A couple years ago, I wrote a funny-with-a-side-of-sarcasm post about the annoying things that writers have to hear all. the. time. I wanted to share the nails-on-the-chalkboard that we have to deal with when we tell someone we’re writers, because let’s face it: we’ve all had these conversations. Writing is a profession that’s largely misunderstood, so I wanted to create a funny little post while maybe shedding some light on some hot-button questions to avoid.
RELATED | Read the original post here
The post was well-received and is still one of my best-performing posts, but there was one comment that touched a nerve. One person commented that I was “never going to get published with that attitude” or something along those lines. This was my first negative comment, and I immediately went into defense mode. This person was stupid or ignorant or didn’t know how to take a joke. Seriously, they were following my page, which is about writing, and was going to ridicule me for poking some fun at writer stereotypes?
However, his comment got me thinking about the inherent negativity in this post. While it was a form of stress relief, it did exclude a large chunk of possible readership. My post highlighted something that I found annoying about being a writer, but how is someone who isn’t a writer going to read that post? I talked about what NOT to say, but made no mention of what to say instead. If the intention was to educate on how to communicate with writers, I didn’t do a very good job.
So, I’m amending my original post. Here are 11 things to never say to a writer, and what to say instead.
1. Can you make me a character in your book? Um, no. A few years ago, a girl at my school asked me if she could be a character in my book. I named a villain after her. Don’t ask a writer if you can be in their book unless you want to become the bad guy.
What to say instead: If you’re comfortable sharing, can I ask you some questions about your current project? Asking to be a character isn’t because you want to help the writer, but because you want to be a character. It’s about what you want, not what the writer wants. Respect their creativity and ask them questions about what they’ve already created rather than trying to insert yourself into their work. You can also say nothing; nothing is also acceptable.
2. Am I a character in your book? No. I’ve been known to take traits or quirks of people I know and add them to a character, but basing a whole character around a person gives me an icky feeling.
What to say instead: How do you develop your characters? This shows an interest in their process rather than your desire to have your name in a book. Make it about them and their work.
3. Can I have a free copy? Writing is a job. You wouldn’t ask a doctor for a free exam, so don’t ask a writer for a free book.
What to say instead: I’m looking forward to purchasing a copy after it’s released! Will you sign it for me? This lets the writer know that you’ll support their work in a way that also benefits the writer. I have dreams about the first time someone asks me for my autograph, so that’s a really cool thing to say to someone. If you’re able, follow through on it!
4. How much money to writers make? You have to be joking.
What to say instead: Nothing. It’s pretty rude to ask someone how much money they make. There are statistics online that can give you a ballpark estimate.
5. I have this amazing idea for a book and I think you should write it. Trust me, I’ve got enough ideas bouncing around my head to last a lifetime.
What to say instead: If you have the time, could I talk about an idea I have? This lets the writer know that you respect their time and expertise. They’ll probably be excited to talk with you!
6. Can I read your book? You can buy my book once it’s published. Often, writers keep their work under wraps until then to preserve the integrity of their idea.
What to say instead: I’d love to read your work if you’re comfortable sharing. This tells the writer that you are interested, but want them to feel comfortable to share.
7. I found a typo in your book. Great. Thanks for rubbing my errors in my face. As if my fear of publishing a subpar wasn’t enough.
What to say instead: Nothing. Just nothing.
8. No, like what do you actually do? Do you know how close I am to throwing an uncapped pen at your face?
What to say instead: Nothing. Writing is a valid career and they don’t need your validation, or lack thereof.
9. I could be a writer too if I only had the time. Believe me: we have no more time than you in the day. If you really want to write a book, stop talking to me and go write a book.
What to say instead: I love writing, too. Then, go write.
10. Your job is so easy. HA. Yeah, tell that to my sleep deprivation.
What to say instead: What is your writing process? This question allows the writer to share the details of their profession on their own terms.
11. Why isn’t your book finished yet? You know, I’ve been asking myself the same question since I started the damn thing. Thanks for reminding me.
What to say instead: How is your current project coming along? This gives the writer the opportunity to share what they’ve accomplished instead of highlighting the fact that they haven’t accomplished what they want to accomplish.
When it comes to talking to a writer about their work, here’s the ultimate thing to consider: is what I’m asking invasive or respectful, negative or positive? Am I asking them a question that’s based in what I want them to tell me or what they want to share?
If a writer gets squirrelly and doesn’t want to share information about their work or writing process, don’t press them. Instead, respect their boundaries and understand that it probably has nothing to do with you. Writing is a deeply personal act. It’s tough to share that kind of vulnerability with a wide audience, and even more difficult to share with a friend.
Until next time xx
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