Years ago an old friend approached me. He was retired now, and wanted to write a book. Would I look it over and tell him what I thought?
It was very, very long. To say that it was painful to read would be too kind. It was a grammatical mess and a spelling bee where most of the words had to sit down. The thread-thin plot plodded, the characters had no characteristics, the descriptions – well, they didn’t describe.
I tried gently to tell him that it needed work. I advised a writing class, or joining a critique group. He pushed and pushed. If I would just mark the manuscript with the problem areas, he would work on it. Against my better judgment, I spent many hours correcting (only the first instances) of misspelled words, suggesting places to add description, giving some writing prompts. With his passion for his book, I thought he’d be grateful.
He wanted me to rewrite it. I declined. He took it to another mutual friend who was a schoolteacher and wore her out editing it. Along the way, I discovered that it had been 30 years since he had read a book in the genre he was attempting. And that he resented the heck out of me because I wouldn’t ghost write his book for him – after all, writing was easy, he knew that.
The more I gave, the more he demanded. And never once during that time did this man with limitless time and a comfortable income ever offer appreciation – not verbally, not even buying me a cup of coffee.
I hope this doesn’t sound bitter. I look back on that experience and see a reflection of something my mother once told me: Don’t ever give a handcrafted item you’ve made to someone who doesn’t make things—they won’t appreciate it.
I realize I could be treading on dangerous ground, writing a column dissing beginning writers. But I don’t think the people who read NovelMatters – whether pre-published or already-published--think writing is easy. They respect the craft, and respect the journey.
Do you have a horror story of trying to help someone with his or her writing?