How to Ask for Help (for writers)

There came a time in my life when I became embarrassed to ask for help. I felt like I should be able to do everything for myself, since I was all grown up and supposedly self-sufficient.

Well, today I watched my younger brother come into the backyard with a jug of juice to ask one of his older brothers to open it for him. He was completely un-self-conscious about asking for assistance when he couldn’t do it himself. He needed help, so he asked. I think we could all benefit from that simple logic.

Writers, especially, need to be able to ask for help when they need it. No great novel ever came about through the single-handed work of the author. There are beta readers, critique partners, editors, proofreaders… In order to produce a good book, a lot of people who are good at their job are needed.

If you’re a foundling author who has reached the limit of your abilities, how do you go about asking for help?

1. Know exactly what you need. Don’t go to someone and simply say, “I need help!” Figuring out what you need help with will help you find the right person to help you. Do you want a beta reader? Do you want someone to encourage you to finish your project? Do you need an editor?

2. Don’t dive into anything too quickly. I’ve had a few partnerships – whether they were as critique partner, beta reader, or cheerleader – where the other party did not respect or appreciate me. Don’t get sucked into that kind of situation. Get to know the person before handing over your project.

3. Reciprocate! This is a big one. The writing community should be one of encouragement, safety, and reciprocation. If someone spends ten hours critiquing your work, don’t turn around and only spend five minutes on his or her work. If you have the time, volunteer to beta for writer friends. It’s great for them and will teach you a lot about craft.

4. Be humble and honest. Be humble when you ask for help. Pride is sour, but swallow it. You’ll get a much better response to “I have trouble with endings. Do you think you could help?” than “I have this great book that will be your privilege to read.” And be honest about your writing abilities, both as a writer and/or beta/critique partner.

Asking for help can suck sometimes, but you’ll get used to it. Nobody ever said being a writer was easy!

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