Writers Behaving Badly

I am getting ready to launch a feature on my website – writing advice for new and continuing writers.  Of course, there are tons and tons of sources for writing advice out there, so I figured I’d try a slightly different approach.  I’d try focusing on the Bad Things That Writers Do (all the while, providing suggestions on how to avoid those Bad Things.)  After all, most of us love hearing horror stories, or at least stories about horrible people!

I’ve grouped Bad Things into several general behaviors:

  • Harboring unrealistic expectations
  • Mixing personal and professional lives inappropriately
  • Targeting inappropriate agents or publishers
  • Gossiping about readers, writers, agents, or editors
  • Expressing jealousy of other writers publicly
  • Acting arrogantly to readers, writers, agent, or editors

What other bad behaviors would you add to the list?  (I’m not looking for specific stories about specific people – that would violate my gossiping note, above!)

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  1. 1. green_knight

    Being desperate to be published/feeling entitled to publication seems to give rise to all kinds of odd behaviours.

    The most bizarre thing I’ve seen is when new writers are warned off scams/well-meaning but incompetent agents/publishers, and ignore all the good advice they are given (most of which involves ‘it’s not going to be easy, anyone who promises that it will be easy is lieing’) because they want to hold onto that chance.

  2. 2. Elias McClellan

    Ms Klasky,

    This is an excellent topic. Having made, just about all of the above mistakes, and I’m not even published yet. I look forward to the benefit of your counsel. Thank you for your time and patience in this endeavor.

    Here’s my bit. Not sharing in the success of that friend/family member who managed to get published. True, it can be a bitter pill. They can also become defensive or difficult to be around as they are suddenly beseiged by everyone they once knew, looking for a touch. But congratulating that person and then stepping back as a friend is imparative to the relationship as well as to your karma.

    GK, unfortunately I’ve encountered the entitlement attitude more than once. What helped me was a Comp and Retoric class I took at community college. The teacher had published his master’s thesis, several critical reviews, and a short story here and there. The man even edited a journal. Still it was only recently, eight years after I last heard from him, that I saw his first novel in print.

    That has helped me keep my ego in check and my expectations in line. How many people start but never finish their book? Of the few I know that finish, too many give up and their book ends up in the back of the office closet or on a disk they stumble across every now and again.

    You got to take the lumps and the rejection letters to become a better writer. Maybe there is an inside track but if so, I’m on the wrong train.

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Ms Klasky,

    Please excuse my ignorance, but where on your site or under which heading shall your advice post be? Obviously, I’m excited to read this as well as a little challenged.

    Again, thank you for your consideration and patience.

  4. 4. Doug Hulick

    Neat approach, Mindy. :)

    I’m not sure if the following are the “bad” kind of things you are looking for, but here are some things I consider bad form or habits:

    There’s always procrastination/justification in all its myraid forms. “I need to do more research,” “I just need to do X so I will be able have time to sit down and write,” or, one which doesn’t get mentioned as much, which is constantly revising your first few chapters to get them perfect before moving on. That circling back over and over is sometimes just a way to keep from having to move forward.

    Another is not doing their homework. By this, I mean not just targeting inappropriate markets as you mention, but also not taking the time to learn about proper formatting, address, and so on when making queries or sending in submissions. This sometimes goes hand-in-hand with the “entitlement” thing, since, of course, their work is SO wonderful, it will shine on its own merits, never mind that it consists of two hundred hand-written pages on pink legal paper.

    There’s also taking criticism/suggestions personally. Issues with the story is not issues with the author, but some people have a very hard time getting past this.

    Chasing the latest trends, which usually means you will be a year or two late by the time you try to sell you work.

    I expect you could do a month’s worth of material on how not to approach writers/agents/editors at conventions, both after panels and at parties. :)

    I would also suggest the hazard of selling one-self short. That is, assuming no one will want to read your work, or that it will never sell, etc. and so on. Not every bad bit of behavior is outwardly heinous: there are things writers do that no one sees that holds them back or damages their careers, and I think these would be just as bad as some of the more obvious things.

    Good luck! I look forward to seeing what you pull together for this.

  5. 5. Mindy Klasky

    Thanks, all, who have already commented!

    Green Knight: I totally agree about the scams – I am consistently amazed that the scammers find fresh meat, but I know that there are so many people out there who are *so* desperate…

    Elias: I appreciate your taking the time to leave ideas – especially the ones about jealousy for family members and peers. (That’s a pet topic of mine…) I haven’t added the advice section to my website yet – that’ll likely launch next month (or maybe January 1 – a Whole New Year of advice for writers :-) )

    Doug: ***Great*** topics – thanks for fleshing out so many of my ideas, especially the “do your homework” type notions. And, come to think of it, the “how to behave at cons” stuff.

    I have an author-friend who collects “horrid people” – she loves to tell stories about the horrid things that authors and others do. Of course, telling those stories could fall under the category of “gossip”, but if the telling is for a good cause… ::wicked evil grin::

    Keep those cards and letters coming!

  6. 6. green_knight

    I understand newbies falling for some scams (the other day I clicked on a link I should not have clicked on – my slow connection saved me from connecting to that website but even the most savvy person can fall for the right scam.)

    It’s the ‘in the face of warnings’ that I fail to grok. You can sometimes observe the phenomenon on Absolute Write, and I don’t know what else one can do – once you’ve told someone ‘these are the signs of a clueless/harmful agent/publisher’ what *else* can you tell them?

