Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things People Need To Stop Saying To Writers

There are things that we, as writers, are sick and tired of hearing.  Every time we hear them, we want to fly into a rage, or perform a facepalm of epic proportions.  Or both. 

Seriously, though.  PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: YOU NEED TO STOP SAYING THESE THINGS TO WRITERS.

Okay, so I have a little pent-up frustration here.  I'm going to go ahead and post anyway because a) I want to b) the First Amendment says I can.

For each situation, I'll give an "Acceptable Writer Response" (AWR).*  It's the response that writers will often feel thing giving when people say these things.  Often, it's just a case of throwing their own logic right back at them.

*Disclaimer: If you want to keep your friends, then don't actually use the AWR.  You've been warned.

1. When are you going to find something real to occupy yourself with?
So, let's say you like to read books.  Guess what?  Somebody wrote those books.  Somebody along the lines made money off the sale of that book.  Somewhere along the line, then, the author got royalties from that book, related to the transfer of the book from the publisher to your hands.  This money is real.

Also, to a writer, their fictional worlds and character are real.  We make them real by writing about them.  They are as real to us as any other person.  If you don't understand that, you never will. 

Acceptable Writer Response: When are you going to ask me a real question?   

2. You're still working on that book?
To clarify: "How's that book going?"=acceptable question.  Insinuating that this book has taken an absurd amount of time to write=not acceptable.  Writing a book takes a long time.  It takes longer for some people than others.  I can't stand it when people are surprised that I haven't finished my book in two months.

AWR: You're still asking me that question?

3. Writing isn't a real job.
Oh, yeah?  What about all those authors that, I don't know, MAKE THEIR LIVING off writing?  Many authors sell enough books to support themselves.  I don't know how you can call that "not a real job".

AWR: By that logic, neither is directing a movie or recording an album.

4. Oh, I'm a writer, too.  I wrote a short story once.
Here is how I define a writer: someone who writes for personal enjoyment or for a writing-related profession on a regular basis.  See also: not the person who asks this question.

AWR: I played baseball once.  Am I a baseball player?

5. I'm sure I could write a wonderful book, if I actually had the time to sit down and do it.
I actually wrote an entire article about this awful phenomena.  You can read it right here.  In short: no, not everyone has it in them to write a book.  Writing a book is harder than non-writers think it is.

Also, this is a bit offensive.  Oh, yeah, you could just do that thing I've spent hundreds of hours working on, if only you just had some extra free time?  That's all it takes, and you could do it too?  No.

AWR: *Just walk away.  Don't honor this with a response.*

6. To be successful as a writer, you have to be, like, J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or something.
Yeah, okay.  And what they probably said to Rowling was "You have to be Hemingway", and they told Hemingway "You have to be Dickens", and they told Dickens he had to be Shakespeare. 

AWR: I'm actually a clone of [insert successful author name here].  So yeah, actually, I am already successful.

7. Put me in it!
Have you never read a book, or what?  Have you ever considered the amount of trauma a fictional character goes through?  If their life was happy, there would be no story and nobody would want to read about the character.  So no, you don't really want to be a fictional character.

AWR: Yeah, want to be a Confederate foot soldier in my gritty Civil War novel?
Or, alternately: Get in line.

8. Why aren't you published yet?
Contrary to popular belief, you can't become a published author by simply churning out a book and mailing it to a publisher.  It's a lengthy, often difficult process.  Not every writer gets published.  Not every writer even wants to be published.

AWR: Trick question.  I actually write under the pseudonym George R. R. Martin/James Patterson/Danielle Steel.

9. When you're published, I'll be first on the list for an autographed copy, right?
Published authors don't, actually, have unlimited access to free copies of their book.  In many cases, they have to buy copies like everyone else.  Besides, if you really wanted to support that author, you'd go out and buy a copy.  Then maybe the author would be a little more willing to sign it.

AWR: Well, if you keep saying things on this list, then...no.

