Things People Say To Writers

Reading & Writing

Inspired by the earlier post about bookshops I’ve started making a note of the things people say to me when they find out I’m a writer, in order of the most frequent, and the responses I should have given.

‘Do you write under your own name?’ (Why? What’s wrong with my name?)

‘Aren’t you lucky!’ (Yes, it’s funny. The harder I work, the luckier I get.)

‘Have I heard of you?’ (I already know you haven’t.)

(Apologetic) ‘I’m afraid I hardly ever get time to read.’ (If you were interested in reading you’d read.)

‘What have you written that I’ve read?’ (I’m not clairvoyant.)

‘Is there any money in that?’ (Yes, no need to work again for a fortnight.)

‘What would be your advice to someone like me?’ (Choose anything else. Drain cleaning, anything.)

‘Isn’t it very hard to get published these days?’ (Not if you’re EL James.)

‘I’ve got an idea for a story. I can email it to you.’ (Sure. Let me give you my dentist’s address.)

‘I’d love to be a writer, but I don’t lead a very interesting life.’ (Actually, Marcel Proust spent most of his time in his bed.)

‘Don’t you ever run out of ideas?’ (I probably will when I’m dead.)

‘Do you ever get writers’ block?’ (No. You work your way out of it.)

‘Do you base characters on people you know?’ (Yes, you’re going straight into the next one.)

11 comments on “Things People Say To Writers”

  1. Mike Cane says:

    Coming soon:

    “Where can I download your book for free?”


    “Oh, yeah. I just downloaded your book for free last week.”

    Commence ripping out hair.

  2. Sam Tomaino says:

    Here ate two things (I bet) a writer does not like to hear:

    “I don’t like your books and here’s why”

    or even worse

    “I like your books, but I can’t find them.” (which might not be the case, anymore, in today’s Internet world)

  3. David F says:

    “Where do you get your ideas from”
    “Are all your characters based on real people?”
    “What happened to X character after the book ended?”
    “I know what you should write about next!” [insert interminable convoluted stream of consciousness that sounds horrendous here]

    You wouldn’t have to worry about any of the stock questions from me, as I have The Author Fear. If I read and like someone’s work, I’m completely incapable of rational conversation due to the awe (Oh my God, that thing I loved just…came out of your BRAIN! And your BRAIN is now here, talking to me. HELP!). Which is why with my author friends I never dare read their work – as if I liked it the fear would come on, and if I didn’t like it things would feel really awkward! They all seem to understand, though.

  4. John Howard says:

    I understand your fear David, which is why it is so great to have a writer of admin’s calibre happy posting a daily blog for us to peruse and calmly respond to. If we’re lucky and he likes what we think then we might even get the joy of a response.

    Just keep looking for those red blocks.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    “And what do you do now that you’ve retired?”
    “I’ve resumed writing. I write until elementary school ends, then I take care of a granddaughter, and I paint abstracts when there’s time.”
    “Really? Have you ever sold?”
    “I have never sold a granddaugher.”
    “Oh that’s funny. You’re a funny man. Would I have read you?”
    “Do you like fiction?”
    “Well, really, not so much. Mostly… I enjoy reading non-fiction and self-improvement stuff.”
    “I write fiction with non-fiction sturred in. Some gets translated into German by my wife.”
    “Wow, and you’re married, too. How interesting. You’re a busy guy.”
    From last Saturday afternoon at a reception after my nephew’s wedding.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I’ve never written thank yous to authors I’ve really liked because of the feeling David expresses so clearly up there and by the time I get up the nerve I hear the person has recently died (probably of despair at not getting that one special appreciation letter). With all the stuff on the web these days I don’t have the same urge because I assume authors hear more appreciation than they used to, but am I right? We know Chris hears because we shout but is it a fair assumption?

