If you’re that person who woke up this morning feeling like maybe you want to write a book and how it might be a bright spark to give old Mma Kubuitsile a call— read this. I mean really—read this!
I received an email from a woman. The email did not have any salutation although the woman claimed she was a primary school teacher. Don’t they teach letter writing anymore? Didn’t mention my name at all— no “Dear Mma Kubuitsile”, no “Hello Lauri”— nothing. Already I’m thinking: rude.
The email goes on to explain who she is - because that’s very important for me to know, apparently. And then it says that she has decided to be a writer and she is “kindly asking” for me to help her by explaining how it is done.
She doesn’t mention anything I have written that she might have read. She doesn’t even mention this column where I try to share everything I know so as to help up-and-coming writers. Nope. She hasn’t had time in her busy schedule for any of that.
Why did this email - sent to writers everywhere (as I will prove later) - make me so angry?
1. I have been a writer for nearly 20 years. I have worked hard to learn everything I can about my career. I attend workshops and literary festivals to improve my writing and to learn more about the publishing business. I read, not only fiction, but lots and lots of things so as to have a good feeling about how stories work and to have a very big pool of ideas. I write approximately five hours per day, Monday to Friday.
This all takes lots of time and effort.
2. Writing is how I earn a living. It’s how I send my children to school. It is from where I earn money to put petrol in my car and to put food on the table. It is my work.
3. For a stranger to ask me to give over all of what I’ve learned about my career over 20 years in a one-off email is exceptionally undermining of my work, my successes and failures, and all that I have learned.
I wonder in which other profession this would be expected.
So to say I was annoyed by the email would be a grave understatement.
But because I really try my best not to be rude
So Saturday afternoon (she sent her email on Friday) she decided to phone me on my landline at home. She could not pronounce my name - not important really, is it? Again she wanted me to help her. Let’s just say my patience had come to an end.
As is the case with me, I went to Facebook where I have my many writer friends from all over the world; I needed empathy for the injustice of it all and I knew they would step-up. And they did because all of them have gone through the exact same thing as me. The abuse of writers is rampant and international. The best response was from my long-time friend, Vanessa Gebbie, a British writer.
“Dear Person who wants to be a writer, but doesn’t want to do any writing type work,
Thank you for contacting me, both by email, and then on my home phone... I really do apologise for not picking up that reading is a problem for you, not for reasons of sight impairment, but for reasons of erm… time and inclination.
And that, therefore, reading the work of others, be it helpful books and websites on the art of writing, fiction, poetry, plays, or any other aspect of the slightly brilliant kaleidoscope of creative writing out there, is not on your radar…But there again, you don’t need to know that as you don’t wish to read any of my words, or those of others.
And yet…— you expect other people to read YOUR words. This is where your no doubt flawless logic breaks down, for me. I might be mistaken. If I am, please don’t bother to let me know. Just get on and do some **** work. That way, you might begin to earn the right to call yourself an aspiring writer.”
It’s not wise to make writers angry; as you can see, we have a way with words.