Job Shadowing

A guidance counselor at the local grade school contacted a woman I know and asked her to speak to one of the students about being a writer. This woman’s expertise is in journalism, which is one thing the boy is interested in, but the counselor also wanted an author to talk to him, so my acquaintance passed the request along to me. (The subject line of the emails that were copied to me is “job shadowing,” hence the title of this blog.)

I’ve been ignoring the whole situation because I’m truly hesitant about encouraging anyone to be a writer. I’m of the same mind as Dorothy Parker; “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

People who want to write will write despite any encouragement or lack thereof, so I certainly wouldn’t blight the kid’s interest in writing by not talking to him, but apparently he isn’t interested in the craft of writing so much as writing as a job, and I can’t tell him anything about the job aspect. (Except to tell him that to make money as a writer, he needs to find another job, such as plumber or electrician.)

I can tell people how to write better, I can tell them how to develop a story, I can tell them any number of things about the craft of writing, but I have no idea how to make a living at being a writer. Besides, I tend to think any writing advice I have would go over the head of even the smartest kid, since so much of what I know is obviously over the heads of the most well-known and wealthiest writers today because so few of them practice what I would preach. Being a good writer and being a successful author have little correlation to one another. Rather than expertise, it is luck and phenomenal marketing skills that determines a successful writer.

Making the situation worse, nowadays success seems to be about sliding in on the coattails of another writer. It used to be that there was a turnover in bestselling authors as they died or retired, but the trend now is to continue the name ad infinitum. And ad nauseum.

I did give a speech to students not that long ago about the importance of writing, but that’s different from talking one-on-one.

Writers, if you were presented with this dilemma, what would you do?


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

4 Responses to “Job Shadowing”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I’d just politely turn the school down and say you can’t fit it into your schedule. It wouldn’t be a lie, because you can’t fit it into your schedule, as you wouldn’t know what to say or do in that situation.

  2. Sam Sattler Says:

    Sadly enough, I think Dorothy Parker was right.

    I agree with you on this awful trend in which author’s “write” more books after they die than they wrote when they were alive. I guess, in all fairness, I should admit that I did discovered a writer whose work I really enjoy that way, though…Ace Atkins, who took over part of the Robert B. Parker franchise after Parker’s death.

    But your topper from this post, in my opinion, is the observation that good writing has very little to do with being a “successful” author. In fact, too often the opposite seems to be the case.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Even worse are those who co-write a book a month. I used to think the publishing industry will change when James Patterson is gone, but he will never be gone. All his co-authors will just take over.

      • Sam Sattler Says:

        I hear you. James Patterson irritates me every time I visit a bookstore – but I know how much money he supposedly gives to bookstores so I try not to get too vocal about it. But when you see the guy have four books in the top ten with his name on it – plus some more anonymous co-author – something is wrong. I wonder how many hundreds of books his “dominance” has squeezed out of earning the “bestseller” label.

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