Except, they probably won’t. Like you, they’re socialising to relax and enjoy themselves, not talk about work or give you a private consultation.

Are you famous?

When I tell people I’m a writer, I’m generally asked if I’m famous (no); would they have heard of me (well, shouldn’t they know this themselves?); and what sort of ‘things’ do I write (women’s literary fiction and academic text books).

Then comes the ‘doctor-question’.

It starts with a casual, ‘It must be nice to have time to write,’ (I make time because it’s my job). And then, despite being far too busy on more important matters, they go on to tell me about the ‘little bit of scribbling’ they’ve done and I could have a look at it if I wanted.


At this stage, my training as a journalist comes in handy. I have an expression I can produce which suggests I’m interested in what the other person is saying. I smile, nod encouragingly and add a hopeful, ‘Oh, really?’

I don’t like to discourage people from writing. Nor would I dismiss someone else’s efforts – after all, you can never be sure that the person who’s done a little bit of scribbling isn’t the next JK Rowling.

Sadly, the scribblings are often jottings about family history, which might be of interest to the grandchildren, but will be boring for anyone else. And if it gets as far as me seeing actual words on paper, those words might only make the merest nod towards good grammar and spelling. Pointing this out to a novice writer once I was told editing the manuscript would be MY job.

I won’t critique the work of friends as that way trouble lies, and I’m reluctant to critique the work of strangers who might come up during a book signing or at the end of one of my Book Talks, as I’ve no idea how serious they are about writing, whether their writing is any good or, whether they’ve written anything at all.

Some say they’ve ‘got this idea…’ and would I help them get it started. Sorry. I’m happy to talk, but I’m reluctant to do the job for them.

Mentoring serous writers

However, I do occasionally mentor young writers and people working on their first novels because, unlike the casual scribbler, they are serious and put time and effort into their work. And that should be helped and nurtured.

One of the main points I make to any writer or aspiring scribbler is that writing is hard work. Your first draft might not be as good as you hoped. But that’s what revising and editing is all about. You revise, you edit, you discard, you re-write. We all have to do it.

And you learn as you go along. You spot where you’ve repeated the same word or phrase over and over and over again. You recognize where you’ve written a clunky sentence or where you’ve repeated a whole section. You learn to ‘show not tell’. You develop characterization. You make a note of ideas that flash into your head – and you develop them into a story. You tell a good, interesting tale.

Write, write, write … and then edit

But, most of all, my advice is to write, write, write. And then take a break. Come back and read, read, read what you’ve written. And edit. And re-write. And edit. And write again.

And having created your opus, tread carefully when approaching published authors – they might not be as kind as me. Perhaps you should talk to the doctor about your bunions instead.