Tag Archives: writing advice

How To Ask For Feedback on Your Writing

ask for feedback on your writing

No one was born a writer. All writers had to go through the process of “becoming a writer” and, if you’ve read as many writer’s biographies as I have, you’ll know that it wasn’t an easy path for anyone.

Maybe you want to ask for advice from a professional writer but you’re afraid they won’t respond. It’s a logical assumption that they won’t. Except for the fact that when they were starting out, many of today’s successful writers had mentors who were experienced and established.

It’s not impossible to get a writer to respond to a cold email requesting their advice. But it is a delicate endeavor and one that requires some finesse. Here are some tips on how to persuade a writer to write you back:

Read their work

First of all, if you’re going to write to a Stephen King or a Joyce Carol Oates and you’ve never read any of their work, you might want to either pick another author whose work you do know or crack open one or two of their books to get to know their writing better. It’s only fair if you’re asking them to read your works that you’ve at least done your homework and read some of theirs first.

Do background research

Read some interviews and biographical information about them. Follow their blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account if they have one. Find out what kind of philosophies they have about writing, how they got their start, what they’re currently working on. Having a feel for this information will help you craft a more personal letter. It will also help you not tread on their toes by accident. For example, if your chosen writer is an adamantly against e-books, you might not include the fact that you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book.

Work on your subject line

As with all writing, when it comes to titles, headlines and email subject lines, it’s all about grabbing their attention. It’s worth the time you put into perfecting your subject line pitch. Otherwise, even if you wrote the outstanding letter, you run the risk of them never even opening it.

Consider sending snail mail

It’s easy to ignore an email. Hardly anybody receives real mail today. There’s something about the effort you had to go through to handwrite a letter, put a stamp on it and send it off in the mailbox. That differentiates you from someone who shot off 100 emails to a bunch of famous authors. It’s the ultimate way to personalize a message. If you do send a letter by snail mail, make sure to include your email in the letter. Don’t expect them to sit down and write you a letter in reply. Make it easy for writers you want to reach out.

Why are you writing to them?

Can you articulate why it is that you’re writing to that authors in particular? Is it because you admire their work or you’re writing a book on a similar subject as one of their books? Is it because of something they said in an interview that captured your attention? Why do you think their advice would be helpful to you? Explaining this to the writers will help them take your request more seriously.

Keep it simple

You’re probably aware that professional writers are busy people. Asking them to take time away from their own projects to help you with yours is a delicate matter, so do them a favor by getting to the point fairly quickly. Professionals will appreciate you keeping your message brief. You might even want to acknowledge that you know they’re busy and you appreciate them taking them time to read and respond to your message.

What are your credentials?

People like to help people who they think are going to succeed. If you’ve published any other works, you should reference them. If you’ve won any awards or have an MFA or worked as an assistant to a famous screenwriter or author, or have worked in editing or publishing, then it would be good to mention those things. Whatever credentials you can (briefly) provide will help them get an idea of who you are and why spending time reading your work wouldn’t be a waste.

Ask them something specific

Try to ask writing experts something specific rather than something general. For example, don’t ask: How do I get published? That’s way too general and an annoying question to most authors. Where to begin? Instead ask a specific question. Make it something that’s relevant to their work or their experience that you think they will be able to give you the best answer about. It’s much easier for someone to reply to a specific question than to reply to a request for “advice” in general.

Do you have anything to offer them?

If you have something special to offer that you think they might appreciate, go ahead and offer it. If the author lives in the same area as you, go ahead and offer to take them to lunch or buy them a coffee. Maybe their next book is set in Brazil and you lived there for three years. Offer to share some of your experiences that might be helpful to them.

Make it easy for them to reach you

Give authors a lot of options for reaching you. Everyone has their preferred form of communication, so give them your phone number, email, and Skype account. Let them know when you’re available to talk and make sure you’re available if they try to contact you.

Thank them if they write back

If you do manage to catch their attention and they decide to respond to your message, make sure to thank them. It really is a big deal that well-known writers took the time to reply to you, so the least you can do is acknowledge their effort by letting them know how much you appreciate it. It will also make it easier for them to respond to you should you reach out to them again.

