Yesterday, I came across an article on the 13 most annoying writers you’ll ever meet. It was an amusing article and for the most part, I recognized most of the stereotypes listed therein. I even recognized a few of them1 in myself. Posts like these are funny because we probably all know a writer (or wannabe writer) who fits into one or more of these categories. But the same article could be written for just about any profession out there, using the template,
The [n] most annoying [profession] you’ll ever meet.
where n is a number and profession is any profession you can imagine, lawyers, doctors, baseball players, teachers, taxi drivers, retailers, salespeople, welders, fishers, ranchers, plumbers, IT workers. You get the idea.
I thought it might be interesting to flip the notion of the article on its head and write a post about 3 of the most helpful writers you’ll ever meet. In doing so, however, I am using my own experience, and that means committing the sin of writer No. 32. I hope you will forgive me.
1. The mentor
This writer takes you under his or her wing out of the kindness of their heart and their desire to pay-it-forward. They offer career advice, offer up their experience and wisdom, and introduce you to other people, writers, editors, agents, publishers, and fans. I have been very lucky in this respect, with not one, but three writers who have mentored me to various degrees through my writing career.
The first was Michael A. Burstein, who is my longest-standing friend in the science fiction world. Michael was offering advice and introducing me to people even before I made my first sale. His writing and process served as a model for How to Do It, and his easy camaraderie and they way he introduced me (and others) to people, provided an example for how I try to do that today. The first phone call I made after finding out I’d sold a story to Analog was to Michael.
Allen Steele has also acted as a mentor to me. (And I met Allen Steele only thanks to the introduction I got from, you guessed it, Michael Burstein.) We are both collectors of old science fiction magazines, we are both non-scientists who occasionally write hard science fiction, and I think we have similar styles of writing. Allen has offered me incredibly valuable career advice. And aside from being a great, long-standing writer in the field, he is also one of the nicest people you’ll meet, in or out of the science fiction world.
A constant mentor behind the scenes has been Barry N. Malzberg. I first read a Malzberg book in my senior year in college. It was Herovit’s World and I was hooked. What I learned from his books is that the writing can be just as important as the story. I got to know Barry (once again through Michael Burstein) and he has been a kind of guiding light behind the scenes. He reads my stories and offers some of the most brutally honest critiquing I’ve ever gotten. I love it because I learn more from those critiques than from an entire semester of creative writing.
2. The open book
These are the writers who attempt some level of transparency in their work with the thought that maybe others can learn being seeing how it is done. Isaac Asimov stands at the top of the list for me in this regard. I’ve read all 3 volumes of his autobiography[3. In Memory Yet Green (1979); In Joy Still Felt (1980); I, Asimov (1994).] 16 or 18 times. In the introduction to the first book, Asimov writes that part of his intention is to show “how he did it” because other would-be writers might find it useful. I certainly did. It is from Asimov that I learned, right or wrong, that the editor is the boss. Not everyone agrees with this, but I think it has given me a good working relationship with the editors that I’ve worked with, in fiction and nonfiction. I also learned the value of diversifying my writing–that is, not being a one-market writer, or even a one-genre writers. I’ve sold stories to Analog, but I’m not a typical Analog writer. I’ve also sold stories to many of the major science fiction magazines. I’ve sold nonfiction to the science fiction magazines, and have recently branched out into nonfiction outside the genre entirely. All of this comes from Asimov’s influence, his “open book” that allowed me to learn how to be a writer of anything.