Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writing 101: Asking for Help

I've recently been engaging myself with an effort to be more active in writing and reading forums, so I've been confronted with the topic of asking for help a lot lately. And I've got to say, a lot of writers are doing it way too often.

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive

Let me be clear. Asking for help actually takes some courage, and it can do you good to learn how to trust in the kindness of strangers.

But there's a line between asking fir help and being lazy...not to put too fine a point on it. Because, while there is some nobility in the asking, there is much, much more to be gained from finding the answers yourself. And maybe all this beseeching isn't from laziness st all. I'm hoping it's simply because too many people don't know how ti find the answers.

They're in luck, because I'm really good at finding them. And if you already know how to ask for help, you are well on your way to becoming a master as well. You just need to know where to ask the right questions.
Getting Answers

To be clear, it's always going to be easier to ask than to look. You will get a lot more out of looking, however, so lets figure out how to to it.

First, don't ever go to Wikipedia to find out anything. You can go to other, more trusted, online encyclopedias to find general information. Wikipedia should be used only for resources. Just search for any topic, scroll to the bottom, and look for the links. 

Instead of asking questions on forums, ask search engines -- but don't go to the twelve hundred different bloggers who think they know the answer. University extension websites, the History Channel website, encyclopedias and websites ending in .gov can all be considered to be reputable sources. Online articles from trusted sources like the New York Times are also trustworthy. 

But don't ever trust one source, no matter how good it is. Confirm your information in at least three places. Otherwise, it's not real.

Do your own research, and learn how to answer your own questions. There's a lot of reasons you've got to do this as an author. First, you can't necessarily trust people on forums -- they might be clueless, or making things up, or simply incorrect in their information. But more importantly, it's your job to find your own answers. That's half the fun of writing, and an important part of the process. Through research, you might uncover all sorts of interesting tidbits you end up including in the book. You might get inspired by brand-new ideas. And you might learn something, which is always a good thing. 

But most of all, you're going to find a question one day that your forum friends can't answer. You will hit a brick wall. You will feel lost. That will happen. If you learn, right now, how to deal with it, you won't get knocked flat by it when it happens at the worst possible moment (and it will).

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