Starting Somewhere

Two cyber conversations have me scratching my head and wondering what newbies are supposed to do.

I’m quite certain I’ve never met a single piano player who sat down and mastered the task in one day.  Nor have I met a professional singer who recorded a number one hit the first time she opened her mouth. 

Okay, I’ve never actually met a professional piano player or a top 40’s artist, but I have met lots of writers–newbies, seasoned, agented and pubbed–over the years. 

So, my question becomes this: does anybody owe it to a newbie to help them get started?  I don’t care what area of life we’re talking about.  I’m just pondering the concept as a whole.

Should an agent have the attitude that they only want to rep already pubbed authors?  Does a writer have the right to adopt the attitude that working with a newbie agent is something less than desirable?

Seriously, we all started out as newbies.  Every single one of us at some point was a novice to our passion/job/career/hobby.  Nobody started out at the top, and yet we sometimes look down on others who are just joining the fray.

Do you ever forget where you came from?  Do you ever remember the one person who gave you a shot to prove yourself through time and experience?  If you have a great story, please share it.  I’m really curious to see how people feel about this issue.

18 responses to “Starting Somewhere

  1. Good question. I’m still a newbie in many respects, but I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years from the fine folks at AQ. I lurked for a very long time before I posted my first post over there. I then commented on other posts, trying to help out and get a feel for the people and the site. I eventually posted my own work – my query for some advice.

    I’m glad I did it the way I did. I find some newbies sign on, post their own stuff first and expect everyone to help them out. Some don’t even edit their own stuff to the best of their own abilities first. There’s a sense of entitlement with some people that turns me right off.

    On the other hand, I like to help out people who are new – if it weren’t for AQ folks, I’d never have made the progress I have. For me, it all comes down to attitude. 🙂

    • I lurked too. It was easier for me to get a read on the atmosphere and what I would have to offer as well as what I could get in return by doing it this way.

      I think you’re right about attitude. Some writers really want help, while others just want acknowledgement of their accomplishment. And while actually penning an entire manuscript is a huge deal that deserves high praise regardless of how rough it is or will always be, simmply writing a manuscript is just the first of many steps along the way. Taking constructive feedback is the only way to succeed in this tight market.

      Thanks so much for this honest look at your experience. I think it’s helpful to see where others have come from.


  2. Yeah, I had a mentor who helped me so much. To my everlasting shame, when she finally asked me to look at her ms, I became impatient. She had made every single rookie mistake she’d trained me out of. My comments were accurate, but I’m positive they were also unnecessarily painful and my friend and mentor no longer writes because of me.

    This may not be what you’re asking about, but I’d encourage every critiquer out there to consider the true skill level of those they critique. If they are not at the same place as you, paint broad instructional strokes and be kind. You were once there.

    • Victoria,

      That sounds like a sad ending to what could have been a mutually beneficial relationship. I think the ability to critique is not always synonymous with one’s ability to receive feedback.

      Writing is tough. It’s not for the faint at heart and sometimes it hurts like heck to hear that what you thought was perfect didn’t even reach passable. But, everything can be fixed with patience, understanding and a desire to work hard.

      On the other hand, critiquing can be almost as brutal and difficult to do well as writing is. What we say definitely impacts an aspiring writer’s attitude toward their own craft. We can single handedly turn someone away from writing forever. Likewise, we can encourage someone to keep plugging away when the likelihood of their success is skinnier than slim. Because let’s face it–odds are not in our favor. Even great manuscripts are routinely passed over because of all the variables in the publishing arena.

      Talk about taking the balancing act to a whole new level.

      Thanks for sharing. It will help us all be a little more mindful of where we came from and where we are going.

  3. I treat writing just like my job, actually.

    In my professional career (engineering), I took a lower position right out of college so I could get into semiconductors. I’m a chemical engineer, so by all rights I should be in the oil field cracking or drilling crude, but I wanted semiconductors.

    I went 8 months without an engineering job. I worked for $11/hr as a technician and Mobile (before it was Exxon-Mobile).

    I remember this manager bringing around a new engineer, introducing him to everyone, Here’s Jimmy, a ChemE out of Texas Tech. He’s our new process engineer.

    Nice to meet you, Jimmy-who-makes-three-times-the-money, name’s Eric, I’m a ChemE out of The University of Texas at Austin, and I’m the night technician who’ll be analyzing your waste-stream samples for one-third the cash and twice the hours.

    (I quietly optimized the lab processes from 2-3 hours worth of work, down to ~30 mins, tweaked and corrected the specs for the chemist, and made engineering decisions for the other technicians, so it wasn’t a complete loss to have a ChemE on the night shift…)

    Anyway, I took a job I didn’t want, simply so I could start my feet on the right path.

    I eventually got a supervisor’s position in semiconductors. Not an engineering job, but I took it, and after 3 years I snuck into a process engineering position, and I’ve been moving along since then.

    The lesson here is to do what needs doing. Check your pride at the door.

    As a writer, I am working with a local micro-publisher, don’t even have an agent (yet).

