No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Manuscript

September 6, 2019 § 36 Comments

sojournerBy Mary Sojourner

No, I don’t want to read the manuscript of your novel, memoir, musings as a favor and comment on it. No, I won’t give you a few writing tips. No, I won’t blurb your self-published book.  No, I don’t want to talk on the phone with you about your book. No, you can’t buy me a coffee so we can chat about your book. You are too late.

I have been a working writer for thirty-four years. I wasn’t able to start my serious writing work till I was forty-five because I was the divorced mother (and full support) of three kids.  I chose to not go into academic work because I saw what was happening to good writers trapped in hours and hours, then days and days of reading student writing, good writers who were underpaid and over-worked as faculty, good writers whose words died in that airless atmosphere of low pay and high demands.

I finally gave in two years ago, thanks to the exclusive nature of contemporary publishing, and applied to the local university and local college to teach creative writing. I was told that I don’t have an appropriate degree, despite a resume that includes eight nationally published books, years as an NPR commentator, hundreds of op eds and magazine articles, being featured at national academic writing conferences – and serving as Distinguished Writer in Residence for an Arizona university.

So, no, you who are looking for a volunteer mentor, I won’t work for free. I have done just that for at least thirty years, in the spirit of kinship, in the belief that we needed to help each other, in the spirit of revolutionary literary community principles. Now? I give to my writing.

Mary Sojourner is the author of the short story collections, The Talker and Delicate; three novels: Sisters of the Dream , Going Through Ghosts and 29; the essay collection, Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest; and two memoirs, She Bets Her Life and Solace. She has written op eds and columns for High Country News, Yoga Journal, Writers on the Range, Matador Network.

§ 36 Responses to No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Manuscript

  • Now this one made me smile. I get it. I understand. I still read former (high school) student’s applications to graduate school, and happy to do it. These essays are short.

    I have traded readings and I am a good editor of others’ work.

    The problem with reading creative writing is that most “new” writers of any age do not want feedback; they want praise.

  • ccbarr says:

    What a bunch of a-holes. Credit up the wazoo and your not good enough for them. College is so expensive ,its becoming a rackett

  • DavidWBerner says:

    I teach in higher-Ed. Sixteens years. You’re applying at the wrong college. Yes, school accreditation has to do with degreed teachers. It’s like being certified as an electrician. But where I teach, Columbia College Chicago, well, they would be pleased to have you. Our model is different. And it’s better. Still, although I understand, please don’t become bitter to the community of writers. I’ve seen it happen far too often and it sucks the soul out of a community that can never afford to be without mentors — at all levels.

    • Thank you, David. You might find it instructive and ironic that, in fact, one of the Flagstaff writers’ influential cabals – oops, I meant, “community” shut me out of their sphere of influence, which meant I have been disappeared as a writer in my home town. My bitterness is a product of that exclusion – which, I suspect, is because I don’t have an MFA, but do have published books.

  • bethfinke says:

    IIf you really do want to teach, I highly recommend you teach for older adults. I lead classes for writers age 60 and better, they work hard, they love learning new things, they value life experience more than advanced degrees, and they appreciate their teacher. I do get paid for my work (I am not a volunteer) and it has lead to some paid editing work on the side as well.

  • kperrymn says:

    Kudos! It’s hard to say no to others in favor of saying yes to your own writing. Currently, I collaborate with a writing partner whose work and critiques I respect. And I provide responses in the classes I take. In both of those scenarios there is give and take and there is structure. But I can envision myself taking your position someday.

  • Julia Park Tracey says:

    Amen, amen, amen. I love how you’re being ‘splained into teaching. Let it go and write your own story! ❤

  • Susan Keefe says:

    Whoa! Caught you on an angry day or in an angry life.

    • You say that as though intelligent anger is something bad. One of my favorite bumper stickers is “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I’ve been angry since I first learned about racism – in the ’40’s when I was seven years old. Then, there was the class privilege in my school. Then, the American war in Vietnam. Then. Then. Then. And now.
      I will forever thank the wise and compassionate therapist who taught me that healthy anger is the way through depression. (By the way, I paid her for her training, intelligence and gifts.)

