The Writer's Mailbag: Installment One-Hundred and Twenty-Four
Here We Go Again
Welcome back, my friends, and you truly are my friends. We’ve never met in person but I feel a real kinship to all of you. We share, not only the human bond, but also a similarity in the goals we seek. That, I believe, is at the core of the popularity of this series, and I have no doubt it will continue for as long as I’m able to keep typing.
So let’s begin. We’ve got some good questions and, hopefully, some good answers by yours truly.
LACK OF SUPPORT
From Pop: “Billy, why do you think family can be so unsupportive when it comes to writing?”
Pop, the answer to your question will forever be a mystery to me. I am clueless and I mean that in all honesty.
Perhaps it is impossible for our loved ones to see us in that light. They have always known us as fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. They have always known us as teachers or housewives, architects or office workers. They know we spend long hours pounding out prose and poetry, but they see it as nothing more than a hobby. I don’t want to say they don’t care about our pursuits even though, many times, it certainly feels that way. I just think they have a hard time rectifying the person they once knew with the person now before them, a black and white view that the person who has always been a brick layer can’t possibly now be a writer.
I don’t know!
I know it is true for me, and I would be dishonest if I said it doesn’t bother me, as I’m sure it bothers you.
Great Writers Are Great Readers
From Mel: “Here's a question for your mailbag from a mailman. Is there any writer in the history of writing who didn't start off as a reader first? Real writers are reading addicts first. They will scrounge around like crackheads for any printed material they can get their hands on, from the Reader's Digest to the Captain Crunch cereal box, if all else fails. I appreciate that you are encouraging the little ones to be readers first.”
Mel, I howled with laughter the first time I read your question. The line about crackheads is a classic description of an avid reader. Personally I can’t imagine a good writer not being an avid reader. It just doesn’t compute in my brain. I suppose it’s possible for a writer to not be a reader but again, I can’t imagine it. We do what we do because we love language. Most of us were readers early on. For me, personally, it was comic books followed by the Hardy Boys followed by the classics and now any novel I can get my hands on. I read for an hour, each night, before I go to bed, and that’s been my practice for as long as I can remember. Reading relaxes me. Reading takes my mind off the troubles of the day. It allows me to escape and it allows me to live vicariously through the words of others.
Writing without reading? Impossible, I say!
WHAT’S THE POINT?
From Eric: “I have a question. I have noticed lately that few hub articles seem to start out just assuming that we know the topic as well as they do. I read the beginning and go away because I cannot follow. Although on a couple I have gone to research and come back, which is tedious. I fear I do that so I want to know how to prevent doing that.”
Eric, I think that’s a very valid point, and I’ve noticed the same thing lately on HP. I don’t think the answer to your question is an easy one, and I think it depends on the subject matter.
If I were to attempt to write an article about, oh, I don’t know, nano-technology, it seems to me a little background concerning that topic would be necessary if my target audience is broad and all-inclusive. The average guy, or gal, reading about nano-technology for the first time is going to be confused unless I lay the groundwork early on. If, on the other hand, my target audience is technologically advanced, then it’s almost an insult to give a primer on that topic before getting into the meat of the discussion.
If, however, I’m writing about love, it seems to me I really don’t have to explain anything prior to making my main points.
For the record, I’ve never had trouble understanding your articles.
From Mary: “A question for a future mailbag, what are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo? Do you think it is over hyped nonsense or a good kick in the pants for lazy people?
“Are you aware of any figures of how many people go on to publish after that initial push? An editor, whose emails I subscribe to, says she is inundated with work in Dec & Jan when people have a lot of writing from participating in NaNoWriMo but not sure how to put it all together.”
Mary, I’ve flip-flopped on NaNoWriMo over the years. When I first heard about it I thought it was ridiculous trying to write an entire novel in a month, that all it promoted was inferior work. Now I am mellowing a bit, and I see its main value as being an incentive and a, as you say, kick in the butt for writers who otherwise might never try to write a novel. I do see value in that even though I’ve never needed such a similar incentive.
As for statistics regarding it no, I’ve never seen any. Let me go do some research. I’ll be right back.
Okay, I’m back. On the NaNo website, we are told that it has been around since 1999, and to date over 250 of those novels have been published by a traditional publishing company. Not the greatest success statistics but still, that’s over 250 novels we never would have read if not for NaNo, so there you go!
From Linda: “I read many blogs, Facebook posts, and (unfortunately) hubs that are seriously in need of an editorial review. The misspellings and grammatical errors make me cringe. You are one of the best writers I know, and I'm pretty sure you do your own editing, but not everyone has your skills and abilities. Do you have any experience with or opinions on the use of editing programs such as https://www.grammarly.com/. www.polishmywriting.com, or www.gingersoftware.com.”
Well, Linda, thank you for the very kind words. I’m with you all the way with regards to the number of hubs lately in dire need of editing. It’s amazing to me that writers would publish articles that have many misspellings and grammatical errors. How can writers build any credibility with their readers if their writing resembles the scribbling of a five-year old? I’ve said this before but it probably needs to be said many more times: if you are a writer trying to make money, you are your business and your writing is your product. Are you going to sell a quality product or are you going to sell junk?
As for editing yes, I do my own most of the time. I don’t have the money to pay for a professional editor and that’s just the real of my situation. Thank God Sister Mary Charles and her friends insisted that I understand how a sentence is constructed. I hated her for making me diagram so many times but now I pray for her immortal soul each night. I still make mistakes from time to time, and sometimes I’ll use incorrect grammar because it works better in a particular story I’m working on, but most times people don’t cringe when they read my writings.
Editing programs? I’ve never used one so gosh, my opinion really is worthless. I think they serve a purpose and are valuable, especially for those writers out there for whom English is a second language. I think English is an extremely difficult language, so there certainly is no shame in taking advantage of one of those editing programs.
I did check out several consumer-ratings sites and on all three WhiteSmoke was rated the best editing program for writers. It sells, by the way, for $79.99.
Writers Writing About Writing
From Rodric: “What is your opinion about writers who build their careers off of writing about writing and marketing it as a way for other writers who actually write about THINGS other than writing?”
Well, Rodric, I’ve done it, so my opinion better be a high one. LOL Seriously, there are some very knowledgeable people out there writing about writing, and some not-so-knowledgeable people writing about writing. In today’s online world, any Tom, Dick, or Harrietta can proclaim themselves to be experts in just about anything, so beware. The man you mentioned, Goins, is one of the good ones in my opinion, and his advice on blogging is “right on.”
AND IT’S A WRAP
Great questions, adequate answers, that’s what the Mailbag is all about. If you have a question for the next Mailbag, either include it below in the comment section, or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to all!
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”