  7. 7. Alma Alexander

    For those just starting out, you might want to add the classic of wandering up to a published author with whom you have no relationship at all (other than having heard of him or her or perhaps read one or a couple of their books) and asking said writer to “take a look at my manuscrit”. The subtext being, take my baby, gush over it, take it straight to your agent or editor and get me a humungous advance, and I mean RIGHTNOW. I’ve had at least one friend-of-a-friend try that one on me, at dinner at a con, where this girl (who happened to be sitting next to me) launched into a detailed description of her novel-in-progress, and would I like to read it and give her my opinion…? (Preferably the next morning at breakfast having of course stayed up all night reading her magnum opus…?)

    For the more published amongst us, there’s a related and not dissimilar situation of blurbs and the asking thereof – when do you not come off like a pathetic boob if you follow your favourite author around begging for a blurb for your newborn novel…?

    Another one – life doesn’t revolve around any ONE book, even when it’s yours and it’s newly published. If you are incapable of holding a conversation with someone at a convention without twisting it back to the topic of your book, perhaps you should just take a vow of silence for hte evening (because this kind of single-minded self promo can backfire quite spectacularly – people will indeed remember you and that book, but only to the extent of giving it a wide berth in the bookstores…)

  8. 8. Elias McClellan

    Ms. Alexander, you hit it out of the park with your comments. I thank St Jude, daily, that I found this site before I added to my ever-expanding list of embarrassing moments. Kelly McCullough generously advised me against the pitfall of going to a convention to ‘network.’

    I’ve never been to a convention before and I would’ve no doubt made this mistake. I tend to be socially awkward. Guess that’s why I’m drawn to the writing thing, huh? I don’t have many interests aside from reading, writing, and politics. Oh, and I work in child support. So I can clear a room in seconds-flat.

  9. 9. Mike Barker

    Don’t forget “If I can just find the right book/class/teacher, then I’ll start writing” disease. Like worldbuilders disease and other agonies of the procrastination family, it feels as if you’re doing something… but there are no words appearing on paper as a result.

  10. 10. glenda larke

    This is probably a sub-group of your last point Mindy, but I dislike the trashing of other genres by writers of a different genre. And I hasten to say, that is different from saying “I love fantasy but romance is not my cup of tea” – nothing wrong with expressing preferences. I mean the kind of blanket condemnation you hear sometimes. A very famous writer of one genre once told me “What a waste!” when I told him I wrote fantasy. I heard later that he made exactly the same remark to someone else too. Loathe that.

    And writers having trouble getting published for the first time sometimes turn to trashing published writers generally: “Oh they must know someone in the business…” “Oh, they only got published because they were lucky/write popular trash/etc etc.” Quite apart from the rudeness, this kind of comment is likely to come back and hit them on the nose later.

  11. 11. Elias McClellan

    Ms. Larke, I tend to agree with your remark about genre-trashing. Part of the challenge I have faced is finding a workshop that doesn’t aspire to litarary heights. I respect that but it’s not what I do or want to do. My Alma Matre, the University of Houston has a good creative writing program but it’s the same schtick. There is some love given for mystery/crime but nothing for SF&F. Unfortunately, Clarion is and will be out of my league.

    As for the sour-grapes-set, or the ‘hook-up’ argument, you’re right there as well. They either quit the business or the work long enough to see there no inducement to a publisher to expend on a run of books based on a personal relationship.

  12. 12. Mindy Klasky

    Alma, Glenda, and Elias – Thanks for your continuing thoughts!

    I totally agree about the genre-trashing thing. This past weekend, I had dinner with a loooong-time friend, and I told him about the contemporary fantasy romance that I’m writing. He pointed out that I was denigrating it myself, an attitude that I wasn’t even conscious of presenting.

    Elias – it’s great that you’re aware of your tendency to social awkwardness. Online communities are great places to work out some of those bugs. As for finding the right writing workshop – sometimes, online, genre-friendly options can substitute for less hospitable in-person venues!

  13. 13. Mindy Klasky

    Oh – and Mike – I completely agree! The ways that we procrastinate are truly astonishing! Perhaps I can write an entire guideline-for-writers, solely on procrastination techniques…

  14. 14. Nicole R Murphy

    Comparing yourself to other writers. “I don’t plan, I must be crap”. “I have to plan every little thing, I must be crap”. “I don’t write fast enough, I must be crap”… You can see the pattern.

    It’s important to learn who you are, how you write, what works for you, in order to be the best writer you can be.

  15. 15. Mindy Klasky

    Nicole – I think that part of the problem is that we have so few metrics to gauge where we are in the field, that we start to rely on the type of false metrics that you summarize. That’s counter-productive, of course, and counter-sanity, but we do it all the same.

    Sigh…

  16. 16. James Davis Nicoll

    What about obsessing over reviews? I’m thinking of various melt-downs a few authors have had over less than entirely positive reviews.

    Come to think of it, aside from one newbie who was using sock-puppets to promote his new (and thus far only) SF novel, most of the more spectacular flame-outs involved established writers. May be that nobody mentions it when a new author starts talking about reviewer interrogating their text from the wrong perspective….

  17. 17. Mindy Klasky

    James – I think that review-obsession is a major problem. (I think of it as a problem for the author, though, rather than for society at large. I think of *responding* to reviews as authorial bad behavior!

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Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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