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 time—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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ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING

Additional Reading: On Writing

Bambi versus Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business

by Mamet, David

Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ’65 Mustang and split for the Coast.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

by Phillips, Larry W.

Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.

First Five Pages, The

by Lukeman, Noah

As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.

How To Be Inspired

by Williams, Nick

A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.

Journal of a Novel

by Steinbeck, John

When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar

by McKee, Robert

I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.

Story

by McKee, Robert

This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.

Three Uses of the Knife

by Mamet, David

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