10. I had an idea for a book once.  It's about X and Y who *launches into fully detailed description of plot*
Pro tip: Just because we write doesn't mean we want to hear your plot ideas.  Trust me.  For one, just because we're writers doesn't mean we automatically want to hear every single plot idea you've ever had.  We have more ideas than we can handle on our own.

AWR: *launch into more detailed synopsis of current story (ensure this takes at least 15 minutes)*

11. Oooh, so you'll be the next Shakespeare!"
I hate how people are always calling something "the next Harry Potter" or "the next Hunger Games" or anything on those lines.  You can't be "the next", because it's already happened, and the same thing won't happen twice. 

AWR: No, I won't be the "next Shakespeare", even if I did believe in reincarnation.

12. You write fiction novels?
Dictionary.com defines novel as a "fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes". Did you hear that? Fictitious. There is no such thing as a novel that isn't fiction. Saying "fiction novel" is like saying CIA agency. It's redundant.
AWR:
 
13.  I wrote a book.  Will you read it?
Just because we write books doesn't mean we're in the business of editing for free.  Or even reading random people's unpublished novels at all, for that matter.

AWR: Um, are you willing to edit my 250,000-word beast in return?

14. Where do you get your ideas?
For the writer, ideas just happen.  There's no explanation.  They just come.  They are a way of life, and we can't control them.

AWR: Oh, I don't know.  I eat an omelet.**

17. What's your book about?
This might sound like an innocent question, and it is.  But don't be surprised if you don't get a straight answer.  The problem is, whatever we say will sound weird.  If I say I'm writing a young adult high fantasy, people will either think I'm dumbing down my writing because it's YA (anyone who thinks that needs to have their head dunked in a cold tank of water.  Just sayin'.), or won't even know what high fantasy is.  If I say I'm writing about a boy with forgiveness and trust issues who runs amok (unsupervised!  Gasp!) around a made-up kingdom with a less-than-six-months-old dragon, a street thief, and an unemployed farm girl and steals dragon eggs, people will think there's something wrong with me.

AWR: [insert the most absurd, weird, obscure combination of experimental genres you can think of]

18. I write fanfiction too!
I have 99 million problems with fanfiction and this is definitely one of them.  There is more that you can write than fanfiction.  Writing fanfiction and writing an original novel are two very different things.  With fanfiction, the characters are already there and developed, and all you need to do is build on what already exists.  With a novel, you have to start from scratch, which is harder than it sounds.

AWR: No.  Just...no. 

19. I have a great idea for a book.  You could write it and we could both share the profits.
Um, it doesn't work like that.  Besides, wouldn't there be an awfully unfair division of labor?  The writer is doing all the work in this situation, and thus deserves all the credit.

AWR: Yeah, sure.  Just make sure the sharing works out to me getting everything.

Let's be honest.  Nothing makes writers angrier than hearing one of these things.  So, non-writers, let's eliminate them from everyone's vocabulary forever, shall we?

Has anyone ever said one of these things to you?  How did you respond?  How did you want to respond?

**For those of you who don't know: once, an interviewer asked Robert Downey Jr. how he prepares for an acting role.  His response, in the typical Tony Stark RDJ style was "Oh, I don't know.  I eat an omelet."

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2 comments:

  1. About two years ago, my friend asked if she could be in my book. Not wanting to be rude (because back then I was a bit of a doormat) I did.
    Shortly afterwards, we had a major fallout. So I killed her off. It was a lot of fun.

    Incidentally, when you said, 'are you willing to edit my 250,000-word beast in return?' I read it as 'my 250,000 wordbeast'
    You know, I think wordbeast is a great alternative word for novel.

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  2. People who say these things. This is them. *indicates small, mouldy tomato* This is me. *indicates fist*. Observe. *violently squashes tomato with fist*.

    However, I'm not so sure about the fanfiction hate. I personally don't write fanfics, and though I agree with your comment that the characters and universes are pre-formed, and thus the process is half as difficult, I think that that suits some people. Perhaps they are writing entirely for their own enjoyment, and so don't feel they need to impress or entertain anyone but themselves, or perhaps they really don't care much for characters at all - what they like is the prose. Just a thought, but like I say, I'm no expert in this field.

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