Some new writers honestly just want to hear if you think it is “good” or not. Not everyone is looking for an in-depth analysis of everything they did and did not do well. Though you’re likely more experienced and that’s what your brain might immediately default to, be mindful.
Suggest writing groups, online or face-to-face
Teach aspiring writers early on that a great way to establish themselves in smaller writing circles is to participate in writing discussions and, occasionally, critique groups. They need to learn not to immediately jump to the conclusion that every writer they know will be able to refer them to an agent or help them get their work into a journal or magazine.
If you can help an aspiring writer find a community of other writers that they fit in with and feel comfortable with, you have already done a huge favor for them – and that’s amazing. There is a lot of writing advice and different kinds of feedback out there. It’s better for them to seek out help and information from a group of people than always only running to you for help.
Answer their questions honestly, but constructively
Aspiring writers, especially brand new ones, want to know everything. Is it hard to get published? Is it worth their time? Are they good enough? Will they be able to make money? Be honest, but don’t be discouraging. Never tell someone who wants to be a writer that it’s not possible. But do let them know that it’s hard work, and that there is no easy way to become a professional (because there isn’t). If they want to make a career out of it, they’re going to have to put in the [free] hours.
If there are questions you can’t answer, refer them to someone who can. There are Facebook groups and writing blogs and forums and podcasts all over the place. If they are looking for resources, and they are coming to you because they trust you to give good advice and/or references, that’s not a bad thing. They look up to you. Be real. But be nice about it.
Though it probably goes without saying, always remember to be respectful. You may have built up a pretty tough shell when it comes to negative feedback by now, but a new writer hasn’t. At this stage, it’s the little things that instill confidence and make them really feel like they can pursue their dream. Be helpful when you can, and pass them along to others when you can’t.
At first, they will be nervous and unsure and pretty clingy. But they will find their voice, and their favorite genre, and their platform, and their community, and they will not forget how you helped them. If nothing else, do it because helping people is one of the greatest feelings you will ever experience. Second to publishing your first piece of writing, probably.
Have you ever encouraged a new writer to get started and share their work? What questions did they ask? Have you kept in touch? Share your stories.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
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