Friday, March 30, 2012

A Disillusioned Old Man

An old man in my writer’s group has never read his work to us and never asked for our advice. He doesn't want our advice. He only wants to complain.

This man self-published his book, listed it on Amazon, and hasn’t done anything else since.

He writes philosophy, and he’s determined to believe no one reads philosophy anymore. The problem is, the only people who’s seen his work are people who read fiction. He’s angry that the world is wasting their minds on meaningless stories. I told him philosophy is one of the oldest genres of all time; surely someone’s reading it.

We tried to brainstorm ways he could get his novel out there, but he shot down every idea we had.

“You can advertise over the internet,” someone said.

“I don’t use the internet. I don’t know how and I don’t like it.”

“Local bookstores would be happy to host a book signing,” another person suggested. “You’re book is mainly religious, and there’s a Christian store nearby.”

“They wouldn’t be interested in my book. It’s not Christian; it’s about religion in general.”

“You could go to conferences and events and spread the word about your book.”

“There aren’t any conferences in this area.”

“You could find people who enjoy philosophy, perhaps at the university, and discuss your book with them.”

“I won't find anything like that. No one reads philosophy anymore.”

Finally, I got frustrated. “What do you want?” I demanded.

He answered easily. “I want to learn and grow. I want to read and gain experience.”

“You do that already,” someone mumbled, clearly as aggravated as I was.

“Good. That means you’re happy and you don't need to do anything else.” I hoped I had made my point and that would be the end of it.

“But I also want money and recognition,” the man was quick to add.

Another non-fiction writer made recommendations on how to improve his book in order to sell more copies. Then the old man said the rudest thing I’ve ever heard a writer say in my life: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take advice from unpublished writers.”

I wanted to scream, THEN WHY ARE YOU IN A WRITER’S GROUP!?!

At this point, we all gave up. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

It’s easy for me to be judgmental now because I’m young enough to feel invincible. I haven't had time to be disappointed. This man is as old as my grandpa, and he's tired of trying. It got me wondering what I would be like if I reached that age and didn’t accomplish any of my goals. Would I be just as bitter and hopeless?

Would you?

I want us all to close our eyes and do a visualization exercise. It’s thirty years from now. It was your dream to get published. But you were never good enough, you didn’t work hard enough, your novels weren’t salable enough, or you were published and the novel didn’t do well enough. 

Now you're at a loss of what to do. Maybe you should rework the novels you’ve written. Maybe you should write a new one. Maybe you should quit and find something else that makes you happy. Personally, I don’t know what I would do.

This is going to happen to most of us. We should decide now what kind of person we will be if we’re caught in this situation. Will you be bitter with the world’s poor taste? Will you keep trying? Will you keep doing what you love, regardless of the outcome? Will you move on?
Think about it.


  1. We have someone very similar in our writers' group. Except in our group, this person complains when no one offers feedback on their stories.

    I'm afraid I can't do anything but turn away from people like that. Those of us who want to learn and grow will. Those who don't....

  2. Oh my! He said he did not think it was good to take advice from unpublished writers? This from someone who self published.
    I feel like he has a fear of doing anything of the suggestions you all put forth. (I will use those someday). I think his fear may be the judgement of his work by his peers. I really do not think he is ready to accept that. I also think once he sets clear goals, he will be open for suggestions and will embrace them.
    I say this out of my own recent experience in other areas of my life. After peeling back all of the excuses, fear is the motivating factor. If he brings it up again, the simple exactly what are you afraid of will happen if you try these suggestions, question may give him pause to think it through.
    Great article and very relevant to not only writing but to life in general!

  3. There's always one in every group...

    But I believe most writers who are like this guy are born that way not made that way. They don't want to go out on a limb to sell their books...they just expected to put it out there and have people recognize their brilliance.

    Then, when that doesn't happen it's everyone else's fault. To try other things and still not have success might make it so they have to admit it has something to do with their own failings.

    As long as you realize that success as a writer isn't purely based on writing talent but also timing, marketing and luck...then success or "failure" in the end won't make you "that person" in the writing group twenty years from now.

  4. I might have ended up a grumpy old writer if I hadn't discovered blogging. Blogging made me realize I'm a storyteller first and foremost, and I don't need to wait for someone else, a publisher or editor, to validate me.

  5. The dark side of the narcissism--no one else is smart enough, good, enough, interested enough, etc. The easiest way to always be right is make everything and everyone wrong. A person's predictions then are always accurate.

    And I agree Stephen, first and foremost we have to write for ourselves. Then we can decide if we are willing to make changes or adapt to become commercial. We've all read stuff that was clearly just for the sell. I don't buy or read more books by those authors. It's not enough.

    I would think the group would vote 'em out. Just my opinion.

  6. Ugh. People like this are such a suck on energy. Just move on—they don't want to be helped. Frankly, I think it all comes down to fear. They'd rather think no one understands them then take responsibility.

  7. This is probably so wrong what I'm about to write, especially since this is not an episode of Survivor, but I'd suggest this one get voted off the island.

    1) He does not want help, to grow or anything craftwise. He wants to be told he's a genius and the world has been waiting for his novel to sweep the off their collective feet.
    2) He refused all suggestions regarding the OTHER part of being a published author, meaning the marketing of said novel. Whether published by the Big 6 or self-published, the author is the best mouth-piece for their works. He doesn't want to market. He wants someone to go on the internet that he doesn't like and buy his book so they can tell the world about his book and make him rich and famous.
    3) He's sitting in a writer's group, complaining, refusing advice and then peddles into the abyss of "I'm better than all of you" by saying he didn't think it would be a good idea to take advice from unpublished authors. If this were an episode of Survivor, he would have guaranteed my vote for him to get the boot just with that alone.

    Also, I have the privilege of looking at my life now, a life in a completely different place than where it would have been had my life done what I plotted out for it to do. Bitterness could eat at me now for not living the lifestyle I could be living if things had panned out. They didn't. It happens. And bless me it's good to know that there isn't an age where you're too old to start something new. If I haven't gotten published or experienced some sort of lavish financial windfall from my writing by the time I'm much, much older, I can be okay with it since I've learned to be okay with it some time ago.

    Poor old man. He writes seeking silver and gold and man's recognition. I write for the riches of storytelling, the fun, the challenge. Anything beyond that is fracking outstanding.


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