Ask any person with a disability, and they will probably agree that this is one of their favorite sentences, and it’s one of the most powerful ones you can employ.
“I didn’t ask for your help” is a great sentence. It establishes and reinforces your boundaries. It encourages you to try something for yourself. It gently but very firmly resists someone else from taking control away from you.
“I didn’t ask for your help” is also an essential sentence for writers. We often encounter people who want to encourage and help us, but who, for various reasons, have no idea how to go about it.
I was reminded of this earlier today when I read the story of a NaNoWriMo participant who had a well-meaning non-writer come by and look at their novel-in-progress and make “helpful” comments.
Writing a novel is often compared (often erroneously) to giving birth. These analogies often describe the long process of incubation and pondering, and the difficult process of actual delivery, and the frightening prospect of watching your little loved one toddle off to make friends with scary people who might not appreciate him or her.
Now, you all must understand, whether you’re a novelist or not, that at this particular stage of novel-writing, 28 days into a frenzy of word-spillage, that the novel resembles not something that comes out of your womb, but rather something that comes out just a little further, uh, back, shall we say. Whether your novel is going to be something good and readable or not is immaterial. Even the best first drafts do not hold up well to initial scrutiny, and a draft written in NaNoWriMo isn’t a full firtst draft. It’s really more like a .5th draft.
Here’s my disclaimer: Sometimes, you ask for help. When you do, it is on your shoulders to be gracious and thankful for it, and to take it with the grains of sugar and salt that all criticism needs to make it palatable. And also: this post has nothing to do with the previous one containing my excerpt. Nobody said anything bad about that, and I’m glad you all bore with me while I excitedly ran around singing its praises. Don’t worry– I haven’t written anything even remotely decent since then, so you’re saved from any further zombie-loving excerpts. For now.
I have written a lot of indecent stuff, though, and I’ve discovered that the words I use for a zombie attack (moan, groan, scratch, bite) are the same words I use in describing an explicit sex scene. Who knew? Zombie love, all the way.
Anyway. I’ve been surfing the Internet this week, finding ways to avoid writing, and a random Internet search for “I hate NaNoWriMo” brought to my eyes a number of blog posts and rants about how bad peoples’ NaNoWriMo novels are, how NaNo novelists aren’t “real” writers (as if– and please, don’t hurt yourself laughing, folks– as if you have to do something special to be a writer! People, let’s be clear: to be a writer, you must write. Period. End of sentence. But I digress….) And so forth. To my brain, these posts and rants all struck me rather like telling a pregnant woman “your baby is ugly.” Not only is it unnecessarily cruel (and a dangerous thing to say to a woman who is packing twenty extra pounds and 500% her normal hormone load), it’s utterly irrelevant. Of course the baby is ugly. The baby isn’t even born yet! But dear lord, it has nothing to do with how the baby’s going to look later!
Now, the other part in which writing is a lot like having a baby is the part where everyone and their cousin seems to believe they are qualified to tell you how to do it. And novelists really need to develop a thick skin that permits them to shrug off this unhelpful parenting advice and do their own thing.
Anyway, I would like to arm all would-be novelists with these six, very helpful words. Whether you’re writing in November, or December, or February through June, you can use these words to protect your fetal novel from unwanted editing and critique until you have had the time and space to develop it into something beautiful and graceful, worthy of stepping out and taking the world by storm:
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
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