Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Writing Advice

When I was on okcupid last year, I got an e-mail from a guy that made me want to break things and start primal screaming. The guy wasn't interested in a date with me; he wanted to send me his manuscript so that I could critique it for him, because he saw in my profile that I was an English teacher. But he didn't say anything about paying me. I think he just assumed that I'd be willing to review a stranger's work for free.

I mean, really? Did he really think that that's why I joined a dating site? Sure. I didn't become a member so that I could go on dates. I joined so that I could review manuscripts for comma splices and run-ons and give free writing advice, because it's not like I don't get ENOUGH of that by teaching freshman composition and literature classes. Yes, I just love grading papers SO MUCH that I just want to help everyone! Yay!! I can hardly stop clapping my hands with joy! Who needs a social life when I have grammar to keep me company!

When I worked in retail, several of my coworkers were college students. Whenever they found out that I was an English major/grad student/writing teacher, some of them would say, "Could I e-mail you my paper? Do you think you could tell me what I should do to fix it so that I can get an A?" (Incidentally, this is similar to what many of my own students say; they want me to "edit" their papers and tell them exactly what to write so that they can get A's. Every time one of my students asks me this, they get a big lecture from me on how important it is for them to learn how to write without someone else putting all the words in their heads. Sometimes, I also start primal screaming.)

Does this ever happen to you? When people find out that you write, do they start asking you for help with their own writing? How do you respond?

Often I hear of writers exchanging manuscripts for review, or joining writer's groups so that they can discuss ideas. I think that that's great, and someday I'd like to join a writer's group too, once I'm not working two or three jobs while attending graduate school. I've also reviewed a writer friend's work, and it was cool because I got to read a story that no one else had read before. I've also read some great blogs where writers will give awesome writing advice, and I love that because it gives me motivation for my own writing.

But it's another thing altogether where people will just expect me to give them free writing advice just because I happen to teach writing. I don't mind helping my own students, because obviously, that's my job. And I do like that point when their eyes light up when they finally "get it". Then I get to see the difference in their writing because they applied to it what they learned from me.

But I have to review dozens of papers every week, in addition to all of the other work I have to do. So when I finish my work for the day, the last thing I want to do is look at yet another paper. I always used to hear lawyers complain about people who tried to get them to give free legal advice, and doctors complain about people who tried to get them to give free medical advice. And now I can sympathize with them. Because I think that the people who ask are missing the point, especially when it comes to writing. Part of the writing process is learning how to write, even (and especially) if it includes making mistakes.

And besides, even a workaholic like me needs to relax. But not for too long, of course.

Side note: I got two cool awards this week: the Versatile Blogger award from OfficeGirl, who writes the great blog Tired but Writing, and the Who's Awesome award from KarenG, who writes the wonderful blog Coming Down the Mountain: From Reclusive Writer to Published Author. Thanks again, guys! You made my week! And everyone should definitely check out their blogs.


  1. usually when someone finds out i'm a writer, they will tell me how they, TOO, are a writer.
    of course, they actually haven't completed anything, and most their ideas keep residence in their head and not on their computers - oh and they've done zero research into the publishing industry.

    but hey! they're JUST like me!

  2. Teaching writing is exhausting, and you have ever right to be upset when people ask for such freebies. Fortunately, I've never had this happen to me, though the students DID want to get A's on their papers, and sometimes would argue.

    And congratulations on your blogger awards.

  3. Hehehehheheeh!

    This made me laugh because it happens to me quite often. But it's never happened on a dating website!


    Congrats on your awards! Have a great weekend.

  4. Oh, you poor thing! Why are people like this?! You should make up a price sheet.

    I've had an annoying issue, but nothing as time-consuming as a request for an edit of an entire manuscript! (Though I do exchanges, which is fair.) But when I tell people I'm a writer, I get a lot of, "I have an idea for a book," or "I would write a book, but...".

  5. OMG! This tupe of stuff happens to me ALL the time. When I was an undergrad, I would have people slipping papers under my dorm room door asking me to proofread for them. The same thing happened in grad school w/ friends (and even students--and then I have to give them the same "you need to learn to write for yourself etc" lecture).

    Sometimes it goes get annoying--especially when I am having a busy semester and I have tons of grading and lesson planning. If I'm less busy, I don't mind it--but I'm prone to forget too.

    So I DO sympathize!

  6. That's too bad -- but hardly surprising.

    On the internet people can do things they normally wouldn't if they were across the table from you.

    You'll get it a lot more after you're published, be prepared for some standard comebacks.

    Congratulations on your 2 new awards -- they're certainly well deserved.

  7. Hi mi,
    Those people you described will probably never write anything; they just like to think they will. I think they think that anyone can do it, but they don't realize how much work it is.

    Hi Ann,
    Oh, it bugs me when the students try to argue with me! I never did that with my own teachers. And you're right; teaching is exhausting sometimes.

    Hi Talli,
    Fortunately, it only happened that one time on okcupid. But somehow I worry that it might happen again, even though I'm on a different site now.

    Hi Theresa,
    I should make a price sheet, and then set the prices so high that no one will want to ask. :) It is also interesting to hear people's reasons for not writing, but I think they should just write past those reasons, so to speak.

    Hi Catherine,
    I can't believe people would put their papers in your room and expect you to proofread for them! What are they going to do in the workplace once they have to review their own work? Sheesh.

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    I didn't even consider what would happen after publication; that would definitely be annoying. Now I know why a lot of authors won't look at other people's manuscripts.

  8. Does this mean you won't read my manuscripts?

    -Dean (^_^)

  9. Hi Dean,
    Every now and then, I make an exception. :)

  10. I can't tell you how many resumes, cover letters, even writing samples I've proofed for people in the last couple of years. Writing skills have definitely increased in value in this economy! Although I only help those that I have communicated with in the real world, I like to just offer pointers and not actually do the work for them. I tell them that there are some grammatical issues and that they might want to rearrange their paragraphs to make the topic flow, etc. It's not really fair though. You'd never go up to a friend who is a construction worker and say "Would you mind building a house for me? I mean, it's what you do, right?"

  11. Hi Melanie,
    Exactly! I'm sure the construction worker would just say no, yet people expect us to review their work for them. And you're right, it's not fair because we have our own work to do.