A few months back I offered up my services as an editor for free. Why? Two reasons, really.
The first was that I wanted to know what the editor’s experience was like. As a writer, I’ve dealt with (and God willing I will continue to deal with) editors and I was curious to know what their role in the creative process is like. But, more importantly, I wanted to give a service that I would have wanted when I first started out.
So, with those two goals in mind, I took to the internet declaring my free editorial service to whoever wanted it. To my surprise, I received over a dozen emails willing to take me up on my offer. I was excited that not only was I going to be able to help other creators but I would soon be able to apply any editorial lessons to my own writing.
After a couple of days, and several back-and-forth emails to everyone that reached out to me, I quickly realized I would not be able to help every creator as I originally intended. When the dust settled, I ended up agreeing to work with just one creator. The experience working with that creator was amazing, I loved watching his writing grow with each revision, getting updates on the art he received from his collaborators, and by the end of our time together I became honestly invested in his project.
As I reflect on this experience, as positive as it was, something keeps bothering me. It isn’t any of the editorial work I did or the project that I worked on. What keeps nagging me are those initial emails from the creators I was unable to help and why I was unable to help them. The one question that keeps flashing in my brain is, “If one of my goals in this exercise was to help others, than why was I unable to help so many?”
This question has made me realize that many of these creators have the same problems. Not only that, but these problems not only hindered my ability to help them but they are also the reason so many new creators never get further than an idea.
So, I’ve decided to list the three commonalities all of these creators have in hopes to educate and inspire new creators, so that they don’t fall victim to any of these perils.
- An unfinished product.
Overwhelmingly, most of the emails I received were from creators without anything. What do I mean by this? I mean I had new creators (yes, plural…more than one. Actually, a lot more than one) send me over a paragraph or two summary of a story that they want to tell. I would reply back, “Do you have a script?” One creator responded with, “no, this is just the broad strokes but you get the point.”
My response to that creator is the same advice I would give anyone, if you’re not going to take the time to develop your your own idea, don’t expect anyone else to.
I can only imagine the horror stories artists have when they’re approached like this.
If you’re a new creator and you’re looking for collaborators (be it an artist, colorist, letterer, editor, etc) focus first on what you bring to the table. If you’re the writer, write. Complete the first script. Then do a revision. And then another. Present yourself as a professional and others will treat you as such.
- Qualifying yourself.
I know first hand how scary it is to let something you’ve been working in private be seen by someone else. It makes you feel naked, alone, and vulnerable. You’ve poured your heart and soul into something and now, for the first time, you’re letting someone else look at it. And the only thing you keep thinking to yourself is, “what if they tell me I suck and expose me for the fraud that I am?”
So many of the emails I received I could tell the creators felt like this is some capacity. And this is natural and 100% OK. Actually, if you don’t have this feeling something is probably wrong with you. The problem I found from those who emailed me is that they tried to buffer themselves from this by qualifying themselves.
“INSERT NAME, who won this literary prize has been helping me flesh out the story” or “SO-AND-SO who has been published by Frick’n Frack is a friend and we’ve been going over characterization” are two examples of the types of qualifying new creators emailed me with. And I get it, you haven’t done anything yourself so you feel unqualified to be creating, so you drop someone’s name in hopes to legitimize yourself.
The surface problem with this thinking is threefold: first, if I know the person and find out that you’re lying, now you’re a scumbag; two, if I don’t know the person then what was the point in name dropping in the first place?; And three, who the heck am I (or anyone for that matter) that you think I need a name drop?
Underneath this though is an even bigger problem. If you’re trying to qualify yourself this way then you don’t believe in yourself. It’s really that simple. As simple as this is to identify, it’s a huge hurdle every new creator must face.
If you’ve put in the time and worked as hard as you can at something, regardless of outcome, you need to be unapologetically proud of what you did. This is the first step in believing in yourself. Because the only person in this world that needs to believe in you, is you.
- Time for excuses.
I actually started working on more than just the one project. There were a handful of other creators whose scripts I read and provided them feedback. And then I waited.
Actually, other than the one project that I worked on to completion, no other creator came back with revisions. I get it, I offered a free service, if a creator didn’t like it, or that’s all they needed, they could just walk away. But that’s not what happened.
Many email exchanges happened. They went something like this: “Hey, it’s Andrew, just seeing if you had time to look over the feedback I gave you?” to which the reply was “Yeah, planning on doing the revision this weekend when I have some free time” or “Not yet, I’ve been too busy shopping for a new mouse pad cuz my chinchilla ate my old one.”
And so it went. For every email I sent asking about the progress I received a reply with an excuse on why none has been made. And the excuse was always the same, time.
I get it. Life, it happens. Sometimes people have circumstances that just get in the way. Trust me, I understand. But the hard truth is if you can’t find time to do something, perhaps that something isn’t for you.
I want to pass on a lesson I learned from my high school wrestling coach about excuses. I just lost a match because of my conditioning, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of my opponent. After the dual my coach asked me what type of extra conditioning I do on my own, outside of practice.
When I responded with, “I don’t” he asked a very simple question, “Why not?” I started to blurt out a myriad of excuses. He very patiently waited until I was finished and replied, “everyone has an excuse why they can’t do something and if you want to separate yourself from everyone else you need to find an excuse on why need to do something.”
That last part about finding an excuse why changed my life and I urge every new creator to do the same.
My excuse for why I do something is always the same; I want to give and help others in the way I would have wanted help but wasn’t/isn’t available. And if/when I ever have children and they’re struggling with any endeavor, I can look at them with confidence and tell them that anything is possible if you believe in yourself.