Don’t Assume Anything: Ask Everything

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting with my little sister over lunch. We made our way to Dear Daughter’s must-visit eatery: Buffalo Wild Wings. Ordering was easy, as our tastes run so similar.

Getting the right order was not.

Instead of receiving traditional wings, our waitress had brought us boneless. In our mind, all parties were to blame. We never specified which type of wings we wanted, nor did the waitress ask.

We all just assumed: us because we only eat traditional, and she because the boneless were on sale.

An honest mix-up that was quickly remedied.

Yet, not all assumptions are as easily taken care of. In writing, assumptions can get us in a boat load of trouble.

  • Never assume you know something as fact. Ever. Remember how people used to believe the world was flat? They assumed, and they were wrong. When I write, I check and double-check even simple things like how many kids play on a baseball team. I don’t want to lose readers because I didn’t have my facts straight and therefore lost all credibility with them.
  • Never assume you know what a crit partner meant by a comment–especially those that sting. If appropriate, ask for clarification, particularly before doing a rewrite based on the comment.
  • Never assume you know what an agent or editor meant on something that seems a little fuzzy. Agents don’t bite. Well, some might, but I hear rabies’ shots are required for the higher-ups in the publishing biz. It’s okay to shoot off a quick email as long as you do so appropriately.
  • Never assume all agents and editors are the same.
  • Never assume submission guidelines are the same across the board for all houses.
  • Never assume that a rejection means you’re a crappy writer.
  • Never assume that selling a book means you can quit your day job.
  • Never assume you know anything, let alone everything, about the world of writing.

Instead, check things out. Ask around. Read yourself sick on the topics you write about. Become besties with professionals who know what they know and can make your writing accurate.

And probably the biggest and best advice I can give: research your options and topics from all sides, not just from the POV you want to be true.

On our way home from lunch with Little Sister, DD and I talked religion. She finds it infinitely intriguing that (in her experience) people who don’t believe in God are more well-versed in the Bible than the people who live their religion on a daily basis.

There’s a lot of truth in her observation. Those who cut their teeth on Faith typically assume what they’ve heard in church and in their homes is correct. Those who were never immersed in it as a way of life will often seek to find the truth behind the Faith.  They actually dig into the nitty-gritty of it all. They ask questions and challenge the answers. They research all points of view and probably have a more well-rounded understanding of religion as a whole than those who have never read outside their Faith teachings.

We can learn a lot from this method of asking, not assuming. We have a better chance at succeeding in the publishing biz if we research our options and make informed decisions.

In what ways have your assumptions been challenged as you’ve walked your writing (or life) path? What things did you really know and which assumptions were proven faulty? How has this changed the way you’ve approached your writing/publishing (daily living) endeavors?

Curious minds want to know.  And if you’re still curious, you can check out my post on From the Write Angle regarding bios and bylines.

 

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6 responses to “Don’t Assume Anything: Ask Everything

  1. The world’s not flat? OMG!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. The worst assumption I made about my to be-career was one I made in college and I’m still suffering for it: I got an English degree. I didn’t want to be a journalist, but a novelist, so I assumed that was my best route. The school would not allow me to go back and add journalism classes later, which still angers me, but did I try to add any other, less popular degrees? No. Because I was going to be a published author by the time I was 25 and well on my well to best seller-dom. I won’t go into how many decades and worthless jobs ago that was, but my English degree isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on.

    • Sorry to burst your bubble, but…no. : )

      You highlight such a prevalent assumption in the newbie vision of writing. Sadly, an English major doth not equal successful novelist. Nor does an MFA. I don’t think many writers ever understand that noveling isn’t usually a full time job. That’s reserved for a very few people. Everyone else must do something on the side (or full time) to pick up the financial burden of living. While some writers speak or freelance, a fair number continue to work at normal every day jobs. It’s one of the cold, hard truths. One that admittedly stinks…

      This whole college major thing scares me with my kids getting closer to adulthood. I know so few people who actually use their degrees in their intended fields and it costs so dang much money now-a-days to get that piece of paper.

      Good choices. Don’t assume. Ask questions. Research your options. Know what you’re doing before you start doing it.

  2. Love this: research your options and topics from all sides, not just from the POV you want to be true — absolutely perfect! I may have to use that in my classroom. 🙂

    When I stumbled onto AQ a few years back, I knew next to nothing and had written what I now percieve as one of the crappiest first drafts ever. I am SO glad I found the site and learned how many of my assumptions were false. I’m still learning and there’s SO much more to know!

    • Feel free to use it however you wish–though if you start selling it on coffee mugs, a tiny little byline would be nice : )

      I know exactly what you mean about one of the biggest myths we hold when we finish a manuscript. “It’s done. It’s good. It’s ready to go.” Learning this isn’t the truth can hurt, but it’s the best lesson in the long run.

  3. Absolutely, assumptions are EVIL!

    Okay, maybe not always *evil*. But at least from a mathematical/scientific perspective, I’m very aware that when we start off with, “Assuming X is true …” EVERYTHING that comes after that depends on X actually being true. I know that as soon as I enter a situation where X is false, it all falls apart. So I’d better make sure it’s true when I need it to be.

    Yeah, super-geeky parallel, but what do you expect form me? 😉

    • Super geeky, maybe, but the outcome is the same. An erronous assumption can create some nasty backlash when we build our entire belief systems around it. On the page in math class or in real life.

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