    But I’m writing. I’m printing. I’m publishing. I’m selling. I’m writing more and I’m learning every day.

    Later on, that’ll pay off, guaranteed, because forward progress is just that: forward progress. Even Elvis had to beg for air time, at least at first.

    As for helping others, sure. Do a little charity, and like I said, check your pride at the door.

    – Eric

    • Eric,

      Thanks so much for this illustrative perspective. I think your lesson is so valuable to us writers. Our pride can definitely get in the way–every step of the way–and keep us from reaching our dreams.

      I will try very hard to check my pride at the door. But just one question? Do I have to pick it back up when I leave?

      hugs~ cat

  4. I recently faced a humbling experience–one which made me remember exactly where I came from and what it’s like to be the zero instead of the hero.

    That being said, putting your faith in an untested newbie is always a gamble. But anyone talented and passionate can acheive success.

    I’m glad someone a gamble on me. It’s paying off. 🙂

    • Jenny,

      I hate to hear of humbling experiences. I hope everything worked out. I also hope it didn’t stem from your writing. I can’t wait to pick up a copy of your book some day and hope it is sooner rather than later!

      You’re right when you say it’s a gamble to take a chance on a newbie. Makes me wonder when we cross the line from newbie to something else. And what do we even call that line?

      Best luck and big hugs~

  5. Paying knowledge, experience, kindness and encouragement forward never hurt anyone.

  6. Honestly, I think the epitome of experience is having the ability to pass on what you’ve learned.

    Take for example my other half Paul, he’s been a musician for most of his life, played professionally and taught his instrument. A couple of weeks ago he came downstairs after having a jam session with a former student in awe. The student had surpassed Paul in his ability to play. Instead of being resentful and jealous of his student’s ability, he took pride in knowing he had a hand in helping this young man find his own creative outlet.

    I saw the lesson for what it was. Paul’s gift of teaching, his dedication said more about his ability and gift than any other accolade.

    Someone who is truly talented, has the ability to hold a hand out and up. If you fear being out-shined, you really don’t have a lot of faith or confidence in your own abilities. (Hugs)Indigo

    • Indigo,

      This is an amazing example of how we should live our creative lives–well, our lives period.

      Your definition of experience is beautifully stated: the ability to pass on what we have learned.

      Thanks so much for your perspective. I think we’ll all be better people because of reading it.

  7. I’m a music teacher and have been for the past twenty years. I understand that writing is a skill just like playing an instrument or singing. It takes practice. I am a ‘newbie’ in every sense, but I love having a different creative outlet other than music. I agree about AQ being a great website to learn on….I still don’t feel like I know enough to try and help anyone else. Still feel a little intimidated by that crew’s knowledge and expertise. Luckily, you guys are such a great group of people, and not filled with attitudes or arrogance. For now, my best bet is to lay low and lurk, listening to every thing you guys tell other people and try to apply what you’re teaching. At some point, I’ll get brave and post something, but right now, I don’t feel like I’m at a level where I can.
    So for this newbie, I am thankful for any bit of information or tip that can help me be a better writer and thankful for the helpful ‘posters’ on AQ!

    • Suzanne,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think your perspective is very insightful. It also brings up some questions from the other side of the coin and goes along with Jenny’s comment and hits home the responsibility of putting ourselves otu there as illustrated by Victoria.

      When do we cross that line from newbie to other and what do we owe each other in the process?

      Arrogance, pride, compassion, experience, honesty, integrity, time?

      Nice thought-provoking answers.

      I wish you the very best in finding your voice in the AQ community, as I’m sure you will have something to share with other writers. We don’t need to be experts, we don’t need to be published, we just need to have the ability to effectively communicate our reactions and experiences with others.


  8. Great post, Cat! My agent is relatively new and a couple of writer friends asked why I didn’t try to get one of the more established agents? For a nanosecond I had doubts, but then realized, I’m a newbie too. Then I wondered if her fellow agents asked the same thing about me 🙂

    I figure, we’re going to grow together – even though I’m about 20 years late to the game!

    • I love your response, Lori. It’s perfect.

      I wish you and your agent the best luck as you journey through the writing biz together! And in my opinion, you’re never too late.


  9. I have been in a writing group for a long time although I have not been to too many meetings since I married Lynelle(who turned out to be a wonderful editor and who I met years before in that group).

    As a rule, I am very careful about critiquing anyone work. I would rather be silent if the work was bad. I make it a point to be positive critiquing someones work and accent what is good about it.

    It is too easy to tear down someone’s work and in the process discourage that writer.

    It is always important to have a good moderator in a group who will say,”Let us go on to to next piece.”

    It would drive me buggy when a group spends an inordinate amount of time discussing a piece of work when it was poorly written to begin with.

    • Siggy, all the face to face writing groups I’ve been in have been small and productive. We would usually pass around material for the next time and then have our comments ready when we got there.

      I always loved that, but, alas, my writing buddies have moved away–college and marriage has a way of doing that!

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