Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 25, 2017

Ask for What You Need

Kathryn Craft

Happy Holidays to all of today’s Writers in the Storm readers! Did Santa bring you everything on your list?

What’s that?

You didn’t make a list?

 When did we adults stop asking for what we need? Personally, I think independence is overrated as a hallmark of maturity. We writers can be especially stubborn in this regard, as if a helping hand might in some way diminish our creative accomplishment.

I beg to differ. Asking for support is a bold move, a signal to the universe (and okay, your family) that your course has been charted, you plan to reach your destination, and you are worthy of their wind in your sails.

Here are some of the many ways that asking for help has benefitted my writing.

Household chores. When you work, care for others, and write, there are times when something’s got to give. I’ve asked for help babysitting, chauffeuring, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundering, mowing, and more. Sometimes relief from one tiny chore is all I need to free up the energy to write.

Accountability. Before I had an agent or a publisher awaiting my material, I had several accountability partners through the years, whose sole purpose is to make sure I put words on the page. Like a labor coach, she’d hold me to goals I made before I lost my mind. It’s far superior to broadcasting word count on Facebook: your partner actually cares, since you are holding her accountable as well.

Brainstorming. Nailing a solid story concept is crucial to inspiring my devotion to a project. Characters I care about who are in a tight spot will turn my “daily grind” into an opportunity to show up and do right by them. I have several friends who will say yes when I need to toss around ideas.

Research. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. When I am struggling to obtain a piece of much-needed information and don’t even know how to ask Google for help, my Facebook friends and local research librarians are always willing to lend me a hand.

Travel. Internet and book research may point the way, but a time may come when you simply need to fill your senses with the settings in your book. Ask for support in this. With advance planning, this can be incorporated into family vacations, visits, or trips to help someone move.

Critique. We need fresh eyes. Period. Never feel bad asking another writer to read and provide feedback, if you are willing to do the same for her.

Unblocking. One time a friend and I were bemoaning our lack of progress and we decided to take turns sending each other a writing prompt. Each day we used the same prompt in our respective works and shared the (drastically different) results. Soon the creative juices were pumping again.

Education. Writers need education as legitimately as those who hope to excel in any other profession. If you’re queasy about how much to invest in a profession with such uncertain financial reward, ask other writers which programs delivered the best bang for their buck. Then spread the word among family members that “education vouchers” make great gifts!

Exercise. Everyone can use a walking partner or a fellow gym rat to get them moving. In fact, social accountability is sometimes the only thing that can pull us away from our computers. Both body and mind will thank you for seeking help.

Recipes. While funneling my creative energy into my work all day, it’s hard to come up with new ideas for healthy meals. Asking for recipes, and sharing yours, will make this piece of daily drudgery into a way to enliven the senses and make new friends.

Referrals. There comes a time when we are ready for developmental editing services, an agent, a blurb, or design services. Even if you toughed it out alone so far, eventually you will need to reach out for a hand up. If you practice early in your career, this step won’t be as hard!

Marketing. Despite the miracle of social media, individual reach only goes so far. Cultivate relationships in your genre that will inspire you and your friends to share and share alike. That following you worked so hard to find will make others happy that you asked.

You may have struck out with Santa, but it’s not too late to ask for help. As you set goals for 2018, think about the way others might be able to help you.

If you are willing to phone a friend, success might be closer than you think.


What are some of the ways your writing has benefitted from asking for help?

For those of you brave enough to try it, go ahead and ask for help with something right here in the comments.

Who knows—maybe the WITS community can hook you up with someone who can help?


*Note from Kathryn: Thank you to the WITS readers who have so faithfully looked for my monthly fourth-Monday posts these past four years! I’ll be moving to a quarterly schedule in 2018 so look for my next post on Tuesday, January 23!

 *     *     *     *     *

Kathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.


23 comments on “Ask for What You Need”

  1. Oh Kathryn, thank you for 4 years of wisdom! Your columns always make me think. I am notoriously awful about asking for help. Ask Jenny - I'll literally fall on crutches rather than ask for help. I'm not sure why - I'm sure my childhood factors in there somewhere, but that's for a different meeting entirely. 😉

    When you're that way, and run into a wall you cannot climb over, you HAVE to have trusted friends. Friends who you know will love you when they see the dumb little man behind the curtain. Thank God for those friends, because without them, this last book would have taken me down. A couple of them are right here - Jenny and Fae- and Orly's not far away!

    Happy Holiday to you - thanks for spending part of it with us here on WITS!

