Since I first encountered his writing, I have been absolutely enthralled with the work of George Saunders. When I first read his work during my first semester as an English major, it profoundly changed the way I thought about fiction writing. Since then, George Saunders’ writing has continued to be a huge influence.
Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to speak to Saunders over email. I had considered sending him one for some time, but never got up the nerve to actually do it until I wrote about him in a recent article. His reply came quickly, in which he responded directly to what I said in my email, and was incredibly genuine and encouraging. This experience has made me think about the way we treat established writers, and has made me absolutely convinced that us writers absolutely should meet our heroes whenever we have the opportunity, despite the cliche that says otherwise.
You are also opening up the opportunity for a type of mentorship.
I have been fortunate enough to meet several amazing writers, and I have walked away from each experience with a new piece of wisdom that has, in one way or another, been influential on either my writing or my approach to being a writer. When you meet writers who you admire, regardless of the situation, you have the chance to learn a multitude of lessons about being a professional writer.
The most important of these, in my opinion, is that writers are real people. As a young writer, the idea of writing being a profession can seem impossible. When you meet your heroes, however, the wall built by success and admiration can become permeable. It may still exist, but you have an opportunity to reach across that barrier and pull things back that are yours to keep and use on your journey toward becoming a professional writer.
Attending events is generally the easiest way to get yourself in the same room as your heroes, but I absolutely recommend going an extra step and seeking out other ways to make these connections. You may never have a chance to meet someone whom you admire greatly in person. However, with over 84% of Americans going online daily, the world is so connected that this should rarely be a barrier that will stop you from talking to them. Be thoughtful of whom you are reaching out to, of course. If you do send something, be genuine and respectful of the other person’s time. Don’t send them a barrage of questions the first time you talk to them, but if you do have those questions, ask them if they would be willing to answer them.
By seeking out the advice of established writers in this way, you are also opening up the opportunity for a type of mentorship. Writers tend to hate thinking of their craft with money or business in mind, but in your efforts toward making your living as a writer, you need to remember that it is, indeed, a career choice that you are making. Think of your writing as your own small business and when you talk to your heroes, take their advice as if it was in a professional setting and they are your business mentor. They have successfully launched their brand, and even if they talk to you about their personal life, digest that information and consider how it might have played into their career.
Learning to communicate with people you don’t know and you feel awkward about talking to is an incredibly valuable lesson on your road to becoming a professional writer. You will need to email all sorts of people as you submit your writing for publication, and it can feel incredibly awkward, so the more practice you have at this, the better. As you move forward with your career, take notes from other sectors about how you present yourself publicly, and bring that together with the experiences you have with other writers.
Writers, we should meet our heroes. While the worry that meeting your idols will be a disappointing experience is completely understandable, it can’t be something that holds you back. Even if it is a negative experience, remember that artists and their work are separate, and automatically tying them together creates expectations that cannot always be met. If you can think this way, then you have really eliminated the major argument against meeting your heroes, and you are left with no excuse.