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March 3, 2020

How Can Writers Pay It Forward?

Pile of coins topped by a stack of pennies with text: Learned from Other Writers? Pay It Forward

Many of us write because we want to connect with readers. Maybe we want to make them think or not feel alone or simply entertain them for a bit.

Similar reasons explain why I write this blog. I often call myself pathologically helpful, and it makes my day when other writers let me know my advice or insights or tools helped them with their writing.

I know I’m not alone, as many of my fellow writers love helping the next generation develop their skills. “Paying it forward” is a concept many of us are familiar with—the idea that we help others succeed, just as we were helped in our journey to improve.

So let’s compare notes on what “paying it forward” can mean for writers:

  • How were we helped earlier in our writing career?
  • What helped us the most and why?
  • What kind of help would we have loved to receive but didn’t?
  • What can we do now to pay that assistance forward to upcoming writers?

My Early Writing Journey

Although my writing instincts were good—I’d even done copyediting as a teen!—I had no formal grammar training in school, so I knew I didn’t understand the actual rules. That meant I first started at the library, where I checked out every writing craft book that looked good from the shelves. (Yes, seriously. Every book. Overthinker and perfectionist, here. *grin*)

My favorites from those early forays were:

In addition, I quickly discovered a blog created by two editors and soaked up all the knowledge I could from them. (Their blog is mostly inactive now but still exists.) (Also, my For Writers page includes links to books and blogs I’ve found helpful over the years.)

Soon after, I started exchanging work with a fellow newbie writer to get feedback. I know some newer writers think they need to learn more before they can be helpful to others in this way, but that’s not true.

We don’t have to know much about writing to give useful feedback. After all, the whole concept of beta readers is that non-authors share their thoughts about a story, so a new writer can provide a similar level of feedback and assistance (and I’ve shared how to be a better beta reader and a beta reading worksheet too).

What can we learn from thinking about our own writing journey for how to pay it forward to others? Let’s take a look…

How Were We Helped Earlier in Our Writing Career?

When we first start out on any new project, we don’t know what all we don’t know. So our early days of learning are often scattershot as we try to learn All. The. Things.

The early part of our writing journey often involves studying and learning from formal resources like books as well as less formal sources like blog posts about various writing topics. In addition, we often just need to start writing, and then we can get feedback on those efforts.

Whatever our experiences, thinking about our journey can help give us ideas for how to help others:

  • What resources were our go-to’s?
  • What part of the process felt like a smooth procession along the learning curve?
  • What parts of our process felt like we did things “the hard way” (and how would we do it differently)?

What Helped Us the Most and Why?

When someone asks us for advice, they’re often not looking for a brain dump of our whole list of resources. Instead, many interviews or podcasts ask authors a question along those lines: “What’s the one piece of advice you’d share to help others with X?”

So it’s good to think about what helped us the most. If we can also figure out why that resource helped us the most, we’ll know when or how to share that insight with others.

Did other writers help you learn how to tell stories? How can you “pay it forward”? Click To TweetEveryone needs different help at different points in their journey. As I mentioned above, I needed to know that I could write, so I studied a lot of grammar and craft. With that knowledge, I felt more comfortable exploring the rest of what I needed to learn.

Some might need to see the big picture of what they could do with their writing in order to motivate themselves to climb the learning curve. So they might want to follow a blog like this one, that touches on all the topics, or they might want to work themselves through a basic list of publishing knowledge to see where their efforts could take them.

Others might need help with cheerleading or emotional support to get them through the hard slog of learning everything. So they might want to get involved with a writing community of in-person or online writing groups.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. But knowing what helped us can make it easier for us to help others by giving them options for a direction to head.

What Kind of Help Would You Have Loved to Receive But Didn’t?

Wherever we are in the writing journey or our learning curve, chances are that we’ve occasionally wished for help or resources that we couldn’t easily find.

Maybe we wanted to know more about finding beta readers. Or needed more options for support. Or wanted to push our craft beyond the typical basics.

