Bad Advice Wednesday: Do Something For Someone Else (from the archives)

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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How to get published, how to get an agent, how to be a better writer, these are all high on the list of common questions we get asked here at Bill and Dave’s.  Where there’s not a bit of desperation in the question there is often anger, and where the anger has faded there’s sometimes sadness, maybe a whiff of self-pity.  Or is that me, feeling all those things no matter where the writing takes me, often in equal measure with pleasure, even elation (but that comes most often in the making, sitting at my desk alone, lovely, soon to be dashed).  What I’m proposing today is forgetting about our own careers (or lack) and thinking about what we can do for others, what we can do to make the world a more hospitable place for art, and for artists, which is to say for writing and writers.  Doing for others may be your key to success, and is certainly the key to happiness.  Herewith, 30 suggestions for writers, and an invitation to suggest more.  Karma, anyone?

1.  Write a fan letter when you read something good.  Every time.  Big or small.

2. Listen to that guy at your cousin’s wedding as he talks about his book idea, and take him seriously, take his name, make it a correspondence.

3.  Read a friend’s book when it’s published and write a long letter in reaction.  Or just a short letter.  Or just an email.  But something, and sincere, with details!

4.  Praise the sentence wherever you find it.

5.  Read a book you’d expect to hate, and think about why so many people love it, and see if you can’t love something about it, too.  (Those vampire books?  Really?)

6.  Start a writers group.

7.  Start a readers group.

8.  Offer to read work in manuscript.  Do this for kids, for World War II vets, for your gastroenterologist, for friends (especially for friends).

9.  Start a writing club for kids.  Slowly put the kids in charge.

10.  Promote the work of others.

11.  Start a reading series.

12.  Arrange a writers float for the Fourth of July parade.

13.  Say yes.  (I’ll write that blurb.  I’ll query my agent.  I’ll read your daughter’s poems.  I’ll contribute something to your new magazine.  I’ll let you use my name.)

14.  Steer talented young writers away from careers in law, in banking.

15.  Steer talented young writers away from grad school, at least till they’re 27.

16.  Steer talented young writers away from drink and drugs.

17.  Steer talented young writers toward drink and drugs.

18.  Steer talented young writers away from spouses who don’t get it.

19.  Steer talented young writers away from their parents.

20.  Unless you are the parents, and then be the ideal parent for a writer: praiseful, supportive, attentive, and maybe a little neglectful and neurotic, so the poor kid has something to write about.

21.  Babysit a writer friend’s kids.

22.  Help with the rent.

23.  Offer a strapped writer a room in your house for an office–you’re at work anyway and the place is empty, why not?

24.  Loan a writer your house in the mountains for a month.

25.  Loan me your house by the sea!

26.  Give your not-that-old computer to a young writer.  Or just a pencil.

27.  Subscribe to three literary magazines, or at least go to the library and scatter their collection of such mags around the tables.

28. Give away books.

29.  Buy more.

30.  Praise an obscure writer.

31.  Read to someone, anyone.

32.  Comment on Bill and Dave’s posts, and spread them far and wide.


Any more suggestions?  Can we get 100?

  1. Bill Bacon writes:

    Write a story around a favourite song. Story telling and music are two of our oldest forms of communication. Write a story around a song that has stayed with you your whole life–that ‘one’ that when it comes over the radio makes you pull over two lanes of traffic onto the shoulder, put the transmission into park, and sit back into a memory of warmth. Mine is ‘Drive My Car’–The Beatles.