TOWARD THE BETTER COFFEE DATE, PART 2 OF 2
Last post I wrote about requesting meetings for coffee with, and advice from, other writers. This week I’d like to offer some suggestions about making these dates happier and more productive for everyone involved.
If you’re the one requesting a meeting and advice:
- Before you ask, check yourself: are you truly ready to take a next step, or are you using this meeting to procrastinate about doing your writing? I’ve had coffee dates with both types, and I’ve probably been both types at some point. Don’t ask someone to meet with you if what you really need to do is more work on your book. Otherwise, the date may momentarily make you feel as if you’re moving forward, but you’re really just wasting both of your time. Plus, the host can tell, and it doesn’t feel good to be used as someone else’s procrastination tool.
- When you extend an invitation, tell the person how long the meeting will take, and stick to the timeframe you’ve set. I recommend asking for a half-hour at a coffee shop, and fifteen minutes if you’re going to the person’s office. If you’re at a point in your life where you can hang out in a coffee shop for two hours, that’s awesome — but most people can’t.
- Be on time.
- Pay for your guest’s coffee. It’s an inexpensive, easy way to acknowledge that your guest is giving you time and expertise, and you’re grateful.
- Keep the meeting upbeat unless everyone knows at the outset it won’t be. Once, I agreed to meet a writer, and ended up listening to his personal problems for over an hour. At the end, he said, “It was nice, sort of like therapy.” Please note that a coffee date for career advice from a near-stranger should never, ever feel like therapy.
- Be clear about what you’re asking for, and don’t say you’re asking for one thing if you secretly plan to ask for something more. If an editor has agreed to meet for a fifteen-minute informational interview on what working in publishing is like, you will make her feel betrayed and awkward if you put her on the spot by asking her for a job, or asking her to read your manuscript.
- After the meeting, send a brief and breezy thank-you note, and keep the person in the loop about your project. If someone took the time to meet with you, they really do care about what you’re up to, and will be happy for you if you succeed.
- Your next contact with your guest should be for something other than another request. People like to feel valued for more than what they can do for you.
If you’re the one being asked out for coffee and advice, there are ways to be generous and not-overwhelmed at the same time:
- Decide on your boundaries. Mine have had to constrict once I had a child and started working full-time, but I still say yes to current and former students asking about their work. As a full-time professor, this is a part of my job, and makes sense. There’s a gray area that exists for a few other people. Anyone else I refer to the Loft Literary Center, a handful of writing coaches, and the MFA program at Hamline University. In this way, I feel I can best help writers get the help they need without overwhelming myself.
If you do accept the request:
- If no time parameters have been set, then let the host know when you have to leave for your next appointment as you sit down. That way, everyone has the same timeframe in their heads and can talk accordingly.
- Allow the person to pay for your coffee, if they offer; however, if you arrive first, order for yourself, and let your host pay for herself when she arrives.
- Never say yes to a request on the spot. Instead, ask to think about it for a few days; then, when you’re home, take a look at your schedule.