5 Writing Habits To Avoid

writing habits to avoid

Writers never have an easy time of it. Often either unpaid or underpaid, they spend a lot of time toiling away in solitude just for the love of writing. Even when they’re successful, gaining publishing deals and fame, they’re not always all that happy.

Anne Lamott writes of her experience of writing success: “…I found myself stoned on all the attention, and then lost and derailed, needing a new fix every couple of days and otherwise going into withdrawal. My insides became completely uninhabitable, as if I’d wandered into a penny arcade with lots of bells ringing and lights flashing and lots of junk food, and I’d been there too long…”

And yet, writers continue to write. And everyone’s happy that they do. And because the world of writing is full of challenges both professional and emotional, sometimes they need support and advice about how to avoid some habits that are actually harmful for writers.

So, how not to become “derailed”, how to write better, how to be more productive and how to value your work and creativity as much as you should? Just keep away from these habits:

Rely on cliches or stereotypes

Writing, whether it’s a work of poetry, fiction, an essay or a blog post, is an art. The goal of art is to express something from a new perspective – yours. It’s difficult to avoid cliches because we’re exposed to them so often that they’re easy to pluck out of the subconscious and use instead of sweating it out to find a more original way to express something. George Orwell avoided even using the word cliché to tell writers to avoid cliches: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Check out this list of 681 cliches.

The same goes for creating stereotypes. Art is supposed to inspire us to challenge our beliefs and our perceptions. Creating stereotypes not only fails to achieve that, but leaves you with flat characters and an uninspiring message.

Start writing when you land a writing job

This one mainly applies to freelancers. If you want a job as a writer, you must first write. Write for yourself. Write a blog, write stories or articles on an area of expertise or interest. This is how you build a portfolio to show to potential clients, so you can land a job that is perfect for your writing style and background. It’s also how you become a better writer. By committing yourself to writing, you’ll build the skills and the credentials you need to be a successful one.

Forcing yourself to write on topics that don’t inspire you because it’s your job is pretty much the worst introduction to writing life that I can think of. It may even put you off writing forever. Write for pleasure first and see what direction that takes you.

Allow interruptions

The writing bubble, that place your mind slips into when you’re in the flow, is a delicate environment that needs your protection. It’s constantly under attack from phone calls, children, spouses, family, friends and neighbours. But its most powerful enemies are Facebook, Twitter, email, scrolling and surfing.

These are the types of interruptions that are so insidious because they’re all integrated into your laptop where your sacred moments of writing are supposed to occur. Some writers have a whole other computer for writing that doesn’t even have the internet on it. You can also install an app that blocks the internet while you’re writing.

Underestimate the importance of a schedule

This is a big issue. Think about an athlete training for an event. They have a training schedule to adhere to. Otherwise, they’ll never get in shape. If you don’t set a schedule and only decide to write when you feel like it, you’re writing life will be pretty miserable. If you’re writing a book, you may never finish.

If you write articles, you’ll spend too many nights running on adrenaline, having wasted hours procrastinating and producing nothing. Ernest Hemingway woke up early every morning to write his daily 500 words. Joyce Carol Oates writes before breakfast, sometimes writing for hours if she’s inspired and only stopping for breakfast well into the afternoon.

Writers can have (semi) normal lives. They can have children. They can have relationships. They can have other jobs. They can go to the gym or to yoga classes or to Jui Jitsu classes. They can cook. They can have friends. But they can’t have any of these things AND write if they don’t make a schedule.

Say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity

Don’t say ‘Yes’ to projects that pay poorly or that suck your will to live. You’re probably writing because you like to write and you’re good at it. Maybe you’re even writing because it’s your dream. That’s great. But is your dream getting paid slave wages while writing on topics that don’t interest you? There are a lot of interesting writing jobs out there that will pay well for a good writer.

Taking jobs that exploit your time and your talent aren’t even good ways to build your portfolio. How can you hold your head up high and brag about how you wrote articles for $1 for some outsourcing company in the Philippines? Instead of wasting your time on such projects, invest your time in writing on topics that interest you and looking for companies that will pay you well. That’s a much smarter investment and one that’s worthy of your time and creativity.