Thursday, March 11, 2010

Five Questions Not to Ask a Writer

People mean well. They do. But there are certain questions, I think, you should never ask a writer - or never ask many of us.

1. Are you still writing that novel?
A 'no' answer will elicit more questions - like "When is it being published?" or even worse, "Why?". A 'yes' answer will usually result in the questioner giving you a puzzled look while they respond (with astonishment) "Really? Still?"

Of course, you could be marvelously successful and have no problem answering this question. If this is true, you need to go soak your head.

2. Are you famous?
Obviously, since you've just been asked this question, the answer is no. How on earth could anyone answer yes?

3. How much money do you make?
This question never ceases to astound me. I thought it was impolite to ask about someone else's earnings. What kind of answer would satisfy the questioner? My usual response is to smile and say "The yacht is still on hold."

4. What's your book about?
Here's a loaded question. Some writers will take this as an invitation to go on for hours while others will say "I'm not sure yet." Some will give the genre as an answer: "It's a murder mystery" or "It's about looking for love". I've never found the right answer to this.

5. Am I in it?
The obvious answer is 'no'. Are you going to tell someone you've based a character on them? Unless this character is flawless and enjoys superpowers, they're going to be disappointed. I try to explain that I invent my characters - they're not based on anyone I know.

Do you get questions that make you squirm?


  1. Well, my other glanced at my monitor not long ago, and asked how the revisions were coming. I had my blog up on the screen at the time... yeesh!

  2. Elspeth - Oh, those questions! I squirm, too! I get those, too. One that also makes me squirm is, "What's it like to be a writer?" I'm supposed to answer that one in any kind of coherent way? Yikes! I know the well-meaning sentiment behind the question, but....

  3. This is so funny! I agree. I think those are wonderful insights...I'm going to post this on my blog.

  4. Deb; Urrggg! Annoying, but well-meaning. Don't you hate that?

    Margot; How ARE you supposed to answer that other than an "it's interesting..."?

    Ann; Thank you. And thank you for mentioning it on your blog.

  5. Great topic Elspeth! I'll have to check back later and read more of the comments! I'm interested in how you guys deal with these intrusive/strange/on-the-verge-of-rude questions!

  6. I grit my teeth every time I get any of these questions (though admittedly, since I'm not published yet, I only get 2 or 3 of them.)

    The most frequent perpetrator on this is my husband... he always wants to know whether I'm done, and then, why not? (I should point to the house that is never clean, our daughter, the fact I get so little 'alone' time to write, though I do write and edit well with distractions.) Makes me want to smack him sometimes.

  7. hmmm...I don't mind usually. I know how gob-smacked I am if I am in the vicinity of a writer so I guess I think it is ...well...kinda nice. Here are my answers to the ?'s
    1. Yes, I'm working on it and three others - some are trying to find a new home and some still aren't house-trained.
    2. Why yes, I am famous. But not here - in Japan. (unless I'm in Japan - then I just say - why, yes!)
    3. I am far too busy writing to make money - I leave that to the mint.
    4. Well to quote Kilgore Trout in his famous book "Venus on the Half-Shell", all of my books attempt to answer the question "Why are we born only to suffer and die"
    5. Why, yes, you are in it! You'll know as soon as you come across the character based on you but you'll have to buy the book!

  8. Crystal; These type of questions drive me mad. I'm curious to see how others handle them.

    Liberty; That's the worst, isn't it? When it's someone coming from a good place, but you really want to tell them to shut up.

    Jan; You're too clever. I love your answer to #2 and you get marketing bonus points for your answer to #5.

  9. Question #6: When are you going to send it to Oprah?

    (Or, a slight variation: Have you sent it to Oprah yet? Followed by "You should really send it to Oprah.")

  10. Elisa; Ah, yes - the woman who stands astride the book world, waving her wand and dispensing her largess with a gracious smile.

  11. And this is why very, very few people in my "real" life know I'm writing! :)

  12. I didn't tell anyone that i was writing until I finished the book. Of course, now I've been re-writing it and I'm still plagued with these questions. Great post!

  13. Jemi; You're very wise. Just wait...

    Aj; Glad you liked it. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  14. I couldn't believe how many people had the nerve to ask me how much money I made. I would have thought you were joking about that one if I hadn't heard the question first hand about a dozen times. I just chuckle and shrug as if I think they're joking around.

  15. You are a nice girl, Elspeth. If anyone asked me the last question, I would probably say yes and direct them to the most obnoxious person in the book.

  16. Elspeth- I love this! We aren't a bitter crowd, are we? And, great response by Jan!


  17. I always get, "Have I heard of you?" or "Have I read your books?"

  18. Of course I am famous. I made three dollars last month! I am still wondering which kind of yacht to spend it on.

    Well, my colleagues are quite nice, and they think it is very interesting that I write crime fiction.

  19. The question I hate getting is: what do you do? As a writer who has yet to earn a cent writing, this is the question that opens the door to all the others. Just yesterday, I had to explain my situation to someone. From her tone, I think she wasn't aware of the awkwardness of her questions because she was too enthralled by romantic ideas of what it means to be a writer...


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