1. Where do you get your ideas? This is often asked by would be writers looking for a secret formula that doesn’t require years of hard work and dedication. It’s as if the questioner believes that there is some magic place that one can go to find ideas. Perhaps a cave in the mountains or a secluded spot deep in the woods. Where do ideas come from? Each story and novel has its own origin depending on the writer. Sometimes the biggest inspiration is simply an assignment and a deadline.
2. I want to write but I don’t have the time. Maybe if you’d get off that cell phone, quit checking your email 100 times a day, chatting with your friends, texting, playing video games or any number of other distractions, you might have the time. Many successful writers write in between caring for young children and having regular jobs. They write an hour here and there. They write early in the morning before work, or late at night. They write during winter and spring breaks, on weekends, in the summer. They come up with ways to arrange their time. You can too. If you really want to.
3. I’ll tell you my idea, then you write it and we’ll split the money. Really? So, let me get this straight, you’ll give me one idea, which will take you maybe thirty seconds or a minute to convey, then I will spend the next eight to ten months, putting in hundreds of hours of writing and rewriting a novel and then I’m supposed to give you half of any money I receive for all my hard work? Non-writers think a book is based upon an idea that is so hard to come by that finding one is like discovering a rare diamond. The truth is that ideas are more like blueberries. They’re everywhere and easy to pick. Every writer I’ve ever known has more than enough ideas of their own. They don’t want or need anyone else’s. The idea is only the starting point, the real work, is the actual writing.
4. What name do you write under? This is a round-about way of saying, “I’ve never heard of you.” The reality is that there are only a handful of extremely well known, living, brand name writers at any given time that most people have heard of. However, having said that, there are many, many, lesser known writers who write excellent books which are very much worth reading.
5. Can you give me the name of your agent? No. To ask this of someone you don’t know is a bit like asking if you can sleep with their spouse or lover. An agent is a very private, very sacred person to most writers. It’s not at all like recommending a good foot doctor or dermatologist. (And don’t tell me your podiatrist is sacred to you).
6. Can you read my novel or stories? This is a faux pas. First, there are legal concerns. No writer wants to be accused of unconsciously using something he or she has read. Second, it’s time consuming and writers use their time to write. Third, it’s presumptuous. A writer is not a teacher or a charity worker. There are professional editors you can hire that will read your work for a fee and help you fix, rewrite, or revise.
7. I don’t like the genre you write in. As in, ”I never read, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance, literary, thrillers, horror, suspense, westerns, chick lit, mainstream, etc.” This is not only extremely rude, its snobbery and literary elitism at its very worst. To condemn an entire genre is ludicrous. Plus, each genre has dozens of sub categories and hundreds of writers in each one. To dismiss them all, sight unseen, reveals a special kind of prejudice and ignorance. I’ve met a number of people over the years who claim that they only read dead white European writers of the last century or earlier. Since these writers are not currently very prolific, it usually turns out that the claimant does not read at all. Or reads the same few ‘classics’ over and over again.
8. What is the new book you’re writing about? No writer wants to discuss a work in progress. It dissipates the idea and it disturbs the creative process.
9. Let me tell you about the book I’m writing. Please don’t. For legal and aesthetic reasons.
10. How is your book or books selling? This is sometimes followed with or prefaced by, how much are your advances, or royalties? This is no one’s business. Would the same person walk up to doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants or executives and ask them how much they’re being paid? Unlikely, but some people they feel that writers are fair game. They aren’t.
THINGS TO SAY TO A WRITER YOU’VE JUST MET
1. I love your work.
2. I really, really love your work.
3. I can’t wait to buy your next book.