Why I Can’t Write Your Story

I got another one of those e-mails the other day. If you’re a published author, you’ve probably received one or two. It always starts out with some variation of “I have the most incredible story to tell, and it’s all true.” Or the writer will state, “It’s like a cross of Popular Book A and Popular Book B, except better.” And somewhere in there it will say, “I’m not a very good writer, so that’s why I’m contacting you.”

Even if they don’t spell it out, the intention of the person who sent the e-mail is clear. They think their idea is so terrific that they want me, Ms. Published Author, to write it as a book. They believe their idea is so great that they’re sure I will jump at the chance to write the book on spec (i.e., with no payment) for the opportunity to make big money down the line.

I usually ignore e-mails like this one because it’s never something I want to pursue. There’s never anything in the e-mail that tells me the person is a fan of my work. They just found me on the web, or in a listing of authors somewhere and threw out an e-mail to me.

In the case of this particular e-mail, I did respond because of one line: “I am completely clueless how to get started, or where to go with this.” That meant to me that although she claims she’s not a very good writer, she was open to information. And it turned out I was right. When she responded to my e-mail, she was grateful for the information I’d passed on.

Here’s a little of what I told her, and a few other points:

  • Professional writers don’t work for free. If we don’t charge for our work, we can’t make a living.
  • I have no shortage of ideas. I’m not looking for ideas from other people. In fact, I wish I had the time to write all the ideas that are floating around in my own head.
  • Ideas are actually the easy-easy-easy part. Constructing a novel-length story around that idea is what’s really hard and time consuming.
  • Sometimes people’s life stories aren’t as interesting as they seem to the person who lived it. Not to mention you will have to fictionalize parts of it to make it fit into the above mentioned story.
  • If your life story truly is that interesting, you ought to be the one to write it. Because you are the one most passionate about it. Because you’re the one who really cares about it.
  • Sometimes people say they’re not very good at writing when they really mean they don’t like to write. And maybe they don’t like to write because they were never properly taught how. The best solution to that is to take a class–at your local community college, online, at the library, wherever you find one offered. Learn enough to see if you actually do like writing, then you can write your story yourself.

What if this person does learn the craft of writing, writes her life story, and it turns out to be so fantastic she gets a giant book deal? I will be thrilled. I’ll be proud that I might have had a tiny bit to do with that. But truly, it will be her own hard work that got her to bestsellerdom. And that will make the victory all the sweeter for her.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This entry was posted in Books, Strongly Held Beliefs, The Writing Life, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why I Can’t Write Your Story

  1. J.C says:

    Great post, Karen. My writers group often takes a theme/idea and works on stories of our own. I never cease to be amazed by the hugely different stories than can come from a similar idea. My thoughts are that if any writer was to work on someone elses concept, it would most likely be transformed in the process of being written. The only way anyone can be sure their personal idea comes to life is to give it a go and write it themselves🙂

    • karensandler says:

      J.C., I absolutely agree. We all come from different places in our lives, and those experiences color the stories we write.

I do appreciate your comments on what I've written. However, I will no longer approve anonymous comments. Thank you.

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