Last week, I wrote about some scarring experiences I’ve had as a writer when well-meaning people said things that stung a little. While these people were likely just trying to be helpful, they didn’t know enough about what it’s like to write professionally to know that what was intended for good actually achieved the opposite effect.
Judging from the responses I’ve received from “4 Things Not to Say to Writers (and Five More That Don’t Help)”, I wasn’t alone in this. In fact, I got some messages on Instagram where people shared some cringeworthy stories. We all need to talk about hurtful experiences we’ve had, and sometimes, a rant post like the one I published brings up a vehicle to share them.
However . . . if you’ve followed me long enough, you know that Inkling Creative Strategies isn’t about magnifying the negative. I want to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers, and it’s hard to do that when you’re sitting around perseverating on something crappy that someone said to you.
So, this week I want to turn things around a little.
I want to share four things that you absolutely SHOULD say to writers.
Talking about things you should say is a little different from talking about things to avoid. After all, most writers understand that it’s not a great idea to ask someone how much they’re getting paid for a contribution to a literary magazine or tell them they need to get a “real job.”
But encouragement is something that all of us—not just the people in our lives who are learning how to support their friends and family who practice creative disciplines—can get better at.
In fact, it’s at the heart of what this company does. Its name is inspired by the Inklings, the writing group that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were a part of. Encouragement was their language—Tolkien even went on record as saying that without Lewis’s persistent support, The Lord of the Rings never would have been completed.
I really don’t want to imagine a world without The Lord of the Rings. Similarly, you shouldn’t want to imagine a world without the story your writing friend is working so hard to create.
Please take this not just as a message for other people who need to know how to provide encouragement, but as a list of things you can say to help a writing friend who might need a little help.
After all, we all have days like that.
1. “You’re a writer? That’s so cool.”
This one might sound a little obvious, but seriously—writers so frequently hear that their work is useless, doesn’t pay well, isn’t practical, etc. that they forget that what we do is in fact pretty awesome.
Superhero and Master of the Universe Lin-Manuel Miranda once said that “To engender empathy and create a world using only words is the closest thing we have to magic.”
When you put words together, you can make super cool, life-altering things. You can create whole worlds, arrange the life stories of people you bring into existence, and put together stories that can provide just the right person with the encouragement they need and the feeling that someone else out there knows what they’re going through.
Yes, being a writer is cool. Don’t be afraid to say it. Tell other people not to be afraid to say it either.
2. “Who is your favorite author?”
This one is great . . . but beware. When you open that Pandora’s Box, it’s tough to close it. Be prepared for the writer to tell you all.about.their.favorite.author.
On the other hand, though, you are likely to learn something about an author you’ve never heard of, or better yet, walk away from the conversation wanting to check out their work.
Also—if you really want a writer to know you care about them, read their favorite book. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll be able to say you learned something about them. A close friend of mine read my favorite book, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, a couple years ago and told me that he didn’t understand it at all, but he understood why I loved it.
Whether he liked or understood it wasn’t the point. The point was that he took the time to learn about something that’s important to me.
If you want to learn about a person you love who writes, read what inspires them.
3. “I don’t know much about that genre—can you tell me why you like it?”
Look—I’m in a LOT of writing communities and people write a LOT of different things. I’ve been exposed to branches of different genres that I didn’t even know existed. Whenever I go to any kind of indie author fair, I’m always blown away by the diversity.
That’s also why I love what I do at Inkling. In the nearly two years my company has existed, my authors have included writers of memoirs, travel books, self-help, historical, subjective fiction, futuristic work, spiritual writing, clean romance, young adult, and my personal favorite, Hitchcockian suburban horror. (Yeah. That’s a thing you didn’t know existed. It’s super awesome.)
Unfortunately, the way society seems to work is that if we encounter something we don’t understand or haven’t heard of, we frequently say “ohhhhhh . . .” and move on rather than asking any questions.
So, ask questions. When authors have the chance to talk about something they worked hard on and are proud of, it helps them see the value in what they do. It costs absolutely nothing to take the time to hear about what matters to somebody else.
4. “Where can I read your work?”
This is one you have to be careful with. On one hand, a LOT of writers have blogs, websites, social media, etc. where they regularly share their writing. Many have also self-published books or released ebooks.
For those people, having someone ask where they can read their work or buy their book makes their entire day.
The problem is that you may encounter someone who loves to write, but hasn’t published or even posted anything. So here’s what you do . . .
If their answer is no, ask if they will please let you know when they publish something.
Not only did you just give them encouragement, but you may have also planted a seed for them to start writing that blog, publish their book, submit a poem to a journal, or some other way to share their writing.
You know what else you can do? Tell them how to get a free workbook!
Inkling’s Ultimate Writing Project Workbook contains tons of writing prompts, worksheets, tips, and templates to help you or another writer take the next project to a whole new level.
Plus: it comes with a complimentary one-on-one consultation with me to talk about your writing, including any questions or problems you might be having.