Twelve Things Never To Say To A Writer

Twelve Things Never To Say To A Writer

Occupation: other

Now that I'm a full-time author I can legitimately write it on official forms that ask me for my occupation – although for those that give you a category to select, author is never there. Not even writer or anything writing-related. So I have to choose 'other' or 'self-employed', which are vague and bland and could mean anything from snake catcher to freelance circus juggler.

And when asked in social situations what I do, I say I'm an author, and have done so for some time, well before I left my job last year. Because that is who I am, a core part of my identity, regardless of how many hours a week I spend at it.

Telling people I'm an author invariably results in an expression of surprise, I guess because most people don't come across many authors in their day to day interactions. (And of course, we are a rather exotic species, very shy and anti-social, often hiding for days in our lairs, unless tempted out by promises of coffee and/or wine).

Is there a taxidermist in the house?

One lady even said to me with an air of amazement, 'I've never met a real author before!'

Which made me feel as if I should have been stuffed and in a museum.

People ask the usual questions – what do you write, how do you get your ideas etc and are always really interested to hear about being an indie author and the whole self-publishing journey. I happily answer their questions because I love talking about writing (hey, it's often more fun than doing it!) and doing my bit to increase the profile of indie authors. Occasionally I'm on the receiving end of a thoughtless comment – although to be fair, the person making the comment is blissfully unaware of it.

How to get writers hot under the collar

A few months ago, a hot topic for discussion around the virtual water-cooler on Twitter was Ten Things Not to Say to a Writer. It was started by acclaimed author Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) and It invited 119 000 responses – all from writers of course. It certainly touched a nerve, and it appears that we writers are delicate little flowers when it comes to our art and don’t appreciate careless comments, even though in most cases, they're not intended to hurt.

Here are my 10 favourites from that discussion, in no particular order of preference.

What's your real job?

Contributed by Joanne. She's a very successful, award- winning author with a swag of books under her belt – she doesn't need or want another job.

Have I heard of you?

Contributed by Jodi Picoult. If they haven't heard of you, Jodi, there's not much hope for the rest of us!

How's the book coming along?

My contribution. What can you say apart from 'fine, ' resulting in an awkward silence? Start talking about the scene in your novel where the scullery maid, who was in love with the butler, found out he'd got the cook pregnant, and you weren't sure whether that should be the second plot point or the climax, and watch their eyes glaze over.

I picked up your book in the remainder bin at Dymock's.

What can I say but Ouch! And resist the temptation to ask how much!

I like listening to your audiobooks because they help me fall asleep.

Ouch again – unless the book is about how to cure insomnia.

You don't look like a writer.

In other words, you look quite normal - no ink stained shirt/just-got-out-of-bed-hair/caffeine addiction twitching/muttering to yourself in public/haunted hungry look from too many late nights and three minute noodles.

I guess you could take it as a compliment.

We only serve decaf.

No self-respecting writer would be seen dead drinking decaf. Like vegetarian sausages or non-alcoholic wine, there's no point to it.

I could write a book if I had the time.

Just put aside a few week-ends and you can dash one off. No need to worry about learning the craft.

I've got a great idea for a book. You write it and we'll split the profits.

Sure thing. You tell me your idea and I'll spend the next 12 months slaving away over my computer, writing, re-writing, re-writing some more, editing, editing some more and publishing the book. I'm sure you put a lot of time and effort into thinking up your idea, so it’s perfectly reasonable that you get half the profits.

Say whatever you like to me – it beats being ignored or forgotten.

Contributed by author J.A Konrath. I like the positive spin – any publicity is better than none at all.

And here's an extra two because I always like to deliver more than promised. These fall under the category of Useless Advice:

Why don't you write something like Fifty Shades of Grey?

You should get (inaccessible super-famous person) to blurb your book!

Author and blogger Chuck Wendig also has his own unique take on the issue in his blog post Ten Things To Never Say To A Writer (language warning) and looking at it from the opposite angle, Spellbound Scribes have written a blog post Ten Things To Say To A Writer.

Any that you can add? I'd love to hear your amusing/original/downright insulting contributions in the comment box below.

About the Author Robin Storey

Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.

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