As we all know, the only dangerous thing about being a writer is when you become so famous that you forget where you came from. As we all also know, writers are notorious liars (it’s what we do), so you will not be surprised to hear that the above is a complete lie. Becoming so famous you forget where you came from is only dangerous to your old friends who may try to hug you at an signing event and be manhandled by your personal security. The only danger to you is writer’s cramp.
So with that myth dispelled, what are the dangers of being a writer? The most obvious (and most common) is depression stemming from constant rejection. This leads to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, the “maybe my sale was just a fluke” dilemma. Insidiously, it does not go away upon selling a story; it may never go away. And it’s a hard thing to discuss except among other writers, who are either also suffering from it, or have sold a story in the last 48 hours.
But are there other, hidden dangers? You betcha. Two, in fact, hazards so sinister because they are cloaked in a disguise of benevolence, even charity. Every writer of any (perceived) success has been exposed to: The Critique Request, and The Collaboration of Doom.
The Critique Request, is the lesser of the two evils because it is not inherently harmful. (But as you will see, context is all.) A beginning writer will ask you if you can critique his story. Well, that’s no surprise, everyone needs an objective eye. The devil is in the details. How well do you know this person? Do you know this person? (The only time you critique for strangers is when you’ve set up an editing service.)
Assuming you agree, you face the possibility that the story is not very good. How do you explain that? A soft review serves no one, but a frank appraisal may hurt. (The point of critiques is not to hurt feelings, but more than one inartful analysis has set a fledgling writer back for years, or even ended his career.) Proper critiquing is a skill. It’s a balancing act, and can place a lot of strain on the reviewer (not to mention a friendship). I’ve seen even a properly diplomatic critique go wrong. (There is, of course, the opinion that if you can’t handle honest feedback, you’re in the wrong business, but one person’s “honest” is another person’s “brutal.”)
So, The Critique Request, the quicksand of writing. Agree, and it can suck you into a situation you never asked for and can’t escape gracefully. Or decline, and gain a reputation that will require personal security at your next signing.
Next: The Collaboration of Doom.