Whatever type of assistance would have been nice to have, we might think about how we could provide that help to others. Or at least we might now be able to point others in a direction so they’re not as lost as we were in trying to find resources.

How Can We Pay It Forward?

We could probably think of several other questions to ask ourselves about what and how we found help along our journey, but those prompts above give us a start. Whatever we’ve learned, we can now help others learn the lesson as well.

When we’re climbing the learning curve, we can be so focused on what we still have to learn that we dismiss everything we’ve already got down. Every time I do a call for guest posters here, many readers think they couldn’t possibly be qualified.

But the truth is that each struggle we’ve waded through has left us with information. We know what worked for us (or what didn’t work). We might have ideas about how to explain what we learned to others better than how we learned it ourselves. Or we might have resources to share based on what finally helped us grasp a concept.

To pay all that assistance we’ve received forward, all we have to do is share. We can share…

  • in a post on our blog or website
  • on social media
  • in a guest post on someone else’s blog (If you have ideas for a guest post, let me know. *smile*)
  • in a writing group or forum
  • among our writing friends
  • etc., etc.

We don’t even have to write something up. If we find a good resource, we can just share a link. I share and retweet resources I come across on Twitter all the time.

Why Is Paying It Forward Important?

I was recently reminded of how much I subscribe to the idea of paying it forward by an email from a youth services librarian. She wanted to let me know that her young charges in a writers workshop appreciated the resources I’ve shared here on my site.

Why is it important to “pay it forward” and help other writers? Click To TweetShe also wanted to pass on an article one of her young writers found that linked to posts about many aspects of becoming a professional writer, from education and essential skills to the editing process and publishing options. Like me, her group believes in paying it forward, and they wanted to “repay” me by helping me provide a resource for other young writers.

In other words, the help we provide by paying it forward is important and beneficial on many levels. Obviously, without helping others, the next generation of writers would have a harder time than we did at slogging through the learning curve.

In addition, helping others can ensure we fully understand a concept. Ever heard the phrase: If you want to learn something, teach it? (I’ve lost count of the many hundreds of times I’ve learned something through the process of writing my posts. *smile*)

And as my young writer friend demonstrated, the help we provide to others can come back to us. (Thank you, Amelia and Beth!) The more we do for others, the better the chances we’ll benefit from it some way, such as being reminded of an idea for a blog post. *grin*

Have others helped you in a “pay it forward” way? What was most helpful to you? What do you wish you knew about the learning curve or writing process when you were a new writer? Do you pay it forward to other writers (and if so, how), or can you think of other ways we could pay it forward to other writers? What advice would you share with new or young writers?

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Hero

Thanks Jami! You’re the best. Love your blog emails. What you have to say about your journey really encourages me. You’re so down to earth in your approach and also direct. Thanks so much for this!!

Dawn

I’ve found other great newbie writers by paying it forward. I started Twitter in December. I noticed a post from someone in the #WritingCommunity asking for help navigating the realm of self-publishing. Since I have experience with this, I invited him to locate my email on my blog and contact me with his specific questions. This led to us sharing a bit of our writing and interacting with one another on Twitter. I have also replied to posts from writers asking for beta readers. Not only do I get a first look at some great writing, I also make more friends to engage with. It feels good to have friends on Twitter and it feels great to encourage other writers.

Pete Springer

I’m relatively new to writing, but I have found a tremendous amount of support within this community. As a former teacher, I saw the same thing during my career in education. People look out for one another—the way it should be. If we can help someone along the way, that’s beautiful. Not only does it feel good to give a helping hand to someone else, but we feel good about ourselves. It’s hard to put a price on that.

Barbara Dewar
Barbara Dewar

As always great advice. I have found offering to be a beta reader is a great learning opportunity for both parties. Not only do you get to read different styles of books possibly not one you would choose otherwise but spotting areas that do not quite work as a reader may also shine light on your own work. Comments matching aspects the writer asks for review are also well received helping them and giving you a warm glow for being helpful. I can certainly recommend it.

Laurie
Laurie

edittorrent! WOW! I’d lost track of them! Thanks for the reminder about that site. Bookmarking.

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