Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Writing Career: Be Grateful

I often receive emails from young writers asking for advice and help in various aspects of their writing, and I am always delighted to help in any way I can. To be a writer is to be a part of a community, and I am so grateful for all the writers who have offered me advice and encouragement over the years. Being a mentor and cheerleader for other writers is the best way I can think of to "pay it forward" to those people who have bettered my life with their generosity and support.

However, I am not always the quickest to respond to emails, especially when life gets busy. Like this summer: I am in graduate school working on my thesis, taking a summer literature class, and teaching a creative writing class to college students. I feel like I'm barely managing to keep my head above water by trying to write a little of my own work every day, reading and working on papers for the literature class I'm taking, and grading papers and responding to emails from my students!

Most writers I hear from are beyond patient and gracious. But occasionally, I'll receive an email from a young writer that startles me with its rude tone and unprofessionalism. Often the email will include capital "shouting" letters, strings of exclamation points and/or question marks, and phrases like, "are you ever going to get back to me????" or "hellooooo???"

I consider myself to be an advocate for writers, and young writers in particular. I love teaching writing camps and working with mentees through Write On! For Literacy. Publishing Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing is a great source of pride and good feelings for me. So when I get an email from a young writer that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that society foists upon teenagers, it makes my skin crawl.

I believe the very first and most important lesson in regards to being a writer and getting published is this: respect, gratitude and professionalism are a must.

If you send an email with a rude subject line to a publisher, editor or agent, I can guarantee you it would be deleted without even being read. When you send your work to a publisher, it may take six or eight months for them to get back to you about it. That's just the way publishing is -- editors are very busy and they receive hundreds of emails every single day. And if you ever do email them to ask if they have had a chance to read your work, you need to make sure you have a tone of gratitude, graciousness, and respect of their time and busy schedule.

Here's a great article with tips and examples on writing professional emails: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/e-text/email/.

But I think all you really need to remember is just to be respectful and to treat everyone with common decency. When you adopt a rude tone, you send the message that you feel entitled to the person's help, rather than that you are appreciative of any time and help they can give you.

I think it comes down to this, not just in writing but in all areas of life: people will be more eager to help you when you treat them well and are humble and appreciative of their time, knowledge, effort and support.

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review. Many of her short stories are compiled online here.

8 comments:

  1. Dallas, This is great advice. It seems the internet has created an atmosphere of 'whatever.' Common courtesies and respect are on the decline and it's such a sad thing.

    I've gotten emails from strangers jumping right into 'what they want.' No, "Hi." No, "It's nice to meet you."

    Thanks for pointing out that ALL writers, including up and coming writers should behave professional and courteous.

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  2. I agree with you Dallas. I think it comes down to professionalism as much as gratefulness, but if just being courteous isn't enough of an incentive (it feels good!), then it's certainly more likely, as you rightly put it, to get results. I'm afraid that online memories are long and rude emails and responses are likely to result in rejections.

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  3. I agree with you Dallas. Professionalism is so important. It's sad writers and many others need to be reminded of that.

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  4. Society as a whole seems to be losing the gentle art of letter writing - texting has taken over - but that is no excuse for poor manners and disrespect to others. I agree whole heartily and appreciate every word you've shared. It doesn't have to be a rude world, one person at a time minding their p's and q's and proper manners can do wonders.
    Thanks for your article.

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  5. Billie, I agree. It seems the shortening of text, like on Twitter has encouraged a shortening in manners. Or maybe it's a societal thing. But, it is up to each individual to be kind and courteous.

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  6. Oh dear, I hope I'm always polite but I am so conscious of how busy everyone is that perhaps I shorten my messages too much. Shall reconsider that.

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  7. Annie, you're not alone. I think we all tend to cut corners now, for time's sake. But, as you say, we should reconsider.

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