what not to say… to a writer

It’s the first Thursday of September. So that means it’s time for another round of “What Not to Say!”

Today we’re talking about writers. We’re a funny breed, a quirky bunch of artist-types. We may vary a lot, but there are some things that unite us, specifically things we’d rather not hear you say.

“Have you heard anything yet from that agent/editor/other important person?” We’re glad you care about us and our writing careers. We are. But see, if we’re waiting for big, important, life-changing news, we’re trying our hardest to be patient and not lose our minds. (It’s incredibly hard.) Every time you ask, you remind us we haven’t heard anything yet. Or you force us to tell you that it was a no. Believe me, when we’ve got good news to share, you won’t have to ask. (The only exception to this is if you’re a writer too. But tread carefully.)

“What are you working on?” This is a tricky one. Sometimes we want to talk about it, sometimes we need time to brainstorm. In many cases, the idea is such an inchoate concept, we’re not sure it’s quite right yet. So don’t pressure us. Try something that gives us an out. Like “how’s the writing going?” Then we can go as in-depth or superficial as we like.

“Do you write for a living?” aka, “Are you a real writer?” I understand the reason behind this. When you introduce yourself as a writer, people naturally want to know if you’ve got a handful of books out or you scribble poetry every now and then that you hide under your mattress. But we already doubt ourselves. Usually at least every other day. So when you ask that question, we start to wonder, Am I real writer? So skip this question and go for “What do you write?” That’s a good question. It allows us to tell you where we are on the publishing spectrum, how much we’ve written, etc. All those things you want to know without making us feel like a complete failure.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll be published soon.” Any kind of empty platitude drives me nuts. If you don’t know it for sure, don’t say it. Not to mention, “soon” isn’t quite how the publishing world works. We don’t expect you to know everything about the publishing world. We don’t know everything about your work, so we wouldn’t promise you something about your job. Yes, encouragement is good. But not platitudes. Try something more meaningful. Tell us you think we’re talented. Tell us you believe in our skills. Don’t pretend to know the future.

“Hey, I know what you should write about…” A lot of people seem to have ideas for books, especially people we hardly know. And while hearing new ideas is awesome, we’re writing our own books. We don’t particularly want to write yours. Not to mention, sometimes your idea sucks, but we’re forced to pretend it doesn’t because we’re nice. We don’t tell you how to do your job. We’d appreciate it if you’d return the favor.

So there you have it. Five things not to say to a writer. Tell me, writers, what would you add to this list?


  1. J.L. Lyon
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 14:21:19

    “I think I could write a novel, if I could only find the time.”

    My least favorite of all.


    • halee
      Sep 06, 2012 @ 14:44:49

      Right? Because obviously writing a book is so easy, anyone can do it! Especially those who’ve never tried.


  2. Amanda G. Stevens
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 00:46:34

    I was once told, “You should write a screenplay [i.e. instead of a novel] about zombies.”

    … Okay, dude, I’ll get right on that. Lol.


    • halee
      Sep 07, 2012 @ 01:46:20

      Lol! Well naturally you should take career advice from a random person. Funny how free people are with advice, even if they have no experience whatsoever.


  3. Jennifer K. Hale
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 09:24:47

    I’m kinda with Amanda above. Just because I write fiction doesn’t mean I’m qualified to be an investigative journalist for your local website or newspaper. No, I don’t want to apply for a job posting you’ve found for me as a writer. KThanks.


    • halee
      Sep 12, 2012 @ 14:24:37

      No? I’m shocked! 😉


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