Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Friday, July 17, 2009

My brother's a writer, too. He gave me his newest manuscript to read in rough draft form, because he needs help with plot holes, so he says. What he really needs help with and doesn't even realize it, or maybe he does, is insecurity. I wasn't going to tell him I'd started reading it, but then he called and was like, "What's up?" What can I say under that kind of grilling? :)

The thing is about my bro is that even though he's been writing for 20 years, he's never seriously pursued publication. This is something I didn't know about him. There were years at a time when we didn't speak directly to each other, so until we started talking all the time a couple of years ago, I'd always assumed he was learning the same things I was. After all, he's much more prolific than me. His stories come out fully-formed, and his edits consist of tweaking the language. It's incredible how far he's come with minimal study and no contact at all with other writers except me and our mother, just from writing his ass off. He has a natural gift which can't be denied. And here is where I waffle on whether to include a sample of his work without his permission. Just a small one. No? *sigh* Okay.

His craft is ready, but he's having trouble getting past the insecurity, as most of us do. And maybe he isn't capable yet, because he knows nothing about the business end. But that's where Big Sis comes in. I have a fair working knowledge of the submission process, having successfully navigated it myself. Also of the critique process, having successfully landed an editing job. The first critique I gave him was his first real crit ever, but I didn't know that at the time. He confessed to feeling like I'd punched him in the gut while reading that first crit, but in a good way. He never knew what it was really about, that whole "getting a second opinion" thing. He did sub that story on my insistence--again, his first time--but ran out of steam after only a few rejections. I think when things settle down for him in the next few months he'll start actively submitting his first novel to agents. And I have no doubt he'll do well.

Any ideas how to encourage such a writer?

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. The tough thing about encouraging a writer is that ultimately it doesn't change anything about that writer. I've learned that with a few of my writer friends (including you). You can be supportive and empathetic, but only the writer himself (or herself) can send out those queries, accept the rejections, and send out the next batch. Only the writer can finish his or her book and implement edits (if requested). All we as friends can do is stand idly by, offering a friendly ear or shoulder to cry on.

    I've got both, in case you need either. :-)

  2. What Ian said.

    I'll add that you can inundate his poor brain with as much tales of the rejection-circut as you can find--in books about the writers life and on the web. Drill it into his mind that rejection is par for the course for even the most sucessful and talented writers.

    But as Ian said, when it comes right down to it, it all comes down to him learning to deal with the fear of rejection.

  3. I think being encouraging is all that needs to be done in itself. It's not a question of support networks being a catalyst, though. That's what the supporters need to understand. You can lead a horse to water ...

    I think if you keep saying good things and do basically the same things for him you've done for me, and continue to be there when he needs it, you'll be doing all you can do.

    The rest is up to him. :)

  4. I can only say what everyone else said. You certainly should be encouraging, but he's got to find that courage for himself. I know it isn't easy and I wish him well.

  5. I don't think it's the fear of rejection so much as the expectation of rejection. He's pretty sure he sucks, and nothing anyone says changes that for any length of time. Just like most of us. :)

    So what would make someone trust in their talent? I think in the beginning, encouraging comments from friends and family are enough to sustain the writer. But after a while she needs the validation which comes only from reaching the next rung of the pro ladder, whether it be a short story sale, or a positive response from an agent, or even an encouraging rejection letter. She can only continue to grow in confidence if she tests herself against the system and wins.

  6. I think you're very wise to acknowledge that testing ourselves against the system is the only way to gain confidence- if indeed, working within the system is what the goal is. Also, I've read this so often- the consensus seems to be that self-doubt goes hand in hand with being a real writer.

  7. Hmm. Well, as an outsider who's very close to this, I can only say he probably just needs to go through the stages like every other writer I know. This is how I see them:
    1. I like to write and tell stories, so I will!
    2. I'm not bad, maybe I'll ask other people to read my stuff.
    3. I suck! I am the epitome of suckitude and I never should have tried writing! What the hell was I thinking!
    4. Well, maybe I'm not as bad as that person. I know I can write rings around them.
    5. Okay, maybe I'm not so bad after all, kinda ... sorta.
    6. How do I navigate this submission process and what do I have to do?
    7. I suck I suck I suck! What the hell was I thinking?!
    8. Let me edit this, I can do better.

    It's just part of the growing process, and really, all you can do is be encouraging and supportive if you believe in his talent. The rest is up to him him. You're a good sis. :)


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