  • Michael Warner says:

    Mary, I remember your works on NPR. I’d be proud to take one of your classes.

  • Sofía Vélez Calderón ( says:

    Hi. I just read your Map of Writing on your Web site, and I loved it. Good for you that now you honor yourself and your writing time. I used to be a high school teacher and my energy to write for myself was drained by having to read essays and having to write letters of recommendation for college. I am no longer a high school teacher and I have felt my energy to write return. Just recently, I was able to sit down and finish a tribute to my late beloved dog, George Lucas. And reading your post just made me realize how protective of our writing energy we should be.

  • Oh, well. I could certainly use a coach!

  • floatinggold says:

    So because someone was mean to you you decide to take it out on innocent people? To each their own.

    • Did you read the entire op ed? If you need free writing help, go to my website, listed below. You will find years of free writing help.

      • floatinggold says:

        Yes, I did read the entire thing. Otherwise, I would not have commented.

        The fact that you replied the way you did just goes to show that you are on the defensive and hear what you want to hear. Life made you that way and that is alright. However, I also have the right to say that your message came across unnecessarily negative.

        No, I am not looking for free writing help. The experience that I have in the writing community is totally different – people WANT to help one another. It’s mutual support. Of course that is not always a thing. Everyone knows that freebies aren’t always an option. You are more than able to refuse any free work. But to do it in the fashion you did was not something that I enjoyed. That’s all.

      • “you are on the defensive and hear what you want to hear. Life made you that way and that is alright.” Now ;-] I’m really o the defensive. Look up the definition of condescension. You ain’t my pop psych shrink.
        “Take what you can use, and leave the rest…”

      • floatinggold says:

        And here I was willing to provide FREE psych help. No good deed goes unpunished.

      • I think there is a not-so-subtle difference between expressing weariness from being taken for granted and attacking an individual for describing a personal experience and opinion. That’s what Mary Sojourner was doing, the former, not the latter.

        I get that it might sound harsh, but what we think in our heart of hearts and what we write on a writers’ blog and how we behave are not always the same. Directing cruel words at a specific person is not what Sojourner did.

        Many times I have been asked to read books by people who really only want praise, not feedback, who want my time but fail to offer theirs in return. I found this essay marvelous, funny, and familiar. I exchange work with several friends and have line-edited published fiction and nonfiction, always for friends and former students and without pay. I am grateful to be asked to read college and graduate admissions essays and other applications from former students because these people know I will be specific and tough and that’s what they are after. I am happy to help people who genuinely respect my feedback.

        I’ve been at this a long time, but sometimes when asked for something enormous by someone who fails to appreciate what they are asking, I “want what she’s having,” too. That is: none of it.

        Mary, I got it. I get you. I laughed and sighed, and thought, “You too?”

  • Thank you, brother. In fact, I am currently line editing a ms. for a dear friend – for nothing but love. p.s. I am doubly grateful that you didn’t “psychoanalyze” me and my choices. Feel free to share my website with anyone who can use it.

  • eemmanuel349 says:

    Why me that, understand give me more vision in life I thanks you for add a basic in my momeri thanks for that !

  • d.p. Benjamin says:

    How delightful to encounter your work here. I met you briefly in Flagstaff, either at a book reading or at KNAU where I hosted a radio show. In any event, happy to see that you have been busy. I worked at NAU and then in Phoenix for years, retiring in 2014 to return to my native Colorado where I work for the local newspaper and as an aspiring mystery novelist. I visited Flagstaff last year and found it much changed. My little town here has one stoplight which seems about right. Be well and congratulations on your many publications.

    • Thank you for this warm comment. As you probably remember, I recorded the NPR commentaries at KNAU – better days in better rimes. Please check out my website below – free writing challenges, exercises and prompts every week. Feel fre to contact me there. And, whatever you do, don’t tell the internet where you live! Flagstaff has become little but an Instagram post. m

  • […] not quite at the stage of No I Don’t Want to Read Your Manuscript, but I did add a category to my time tracker: “Kindness.” I’ve started hitting […]

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