We writers are a fickle group. WE ARE. And yet, we’re also (apparently) immensely interesting to non writers. We divulge that we’re a writer, and, suddenly, half the people in the room are crowding around us asking about our lasted project. THIS IS VERY STRESSFUL, and it often wants to make us run and hide in the corner (we only pretend to be big and brave). And since NaNoWriMo is swiftly approaching, and because there’s a chance that non-writers know someone who’s doing it, I’ve complied a handy guide about how to ask a writer about their writing.
ASK “WHAT GENRE IS YOUR NOVEL”, NOT “WHAT’S YOUR NOVEL ABOUT?”
Writers will easily divulge their novel’s genre. It’s way less stressful to come up with the genre of a novel rather than what it’s about. Sometimes it’s easy (A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but with werewolves), and sometimes it’s extremely hard (there are robots, but they look like bears…and, uh, they’re more intelligent than humans…but they still kind of act like bears…and the main character is a bear-robot who would rather be an android, which is a human-robot…do you know what I mean?).
ASK “HOW DO YOU NAME YOUR CHARACTERS,” INSTEAD OF “WHAT ARE YOUR CHARACTER’S NAMES?”
Sometimes it’s extremely embarrassing to tell someone your character’s names. Mostly if you’re writing high fantasy (There’s, uh, Garblog. And Weelemoore. And, um, Quinnling.). And some people just don’t want to say their character’s names. So ask HOW they name their characters (Baby naming books and the Nameberry website, FYI), instead. And they might let slip a couple of the names they found.
ASK THEM HOW LONG THEY’VE BEEN A WRITER, RATHER THAN WHY THEY LIKE TO WRITE.
Why do you like to play soccer or sing or cook? Because you like it. It’s a really hard question to answer. And even if you know why you like it, often it’s a super personal reason that you might not want to say. It’s the same thing for writing.
ASK THEM IS THEY PLAN TO PUBLISH, AND DON’T TELL THEM WHY THEY SHOULD OR SHOULDN’T.
I’ve had this exact conversation happen before.
Person: Do you plan on trying to publish your novel?
Aine (Me): Yeah, I do.
Person: You know, getting a publisher is really hard, and oftentimes even when you do get a publisher they want to change what you’ve written. You should self-publish. It’s the new thing. Plus, there won’t be people telling you what to do!
Can you see how this would be annoying? Just stop at “are you planning on publishing your novel?” and leave it at that.
ASK THEM, “ARE YOU WANTING PEOPLE TO READ YOUR NOVEL?” INSTEAD OF “CAN I READ YOUR NOVEL?”
I get it, people are curious. But trust me, you DO NOT want to read our first drafts. Our second drafts often go out to a very select group of people. And it’s ten times more awkward to let someone we know personally read our novel rather then someone we only known off the internet. I don’t know why, it just is. But asking this question creates an awkward situation: The writer wants to say HECK NO, but they don’t want to be rude. But if you ask if they want people to read their novel, it’s easier to say, “No, not right now.”
BONUS: DON’T EVER, EVER TELL A WRITER THAT WRITING IS JUST A HOBBY AND NOT AN ACTUAL JOB.
So, tell me writers, is there anything that should be added to this list? Do you feel like there’s anything that should be taken off? Non-writers, do you know many writers? Do you think this list will change the way you talk to writers in the future?