Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Things Never to Say to a Writer

I am in the middle of a new/old project revise and am in the WEEEEEEDS. I'm a smidge exasperated and a heap exhilarated so I guess I'm in a good place. But my blog? Not so much. So, instead of insightful, academic-level spoutings (cuz, that's what you normally get, right?) I've got a list for you to distribute to your non-writing friends, family and neighbors. What NOT to say to a writer.

"You're still doing that writing thing?"
Variations: Weren't you doing some writing hobby? You're still on that jag? Oh, I thought you'd moved on to something more practical..."
Rudeness level: 3 slaps
Polite response:  "Yup, I just keep plugging away at it. Got to have dreams, right?"
Mean (realistic) response: You still have that crappy, drone-like job working for the soul-crushing corporate pigs? OR you can just blast Sonic Youth's Kool Thing in their faces - especially Kim Gordon's deadpan "Are You Gonna Liberate us Girls from Male White Corporate Oppression?"

"Oh, I want to write a book too. I have some notes scribbled on a napkin, can you look at it?"
Variations: "I wrote a book once. It was genius. No one understood it, it was so ahead of its time." "Everyone's writing books. It's like the easiest thing it the world, right? I mean, suburban housewives, fifteen year old girls. How hard can it be?"
Rudeness level: 1 slap
Polite Response: "I'd be happy to take a look at your book idea. I can send you some information on professional organizations that can get you started."
Mean (realistic) response: You do not want to write a book. You only think you do because you see authors on the TODAY show and you want to be on the TODAY show too. If you had any idea how hard it is to write and then how much harder it is to be published, you wouldn't be so damn cavalier. I mean, do you go up to Rocket Scientists and tell them that you could totally do their job if you had the right lab coat?

"So you're like the next (Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, James Patterson -fill in the blank)"
Variations: "Does your book have vampires?" "I don't really like books with fantasy/reality/zombies/people/pets/mermaids/buildings or words."
Rudeness level: 1 slap (2 if they compare you to someone while sneering.)
Polite Response: No, I won't be the next anyone. I'm just hoping to be the next 'me'
Mean (realistic) response: Comparing me to someone, even someone famous and successful just makes me feel like you think I'm a sham. Sure there are some writers who will just write whatever they think is popular to try to get published and showered with gold coins* - I am not one of them! I write because I have stories in me that would bust out Aliens-style if I didn't write them down.
(*BTW, I would not say no to gold coins. Especially chocolate ones.)

"So, what's your book about?"
Variations: No variations. This says it all.
Rudeness level: 0 slaps, but man, I hate this question. When asked by people outside of the writing world, whatever you say will sound wrong. Even the elevator pitch you prepared for agent pitch fests will not be enough for this person. They will look at you blankly and say, "Oh. That sounds nice." and you will die a little inside
Response: *FLAIL* say you have to go to the bathroom. Escape.

"You wrote a book? What's it called? Maybe I can pick it up at Barnes & Noble."
Variations: "Have I heard of you?" "I have a book club, maybe we can read it for book club."
Rudeness level: 1/2 a slap. This is not really even rude, it's just uncomfortable. Again, non-writers don't understand the wide river that must be crossed between writing a book and having it published. Some authors never make it, or they have to build their own little boat (the SS Self Publish) to ford the river.
Response: "No, not published yet. Working towards it. You know, the way the publishing industry works is really quite interesting. Let me elucidate using long, boring anecdotes and circuitous storytelling until you beg me to let you leave..."


"When are you going to get a real job?"
Variations: "How about a real job? Does your wife/husband mind you slacking off all day? Must be a  nice life having to do nothing but write all day."
Rudeness level: off the chart slaps, nija hands of speed slaps.
Response: There is no response that is adequate for this question. Break up with your boyfriend or hang up on your Aunt Mildred (or whoever the rude person saying this was.) Sometimes, rudeness is an incurable disease.

What do you wish people would stop asking you about your writing? What do you wish they WOULD ask?


  1. Replies
    1. thanks Stephanie - and thanks for stopping by!

  2. You're officially never allowed to meet my husband, as he would instantly fall in love with you, given that he's obsessed with Sonic Youth.

    I wonder, what do you think is something people should say to writers when she introduce herself as a writer? I've struggled with this question myself, and for me, I think I just want to hear that it's okay that I'm not taking the standard route and that whomever I'm talking to thinks that what I'm doing is a pretty cool way to spend my time. And I want them to offer to buy all of my drinks out of respect for my art-induced poverty.


    1. What if I promise not to use my Sonic Youth wiles on him, and keep my vinyl pants (pants I am sure I no longer can fit into) at home? Besides, you both have awesome musical tastes so I am not afeared.

      Well, I know what I do when I'm introduced to someone who does something I don't know a lot about - I ask questions. I ask how he does what he does, and if he loves it and what lead him to do it. I keep assumptions about, for example, the production of promotional pens to myself and let myself be genuinely interested in what they are doing - simply because they are interested and because there is a very short list of things I'm not interested in. I guess that's what I'd like in return. And the drinks subsidy would be nice, too :)

    2. That's a really good answer. I think I'm going to steal that and use it on people whose professions I don't understand.

      And really, vinyl pants? Wow. I mean.... Wow!


    3. sadly, i'm not kidding about the vinyl pants (shiny, black) and when you get to NYC, if you get me drunk enough, I will pour myself into them. it will not be pretty, but hopefully you'll be drunk too and won't notice ;)

  3. ::Slow clap::

    This is wonderful and though I like to think I've cultivated a thicker skin, it still gets frustrating being asked these questions. It's always annoyed me when people think it's "soooooooo easy." Please. Let's talk after they've written a few chapters, okay?

    Sassy time done, haha.

    1. I, personally, love me some sassy time ;)
      I think I have gotten thicker skinned, too, over time. I don't let it get to me too much. but another thing that happens is that I don't talk about it as much either. and that's not cool. I'm censoring myself because of what some idiots *might* say.

  4. Oh yes, I do so love it when people ask me these questions. Particularly the one about when I'm going to get a real job. Nope, not irritating at all.

    1. I'm lucky that I don't have people directly in my life who tell me this (unless I count myself, on my bad days.) but I know a lot of writers do. Whether it's a lover, a friend or a parent, it's just not cool.

  5. Oh my gosh, so true. I've heard variations on all of these. O_o My favourite is when I tell people that I write YA. There's dead silence for a moment and then "Oh" and some nodding. And I just know they're thinking I'm writing TWILIGHT fanfiction or some other story with teen vampires. Ugh.

  6. UGH is right. That might be my least favorite interaction and it just happened to me this weekend. I got the old "you're not writing about vampires, are you? har har har." I'm not, but what if I was writing about vampires? What condescending bull is this? I don't go around saying, "You're not a bank teller, are you? har har har (because clearly everyone hates bank tellers)" grrrrr.


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