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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some Advice For Non-Writers

When you're not a writer, sometimes it can be really tough to understand a writer.  What on earth do they think they're doing?  Why are conversations with themselves?  Why do they keep walking around like a zombie, mouthing the words "only 10k to go...only 10k to go..."?

In this post, my goal is to help non-writers learn to get along better with writers.  Notice how I'm not saying I'll help you understand what makes a writer tick, because, can't.  I'm sorry to put it so bluntly, but it's the truth.  If you aren't a writer, then you're not  going to understand some aspects of us.  And that's fine.  That's how it's meant to be.

I'll start out with a few don'ts.  Don't...

  • Ask, "You done with that book yet?" over and over.  That question is perfectly fine every once and awhile.  In fact, some writers may relish the opportunity to have someone to talk to about their book.  But if you ask over and over and over, it just gets annoying.  And never, ever reply to their answer with "You're still not done?"  Just remember that writing a book is a huge (notice that I just bolded, italicized, and underlined that word) process and could take up to a year or more, depending on the writer.  That's perfectly normal.
  • Try to read over their shoulder while they are writing something.  This might just be the most important no-no of all.  It's just plain rude, people.  No matter how interesting it might be to see what they're writing, the writer definitely won't appreciate it.  In fact, if they're like me, they'll probably get mad at you.  I've snapped at people who tried to do that.  I'm not proud of it, but I did it, and it's best just to avoid the situation altogether.
  • Ask them to "put me in it!"  Like with the first bullet point, this might be okay just once.  They'll probably say "No."  That's not because they don't think you're interesting.  Writers usually have their story defined in their head, and you can't just fit any old character in wherever you want.  Each character has a specific role in the story, and they all should fit together at the end.  Which means that you probably won't fit.  And besides, writers are prone to killing off characters that annoy them.  So by staying out of the story, you might just have saved yourself from a very painful, inventive death.
  • Tell them (or imply) that they're crazy/insane/raving mad.  This is not for the sake of the writer.  It's for your sake.  When told that they're insane, many writers will just grin, look you straight in the eye, and say "Thank you."  They'll mean it, too.  And then you'll look stupid.  So just don't try it.
  • Ask too many questions.  Some writers will happily sit down and tell you all about their story when asked.  On the other hand, some won't feel comfortable sharing.  If this is the case, just leave it.  Don't press for information.  If they keep saying "Well, it's not done yet," then chances are they don't want to talk about it.  
  • Tell them that writing isn't a "real job" and they'll never get anywhere with it.  Really?  Really?  Then what happened to J. K. Rowling?  Stephen King?  Mark Twain?  Shakespeare?  Stephanie Meyer?  Eoin Colfer?  *insert favorite author here*
  • Scoff, laugh, or otherwise put down the fact that they're a writer.  I should hope that this one is self-explanatory.  If you think that writing is ridiculous, great.  Keep it to yourself.  
Also, when a writer spends a lot of time writing, don't think they're antisocial or anything just because they spend all their time holed up, working on that book.  For the writer, writing isn't a pastime.  It's not something they do just as a hobby. 

If you learn nothing else from this point, at least know this: writers write because they simply couldn't exist without it.  It's true.  Never tell a writer "Oh, your book will still be there tomorrow.  Come and bla bla bla with us today!"  For the writer, every day that goes by without finishing their project is just one more day that they have to live with a sense of incompleteness in their lives.  It's hard to understand, I know.  But I've lived with that feeling for almost a year now.  Every day that goes past without writing is a day where I feel like I could've accomplished something but didn't.

All you really need to do is give the writer some space.  Don't get too close while they're writing, and don't pry into their work when they don't want to talk about it.  If you respect their "writerly bubbles", you'll be just fine.
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