What Never to Say to a Writer

Here is my list of things I wish no one would ever say to me again. What’s on your list?

* When are they going to make a movie out of your book? Is this a person’s way of saying that a book isn’t good enough, that it has to be a movie? Or do they mean, I can’t be bothered reading, but I’d watch a movie of your story, maybe. Or do they know that only wildly successful writers sell movie rights, and they are so hoping you’ll be one of those? (In which case, they are actually reminding you that you are not one of those!)
* Where do you come up with those ideas? Um. Do people think that authors know the answer to this? Is it purposefully a way to stop conversation dead in its tracks? Or is it a way of saying, how can you write science fiction . . . I mean, it isn’t real, so how can you possibly write it? I, personally, have no clue where my ideas come from. I feel stupid about this, but I truly just don’t know.
* I’d read more science fiction, but there are all those funny names. Funny names? It’s amazing to me that this seems like a big barrier to folks. Oh, and funny words. Words for things that don’t yet exist. Add ’em together and you’ve got a book that will tie your brain into a ndkiel. Can’t have that.
* Is your publisher going to send you on tour? Yes, and they’re going to set me up on Oprah, and provide me a private jet.
* Since you’re not doing anything today, maybe you could __________. (Help me move, drive me to the doctor, attend a Tupperware party, help me rake leaves. . . .) Just because I’m staring at the wall doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. I’m thinking, I’m plotting, I’m preparing to type.

OK, I feel better now.

18 Responses

  1. kateelliott says:

    My two cents.

    on the movie question: I do think some people just don’t read, so they really don’t associate books with something they recognize.

    ideas: my experience with this (admittedly often irritating) question is that most people who ask it REALLY DON’T KNOW, because they don’t get ideas in that way. They may do other amazing things, like be able to look at a block of wood and turn it into a great piece of furniture, or listen to an engine and figure out what is wrong with it, or match colors for interior decoration, or do high level math, or whatever, but don’t have the storytelling gene.

  2. kateelliott says:

    My favorite booksigning question, btw, has to be: Do you know where the cookbooks are?**

    ** substituting any other section for cookbooks.

  3. graywave says:

    My take on the ‘ideas’ question is here.

    By the way, I never tell anyone I’m a writer. I just say I’ve taken early retirement 😉 It explains the poverty and avoids all the silly questions.

  4. Anonymous says:

    most annoying ones ever…

    From a friend who dropped by in the middle of the day while I’m hard at work…

    “Oh, are you doing that writing for fun thing again?”

    From the same friend…

    “Would I like to read it? Oh, bless you. That’s cute.”

  5. Kay says:

    Annoying questions

    I think that’s right, many people don’t read. Probably that’s the genesis of my underlying annoyance at the question.

    The Where do you get your ideas question is a cliche of our industry, so it is amusing to see it surface again and again. I’m sure you’re right, it’s not a slug aimed at the writer. Sometimes I answer, “If you were imprisoned in a room for six weeks and couldn’t come out until you developed a story idea, you would find one.” It’s a way of saying that storytelling is really universal; it’s not that strange.

  6. Kay says:

    Booksigning favs

    My favorite booksigning event was when the bookstore owner’s dog got into my purse and ate the sandwich I’d packed.

  7. Kay says:

    Ideas question

    Thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen that website before; I bookmarked it.

    The world is divided into two types of writers. Those who love saying they are writers, and those who hope it never comes up. You appear to be in the latter category, and I may join you. Early retirement explains not only the poverty, but why it looks like you’re not doing anything.

  8. kateelliott says:

    Re: Annoying questions

    well, I can get annoyed when people ask me the movie question, as if my book isn’t worth anything unless it’s a movie. and I do think some people valuate like that. Feh to them!

    But over time I’ve come to accept the ideas question as one asked often with genuine befuddlement or cluelessness.

  9. kateelliott says:

    Re: Booksigning favs

    oh, that’s funny

  10. Kay says:

    Re: Booksigning favs

    Yeah, well I loved the “Where are the cookbooks?”
    God, that says it all.

  11. nobu says:

    As to the second question, about ideas… well, I’ve learned to answer that one with a completely random thing, usually something that doesn’t exist. “Ideas? Oh, I just put shark glitter in my tea everyday before I sit down to write. Works like a charm. Literally.”

  12. Kay says:

    Ironic retorts

    Good one. And I like to say,”Walla Walla. There’s a P.O. Box in Walla Walla that sends ideas if you include a self-addressed envelope.)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Questions and the idea factory

    My particular answer to the idea question is to say “I borrow them from Neil.” It’s not really an answer but it confuses people enough to buy me time to figure out the question they are really asking. [Where do you come up with all these ideas? Dang, I want to know how to stop. I’ve got more than I can finish as it is.]

    In some ways, the question of where to get ideas is a legitimate one. Let me clarify, when I go to a school or library program and a kid asks me that question, it’s a legitimate question. When a “grown-up” asks, it’s just annoying. (I’ll answer kids as honestly and constructively as I can because they really don’t know things like “what if” or the difference between an idea and a story and the schools aren’t really good at helping them with that anyway.) My nightmare variation on that question is the offer of: “I’ve got a great idea that I’ll give you and you can write it and we’ll split the money.” (My usual answer to that is: “How about we do it the other way? I’m full up on ideas but if you’ll take one of mine and write it, I’ll be happy to split the cash with you.”)

    Your note on “since you’re not doing anything” really made me laugh. I live on my father’s farm. The dear man seems incapable of understanding that writing isn’t something that can be interrupted at the drop of a hat when he suddenly decides to restack the hay barn.

    My current question that I cringe at is “Did you know that there’s a massive copy-editing goof in chapter four?”

  14. Anonymous says:


    Mea Culpa, didn’t mean to be totally anonymous there. The previous post was just me again.


  15. Kay says:

    Re: Questions and the idea factory

    Very funny about the copy editing goof. “Oh,” I responded once in that situation, “you mean Vancouver is NOT in northwest Canada?”

    Given Really ugly mistakes, you just might try to brazen it out.

  16. Answer to annoying question

    Kay said, “Just because I’m staring at the wall doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. I’m thinking, I’m plotting, I’m preparing to type.”

    Or, “I’m receiving my ideas from the emitter in the wall—oops. Now I’m going to have to kill you.” Then smile. Mildly.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Re: Answer to annoying question

    This opens up a whole new set of options for the big annoying question. “Where do you get your ideas?” Author replies, deadpan: “From my emitter in the wall.” Then if blank stares ensue, one could go on, “Do you ever wonder why they put emitters in walls?”

  18. Kay says:

    Re: Answer to annoying question

    Meant to identify myself on that last.

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