Pride and Prejudice - The STORY GRID edition - Annotated by SHAWN COYNE

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Clueless Asks

By Steven Pressfield
Published: May 24, 2017

 

I turn down all clueless asks.

Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless:"

Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless:”

What exactly is a clueless ask?

  1. Anyone who sends me their manuscript unsolicited.
  2. Anyone who asks me to meet them for lunch.
  3. Anyone who sends me an e-mail headed “Hi” or “Hello there” (or with no salutation at all.)
  4. Anyone who asks me how to get an agent.
  5. Anyone who asks me to introduce them to my agent.

These are not malicious asks.

The writers who send them are nice people, motivated by good intentions.

They’re just clueless.

They have committed one of two misdemeanors (or both).

First, they have demonstrated that they have no respect for my timeā€”and no concept of the value of what they’re asking me for.

Do I have two hours to meet somebody for lunch? In the middle of the working day? Why? To shoot the shit about scene construction and character development?

Or maybe the asker “admires my work” and would like to “pick my brain.”

Really?

Send me a check for $10,000 and when it clears I still won’t meet you for lunch.

Or maybe the asker wants me to blurb their new book.

Why would I do that?

Do I know them? Did we go to school together? Did we serve in the same battalion? Am I married to their sister?

The real ask in these cases is “Can I have your reputation?” In other words, “Will you give me, for free, the single most valuable commodity you own, that you’ve worked your entire life to acquire?”

The second crime these clueless askers commit is they have not done their due diligence.

Don’t ask a writer how to get an agent. Find out yourself. There are ten thousand sources online and a hundred books in the Writing section of a book store.

Don’t send a writer an e-mail with an attachment that contains your novel. What if I’m writing my own novel on that same subject? When mine comes out, you’ll sue me for plagiarism and tell the judge, “See, I sent him my book. He ripped me off!”

My lawyer won’t let me read anything that comes in unsolicited, for just this reason.

Do your research.

Learn good manners.

Find out how the business works.

My book Gates of Fire gets assigned sometimes to high school English classes. I get asks from kids to explain the theme, the structure, and the relationship of Character X to Character Y. You can see that the student (one wrote, “Please respond. Money is no object.”) has simply typed the teacher’s assignment verbatim into the e-mail.

These, I suppose, are not technically clueless asks.

They’re more like, “Hey, Stupid, lemme see if I can take advantage of you” asks.

 


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ABOUT

About

In January of 1966, when I was on the bus leaving Parris Island as a freshly-minted Marine, I looked back and thought there was at least one good thing about this departure. "No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, no one can ever send me back to this freakin' place again."

Steven Pressfield

Over forty years later, to my surprise and gratification, I'm far more closely bound to the young men of the Marine Corps and to all other dirt-eating, ground-pounding outfits than I could ever have imagined as I left Parris Island that first time. Gates of Fire is one reason. Dog-eared paperbacks of this tale of the ancient Spartans have circulated throughout platoons of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the first days of the invasions. E-mails come in by hundreds. Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico; and Tides of War is on the curriculum of the Naval War College. In 2009, I launched the blog "It's the Tribes, Stupid" (which evolved into "Agora"), to help gain awareness of issues related to tribalism and the tribal mind-set in Afghanistan—with the goal of helping the Marines and soldiers on the ground better understand the different people they were facing in Afghanistan.

My father was in the Navy, and I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. I graduated from Duke University in 1965. Since then, I've worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout and attendant in a mental hospital. I've picked fruit in Washington state, written screenplays in Tinseltown, and was homeless, living out of the back of my car with my typewriter. My struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art.

With the publication of The Legend of Bagger Vance in 1995, I became a writer of books once and for all. From there followed the historical novels Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel.

Steven Pressfield

My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call "Resistance" with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as "turning pro."

I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists. My conception of the artist's role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of "where it all comes from" and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.

There's a recurring character in my books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like my conception of art and the artist:

"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."

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Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t
The Authentic Swing
The Lion's Gate
Turning Pro
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