Caution: High levels of sass. Read at your own peril!
Everybody has introductory questions they hate. You know the ones: in college it's “What’s your major?” and for nomads it’s “Where are you from?” The same goes for writers, though annoyance is not limited to first-time conversations. Below are some sure questions and statements to irritate your writer friends/acquaintances:
“What’s your story about?”This is one of my pet peeves. It’s almost like the equivalent of asking somebody what his/her life is about. How do you put all that in one or two sentences? Writers (at least writers like myself) are generally thinkers and may require time to think over an answer like this. So don’t be surprised if I give out two completely different answers for the same story on the spot to two different people. Unless you are an editor/agent/publisher, please don’t ask this question.
Some alternate questions that writers don’t mind answering: “What genre is your story? Who is your target audience? Can you tell me about your protagonist? What’s the setting?” Etc. Go specific! Writers enjoy this kind of stuff.
“Oh! So it’s like [insert TV show/movie here]?”If this is a follow up to question 1, the writer is likely irritated already. This question just makes it worse. As a writer, I already tend to over criticize and compare my half-finished work to something well-edited and successful. The above comment might not only make such a comparison but implies plagiarism on the writer’s part. (See The Greatest Literary Thieves.)
Alternate questions: “Where do you get your inspiration from?” Inspiration doesn’t imply that the writer is a plagiarizer.
“You should do [insert plot element] next!”Are you the writer of this story? No? Then feel free to write your own story.! While writers enjoy honest feedback, they don’t want people telling them how to write their book. Of course, writer’s still enjoy brainstorming plot elements. If they ask to brainstorm, you can throw in some ideas, but other times writers need to talk at you. If an idea isn’t plausible, let him/her know, but usually writers stumble upon epiphanies even if it sounds like utter nonsense to you.
Alternate phrases: “What do you think of [insert plot element]?” If the writer responds negatively, drop the subject.
“I’m writing a story about [insert complete synopsis].”This one is tricky. It’s not that writers don’t want to hear about your story, but if you just met, or if the conversation just started, this might not be the time to add this. A general tip: don’t smother the writer, especially if the writer is an introvert. This might be the first time in who-knows-how-long she/he is talking aloud. Allow him/her to voice his or her thoughts.
If a writer asks you about your story, take it as compliment. Writers can make some of the best listeners. This isn’t to say that the writer should dominate the conversation. This principle of listening goes both ways.
Remember: Listen as much as you speak.
“Would you consider writing my life story?”Not always phrased like this, but it’s pretty close. If a writer specializes in young adult fiction or poetry, they might not be interested. Just as there are different types of sports, there are different styles of writing. Writers may not specialize in all of them.
Alternate questions: “Do you enjoy/would you consider writing nonfiction?” If the answer is “yes,” you might consider building up to the main question.
“What do you mean you’re rewriting your book?”This question implies that writers should always get it correct the first time and if they don’t, they’ve failed. This is simply not true! Writers may go through several drafts before they get it right, much less the way they like it.
Remember: Every writer is different. Some may work at a different pace or with a different system than others. Even every story is different. The same writer may come out with several drafts for one story, but get another nearly correct the first time.
“Writing doesn’t pay.”Correction: writing doesn’t pay well. But it can pay. And it’s not about the money. It’s about the expression through words and imagination.
Alternative phrases: “You must be a brave soul.” Okay, now I’m getting a little dramatic, but you get the picture. If you want a writer as a friend, don’t poke him/her in the eye.
Have you read the start of this series? Check out “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer: Some of the Basics.” And come back Nov. 15 for “Part 3: Things Writers Want to Hear from Readers.”
Readers, what are your thoughts on this? Writers, what would you add to this list?