    1. I hear you, Laura, I’m one of those fierce independents. But I remember asking my first husband for my own office—I’d had it with whacking my shin on the edge of the bed in the spare bedroom, and going to three rooms on two levels to find what I needed. It sounded petty to ask for my own space, but the day I walked into it, finally complete, with everything I needed right there around me, I couldn’t hold back the tears of relief and joy and peace. It was worth standing my ground!

    1. Hi Debbie! Instead of thinking of your discomfort, think of the way you are honoring the expertise and strengths of those you are asking, and the happiness it will bring them to help you!

  2. Thank you for this post, Kathryn. Like Laura, I swirl in the pit of despair and won't ask for a helping hand--let alone ask for a cup of water on a flight! My dad wanted me to be able to do whatever I needed to do to take care of myself. Funny, this one got lost in those lessons...

    1. If you need nothing from someone whose job it is to serve you, their shift will be a long slow slog! Start small, give asking a try, and report back, Fae!

  3. Women are the nurturers, the providers, the givers, so often we forget to ask for things for ourselves. Thanks for all these reminders! Super timely post. I see several New Year's resolutions among the list. Merry, merry to all!

  4. Kathryn, what a wonderful post for all of us. I don’t know when we started expecting to go it alone or muscle through, as is my habit. In 2018 I’m going to reach out more. Come out of my writing den. Ask for that help. I’m rewriting book 2 in my first series (killing my darlings) and currently working on a magical realism YA novel, so I need all the help I can get. Those stories are demanding I pay attention and get them on the page. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Gina Lea

    1. Gina you already ask for help—and receive it—more than you realize by coming to WITS, where so many common questions about the writing life are answered! Take the next step and ask for what you need. You’ll be amazed at the results. I love the nature of this anonymous quote, whose many iterations contain a lovely truth: “When a man takes one step toward God, God takes more steps toward that man than there are sands in the world’s if time.” Asking for what you need is a powerful step.

  5. I must say since I was 8 or so and asked a question about writing or any other "nutty" idea I got a verbal whack on the head or "the Look" from the one I addressed the question to, so I stopped asking and as you say the hard head remembered the rest of my life. I still know (LOL) I need to solve the problem or find the answer myself if I don't want to get that same feeling for the trouble. I have asked many writers and people I felt would know but to be truthful I got the same results as before. Then I put a question about the difference in books author was referred to like co-writers I kept reading about. WOW I got an answer from Kathryn Craft and it did not sound like I was a nut for not knowing. You told me in plain language and said it as if it was a fact and didn't add words that made me know I could not bank on what you told cause it might be wrong. I was so thrilled that you answered right back and talked straight and as if I were an equal. I still hesitate to ask because I tried it with other writers and was right back to where I was. So now I only ask you because I trust you and so far you have known what I needed to know. Thanks for being honest and still kind with your words.

    1. Wow! You never know what role you’ll play in a person’s life by extending a small kindness, do you? Thanks for sharing this, Jo. In our Information Age it is so easy to get basic info that some questions can get tiresome—like someone bursting into a community of writers and saying, “So how do I get an agent to sell this thing so I can make a lot of money?” Questions like that can feel insulting, since others went to conferences and read articles and did their homework while the asker wants pre-digested spoon-feeding in an effort to skip logical steps. These days I too might skip answering those. But when a question appeals to my experience and perspective, I’m always more than happy to Nswer!

  6. It's already a "no" if you never ask. Take a chance and ask for help. Like any piece of writing or storytelling, it's all about the frame we set our minds to. Thanks so much for this Kathryn. I’m still trying to build that all important platform. If anyone would like to help, please shoot over to Adventures in Writing at http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com and “follow” my blog. It would be greatly appreciated.

    I wish you all the best of luck in 2018.

  7. I cannot imagine getting as far as I have without the invaluable help of others. Thanks for the reminder that it's not only okay but crucial to ask for help when you need it!

  8. As the wife of a dear guy with multiple health issues, I'm a caregiver as well as a writer. And we have no family within a thousand miles to help. I grew up being the "get-it-done" gal who could tackle anything. Lately, though, I've been running out of steam, but am reluctant to ask for help, since things don't appear all that bad to someone looking in. My way of getting help is to do less: I cancelled a large gathering I usually host during the holidays. Housework is tackled less often. I removed myself from some responsibilities at my church. So sometimes we can be our own help, by critically analyzing all we are doing, and learning that magic word: "no."

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