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June 8, 2012
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10 Things People Say to Writers (but shouldn't) by Graphospasm 10 Things People Say to Writers (but shouldn't) by Graphospasm
General: These questions and comments come from a rather frustrating family reunion I recently attended. I have been on the receiving end of each of these statements at least once, if not many times more.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying that the questions/comments above should NEVER EVER EVER be asked of/said to a creative writer; some of them (#s6, 10) have their definite place and time. Some of them (#s 1, 2, 3, 9) do not. It also depends on how well you know the writer and how open they are about their work. I also recognize that when comments like these are made, they are not typically meant to injure.

Also: I drew up this list after seeing a similar list aimed at things you are not supposed to say to visual artists, so I can’t say the format of this list (or the concept of “things you don’t say” lists) is terribly original. Just figured I’d disclaim my inspiration!

#1— Yes, I’m still writing my “little” book. No, my work is not less important or less gratifying than your “real” job. No, I will not be giving up my dreams for a “real” job anytime soon. Thank you.

#2—Must be nice not taking my work seriously.

#3—The amount of hair I’ve torn out while writing my novel would suggest otherwise.

#4— I would sell my soul to be able to write books in my spare time, you ignorant hick.

#5— My creative writing degree is from an accredited university and/or college. Thank you.

#6—If YES: “Oh god, you haven’t heard of me, I’m a failure!” If NO: “Oh god, I haven’t been published yet, I’m a failure!”


#8—Use it in your own book, please.

#9—No comment.

#10—Firstly: I can and will talk for ten hours straight on the subject of my book so don’t go there unless you’re actually interested. Secondly: Don’t start telling me how much you think my story sounds like that one book your cousin told you about six months ago after only six seconds of explanation. Thirdly: I have no intention of making use of your “helpful tips.” Fourthly: If you steal my plot I swear to the dearly departed ghost of Ray Bradbury that I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND GUT YOU LIKE A FISH.

#1—My book project isn’t a “little” thing to me. Please don’t patronize my work. I followed my passions and I love what I do. Creative work is just as legitimate as technical work. After all, somebody had to WRITE the script of your favorite TV show, the one you come home and watch to de-stress after a hard day working at your "real" job.

#2—My job comes with all the demands of a “real” job. Deadlines, time crunches, pleasing coworkers and superiors (editors, agents, publishers), dealing with fallout/backlash from consumers, and eyestrain from staring too long at a computer screen. Also carpal tunnel and a sore neck. That’ll kill ya dead.

#3—Writing is extremely difficult. If it wasn’t, everyone would have a book published and publishers wouldn’t reject thousands of manuscripts a year. There’s also an immense drain on the self when you write; creativity is not, as some assume, an easily tapped substance.

#4—Again: If I could write a good novel in my spare time, I’d be filthy rich. I wouldn’t be laboring over a project for years on end. Writing takes time and dedication, not a few weekends and on a whim.

#5—Creative Writing degrees are indeed real; I’m a year away from getting mine and I plan on doing quite a lot with it. There are, perhaps surprisingly for some of you, many ways to use a CW degree! Fun Fact: Many of us go into law.

#6—This is (usually) a perfectly innocent inquiry, but writers (like all artists) seem to be particularly prone to self-doubt. Self-esteem is a fragile thing. Not being published can be a big deal to a writer who hasn't caught their break yet, and if you haven’t heard of us and we ARE published… well. Whoops.

#7—Unless my work is nonfiction, I don’t base characters on real people. Characters should and do take on lives of their own; branding them as “COMPLETELY BASED ON PERSON #464” limits their natural ability to grow and change in the context of their story. Taking some inspiration from real life is wonderful, but I will never base a fictional character completely on a friend or family member. Besides: Imagine if someone you base a character on were to complain that they aren’t “pretty enough” or something. It’s hard enough to write creative nonfiction and not offend people without adding fictional characters into the mix—because in a fictional character you can eliminate flaws or other character devices your model deems unfit to be a part of their portrayal, which ruins the authenticity of the character. It's like when an artist paints a portrait of a picky customer who wants all their perfections erased, even if that means the end result won't look a damn thing like them.