  7. snowy says:

    Ha. It’s the same in every job. 🙂

    ‘Hello, I’ve got a problem with my X’ [ I guessed that as your talking to me ]

    ‘Are you busy?’ [ Well you did see me stop what I was doing , so I could listen to you ]

    ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with it’ [ I guessed that as you are still talking to me ]

    ‘I just turned it on and nothing happened’ [ The smoke stains and burn marks would suggest otherwise ]

    ‘It was working yesterday’ [ I guessed that as you weren’t here yesterday ]

    ‘I don’t know anything about this sort of stuff’ [ I kind of worked that out for myself ]

    ‘I tried doing Y’ [ Given your last statement that was either foolhardy or potentially fatal ]

    ‘I looked it up on the Internet’ [ Oh do tell ]

    ‘It didn’t help’ [ Quelle surprise ]

    ‘Do you know what’s wrong with it?’ [ Not having a telepathic link with inanimate objects, No ]

    ‘Can you fix it?’ [ I love existential questions ]

    ‘I need it urgently/today/tomorrow’ [ So you say, but past experience suggests you’re bluffing ]

    ‘I’ll leave it with you’ [ Well it would save dragging 200kg of diagnostic equipment up three floors, thanks ]

    ‘Can you give me a call when it’s fixed’ [ Given you will be calling me every hour to ask if it’s ready, I think we got that covered ]

  8. admin says:

    Here’s a red block for you, John. I once got the chance to meet my hero, JG Ballard (we had corresponded a few times, but that’s different) via a mutual friend, who saw me across a room and called out ‘Come over and meet Jim?’ I’m ashamed to say that I froze and quietly slipped away, partly because we were at a post-screening party for ‘Crash’ and I thought the film a travesty. I also knew that Ballard had endorsed it.

    Even so, it was an act of cowardice I now deeply regret.

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    My wife and I attended the NASA sponsored premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey and were seated at a round table empty, but for ourselves, and one other man. I had been asked to chat with him, but warned that he was rather hard to chat with. “Who is he?” I’d asked. “Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick adapted his novel for the film.” (I hadn’t read much of his writing. Oh boy.)
    I sat down and immediately froze. Clark sat with nothing before him on the table, just looking at the white cloth. I suspected some sort of meditation or brain-drafting was going on. Or jetlag.
    I finally said: “Mr. Clark, how did you like the movie?” He said: “They changed my story somewhat, particularly the ending, but that’s all right.”
    Long silence, while I scrambled for a general question or two about writing that would probably make me sound like an ass. I finally said: “Considering the ending do you think you’ll write a follow-up novel?” “I doubt it.” (Well, he did, under money and publisher pressure, I suspect.)
    “You very recently had a short story in Playboy.”
    “What was it called?”
    “The Deep Ones, I think.(Oh boy.) About sea creatures, whale-types, that communicate by flashing phosphorescent messages back and forth. Rather like the rolling news sign in Times Square.”
    “I don’t remember it, really. (Great.) My agent would have placed it.”
    Long pause.
    “My wife would like another drink. May I get you something, sir? Or a sweet pastry?” “Oh, no, thank you.”
    When I got back he had silently gone. My wife said she had also tried, hard, but… And my wife can draw people out!
    We carried our drinks over to a better-filled table of other guests, who were discussing the strange ending after the “fantastic light show.” Bing! A light went on above my head.
    I suggested that the “baby” had arrived in the Age of Enlightenment, clued by the 17/18th century furniture of the room the star child appeared/was born in. (I kndew Kubrick had struggled for months to find an ending to the film and threw out all the already composed/recorded musical soundtrack for a selection of classical pieces toward the end. “Rude the Kube” he was called, after the famous brain-teasing cube.) I suggested the film was about the evolution, and dangers – HAL, of mankind’s expanding mind; and that the black slab(s) might represent man’s future knowledge in compressed form, like a book/a machined embodiment.” Oh, boy.
    Well, that got the conversation rolling, but too late. Clarke was gone. He might not have commented, but he might have. But maybe only Stanley Kubrick knew the answer.

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    Nuts. Read “Rube the Kube” above.

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    Last addenda of the day. Read “Stan the Kube”. I stand wife corrected, Anna, isn’t your only senior reader.

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