Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.
The Wrenching Truth About Wannabe Writers by Randy Rooney
aka Randy Ingermanson
At that point, I hung up the phone because I didn’t want my head to explode. ...
I was a wannabe novelist for about seven billion years before I sold my first novel. Because of that, wannabes occupy a soft spot in my lizardy little heart. But I can do only so much for a wannabe who doesn’t wanna work.
While reading a novel one slow Saturday afternoon, the phone rang. It turned out to be a wannabe from my critique group whom I’ll protect with the pseudonym “Joe.” He’s the kind of guy who puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”
The conversation went something like this:
Joe: “Hi, it’s Joe. You know, from the critique group.”
Me: (Wishing I had checked caller ID.) “What can I do for you?”
Joe: “I’d like to improve my writing, so I’ve decided to have you mentor me.”
Me: “Wow, that’s an interesting unilateral decision you’ve made without my consent.”
Joe: “When shall we start?”
Me: “Now. Oops, this isn’t working. I quit.”
Joe: (Aghast) “What? How can you just quit on me? You’re not even giving me a chance!”
Me: (With lizardy heart straining to say it nicely.) “It’s very simple, Joe. You’ve been in my critique group for three years. During that time, you’ve ignored every suggestion I’ve ever made. In fact, you’ve argued with every single constructive criticism I gave you.
I’ve recommended the exact same book on writing thirty-six months in a row. Every time, you carefully wrote down the title and the author, but you never bought the book, much less read it. I can’t help you, because you won’t help yourself.”
Joe: (Spluttering) “So . . . do you have a reason for not wanting to help me?”
At that point, I hung up the phone because I didn’t want my head to explode. For all I know, Joe may still be on the line arguing with the dial tone.
The sad thing is that I would have been happy to help Joe. I’ve worked with several novelists over the years who are now published. I’ve taught hundreds of writers at writing conferences. I’ve answered e-mails from thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands of writers visit my Web site every year.
I’ve discovered the remarkable fact that I can help only those writers who actually take my advice. But until now, I haven’t figured out what to do with the ones who just wanna talk about how much they wanna write, but never do what I tell them to do.
Last week I hired a consultant to help me deal with these difficult people—my plumber, Sam, who is one of the world’s leading experts on dealing with difficult people.
While Sam reinstalled the toilet, I asked him how to handle the really tough cases.
“Hey, Sam, what should I do with a wannabe writer who won’t be helped?”
Sam pressed a wax ring onto the pipe and positioned the toilet on top, squeezing it down into place.
I watched him work, knowing that he was dredging up an expert answer from his deep reservoir of experience. He tightened down all the nuts, reconnected the hoses, and flushed the toilet.
Finally he looked at me. “What do you mean when you say they won’t be helped?”
I thought about that for a minute. “Basically, I see three common problems. Some writers refuse to believe anything is wrong with their writing. Others agree that they’ve got problems, but they argue with me when I tell them how to fix it. And some of them promise to do what I tell them, but they never do.”
Sam picked up his tools and stuck them in his toolbox. “Your problem is that you don’t like to confront people.”
I glared at him in disbelief. “That’s nonsense! Where’d you get that idea?”
Sam picked up a pipe wrench and hefted it in his thick hands. “See, there you’re doing just what your wannabes do. You tell them their problem and they argue with you. I tell you your problem and you argue with me.”
I didn’t think Sam had pegged my problem, but I didn’t like the way he was scowling at me and I really didn’t like the way he was holding the wrench. “Okay, let’s say you’re right. So what should I do?”
“Easy,” Sam said. “If some wanna-write-someday dreamer don’t do what you tell ’em to do, you break their fingers with a pipe wrench.”
“And how is that going to help?” I asked. “Forget it! I’m not going to—”
Sam spat on the floor and scratched himself in an unmentionable place. “Dang if you ain’t doing again exactly what them wannabes do. I tell you how to fix your problem and you just argue at me. But I know what to do with people who argue at me.” He stepped over the toolbox toward me.
I held up both hands and gave a big phony laugh. “Just kidding, Sam; that’s great advice, really great. I owe you big-time, but, hey, I know you’ve got other customers waiting right?” I said this all in less than a second.
Sam gave me a big grin and tossed his wrench into the toolbox. He scrawled out the bill. There was a line item for $997: EXPERT COACHING ON ADVANCED MENTORING PROGRAMS.
On the way out the door, Sam said, “Next time I’m here, I want to see a good, solid pipe wrench on your desk.”
“Right, Sam. Whatever you say, Sam.” I closed the door behind him and watched him drive away while I waited for my heart to quit palpitating.
The funny thing is I bought the pipe wrench. Really, I did.
It’s a great wrench. Matter of fact, it’s right there on my desk. But I haven’t used it yet.
I keep meaning to, but . . . well, it’s easier to give advice than take it.
Sam came by yesterday to see if I’d put his coaching into action yet. I told him I’m planning to . . . someday.
And I will. Honest.
As soon as I get these casts off my hands.