The Encouragement Manifesto

You. Yes, you. You’re doing just fine.

Have you seen this quote? It shows up around social media a lot.

everywhere-i-go-im-asked

It’s supposed to be funny…I think? I don’t find it so. O’Connor goes on to say that many a bestseller would have been prevented by a good teacher. Because how dare some people think they can write? In O’Connor’s world, not even a college degree is enough to prevent bad writing.

I find this attitude infuriating. I know there are more bad writers than good ones. I also know that some people think they are good writers when they are not. Or more accurately, they aren’t good writers yet.

That’s what bothers me most about the idea of “stifling writers.” It feeds into the myth of innate talent, as if pro writers never had to learn their craft but were born knowing how to write flawless first drafts.

Some people think the way to help new writers is to cut them down—otherwise known as “telling them the truth.” But writing well is hard work and the publishing process is soul-sucking. Why add to that misery?

I teach a class. I help new writers. When I read their sample pages, I tell them they are doing just fine. I tell them to to keep writing. Because you know what? That is the truth. The most important thing a beginning writer can do is write more. It’s the only way to get better.

I’m not patronizing or condescending. I give solid advice in addition to praise. I recommend books that can help with specific problems. And when it comes to publishing questions, I tell it like it is, with no sugar-coating.

But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix someone’s manuscript. Leaving my own fingerprints all over someone else’s pages won’t help them. It will only make them believe they can’t do it themselves. But what will help them is knowing that someone sees their potential, thinks they are on the right track, and is rooting for them.

That’s what other writers did for me. And that’s what I will always, always do for other writers.

And there’s no way anyone can stifle that.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead, and she is wildly enthusiastic about brand-new writers. 

3 responses

  1. But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix someone’s manuscript. Leaving my own fingerprints all over someone else’s pages won’t help them. It will only make them believe they can’t do it themselves.

    Yes, so yes. A decade or more ago I posted a problem paragraph on rec.arts.sf.composition, and a Famous Published Writer rewrote it for me. That made it stick out like a sore thumb: it wasn’t my voice but theirs, there was too much contrast between the paragraph and its surroundings, the old version seemed wrong than it probably was, and I couldn’t rewrite it in my voice to their specs.

    This caused me to cut out the paragraph altogether, and people who know me very well can still see the stitched-up hole in the (finished, now self-published) book.

    Learning from you seems a much better option.

  2. Argh. Wronger, or more wrong, take your pick. Book is here: http://valdyas.org/irina/books/senthi.html

  3. Oh, gosh. That’s my nightmare–leaving my fingerprints all over someone else’s book and ruining it for them.

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