#8—If you have an idea, go write it down. Your ideas do not fit into my story. You are trying to change my story into a story of your own, a DIFFERENT story, the story you think my story should be—but my story is mine, not yours. Write what you want to read. Don’t expect me to do it for you.

#9—I have met several people who’ve asked “Aren’t novelists just professional liars?” Their logic is that liars tell stories, novelists tell stories, and therefore novelists are just liars who get publicity. I’ve also had people say that I must be an excellent liar as a direct result of being a writer, and that they don’t trust me on instinct since I “must be really really good at lying to people" since my “job is all about making stuff up.” I imagine some actors must get this as well. “Are you being sincere or are you just playing a part?”

#10—I can talk about my novel for hours on end, but I can tell that some people get bored within five seconds and were only asking about my work to be polite. Tip for Writers: Prepare a very short description of your work to recite when asked about your projects (think of it as practice for writing the back of your book jacket!). If a person truly wants to know more, they’ll make specific inquiries. Furthermore, sometimes my nonfiction work can be highly personal; I don’t feel it’s appropriate to discuss such stories when asked after by strangers. And then there are always those people who steal ideas... I recently confided a story idea to someone only to have one of their works suspiciously resemble my proposed idea. It was an absolutely devastating experience.
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keelen6 Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014
OMG I get #10 a LOT

I just start talking about it til they get bored and walk away.  ABILITY TO TALK EXPOSITION FOR HOURS FTW!
ReyRay Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is so, so very true. Even for people who don't write professionally! Some people have asked number seven to me before. I just sort of cocked my head and said something along the lines of "I actually take my book seriously, believe it or not."
Those of us in acting do encounter #9 quite often.
Graphospasm Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2013   Writer
ChrissietheArchen Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
1. if someone asked me that... I'd just say it isn't 'little', it could be as big as Harry Potter. And you know those little stories, taking me somewhere. 
2. if they said- I would just say imagine writing 1000 words after a part time job and school (later in life, like 1 year). Not to mention editing until sunrise! 6 hours editing straight. I call that a job. 
3. Okay then, you try writing a 100 page book between school assignments and social time. 
4. You do that. 
5. You can go to uni for cheesemaking, don't see me wide eyed and amazed. 
6. self published, getting there. ;3
7. No... it's too hard to make a character like you. To make you in a story. But you don't know, if you look hard enough some characteristics of you might be in a few characters. (to close friends)
8. Cool story. Feel free to give me loose ideas. 
9. I'd much rather be lying by telling people a amazing world in which their actions can fix then tell the truth that can tear them apart. The world pretty deadly and crazy place. So why not let people escape from it? Through beautiful descriptive lies. 
10. In a nutshell (insert quick confusing storyline here). Did you get any of that?
art-herper Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
every now and then one of my teachers would see me writing and asked me if it was for a nother class and im like No. there like oh, ok.
art-herper Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
yep if you ask to be in my story ussually i put you in and you wont like it
whimandwonder Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
#2 is funny, because writing a novel takes waaaay more work/effort/labor/bloodsweatandtears than a lot of jobs do.

#9 is the weirdest thing I've ever heard. First of all: UM, RUDE. Second of all: WHAT kind of logic is that?? I wonder if they ask that of actors too.

#6 is a valid but very hard-to-take question, because as soon as you answer "No" they're kind of like, "... Oh." Like they're disappointed. It's totally understandable that they'd be curious, because maybe you HAVE, who knows, but when you have to answer No and they look at you like "Oh well what's the point then", it just... sucks.
Graphospasm Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2013   Writer
On #2--Exactly! People totally underestimate how hard it is to write ANYTHING, but less a full length novel.

On #9--They do indeed ask that of actors too. Usually what happens is I tell someone something that happened to me and they say, "How can I trust you? You make up stuff for a living." Ugh.

On #6--It's a boobytrapped question. Most of the time people are just asking because they're curious, but when you say "no" and they get that disappointed look... not cool.
whimandwonder Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I think #9 applies to ANY creative field though. I'm a writer so I get asked the publishing question. I'm an artist so I get asked if I've been shown in a gallery. (That is NOT my goal.) I majored in dance in college so I get asked if I've been in professional companies. (Way to remind me that I suck, lol.) I know they're just curious, but if they're REALLY just curious, then why are they so disappointed?

Oh well!
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