10 Things Writers Hate About You: What Not to Say to a Writer
—by Janae Green
Give life to a person you never met. Get real close, like you’re about to give mouth-to-mouth. Describe what her breath tastes like at 43 and how her teenager wears a fox costume with a tail. Was she a bed-wetter as a kid? Did she suck her thumb until she was twelve, giving her those crooked front teeth? What changes in her life lead her to crouch in the frozen vegetable aisle and urinate next to the value bags of peas?
If you got this far, congratulations (and condolences). You’re a writer.
Your friends hate you because you never return their calls. Mom misses you. You forget the last time you wore pants, which is comfortable enough, but your mattress rubs your bedsores. The fridge empties more every day, but you don’t notice until you ache for charring meat after you masturbate. You finally accept the lunch invitation to eat at that famous BBQ trailer from Mom, who asks, smirking at your crumbled chin and purple eyelids, “So, are you finished writing that,” she laughs, “novel yet?”
Mom’s lucky because she’s Mom; if she were anyone else, that rib bone on your plate might look more and more like a pretty decent shank. This is a question you don’t ask a writer. Writing today might be one of the most punishing and speculative occupations in the market, so don’t be surprised if your writer friends aren’t the happy people they once were. And if you wish to avoid causing a scene on your next friendly outing, here is a list of 10 things you should never say to a writer:
1. “Are you finished writing that novel yet?”
I probably do need to give up and just go to Apollo College and learn medical transcription or vcr repair. —Kristine Levine (@kristinelevine)
You’re adorable, really. Never working a day in your life and chewing those French nails while you shit roses into a glass toilet. Oh, so-and-so wrote her novel in a single weekend, is that right?
Because real writers are not word-processing robots, either so-and-so is a liar or you need to flush your filthy mouth. You can conceive a baby in one sweaty weekend, but it still takes several more moist months before that tadpole looks half-human. Then after its limbs and face and brain, of course, that baby is only the beginning of the story.
The novel was not built in a weekend, or 48 hours from the time the writer told you about it. First drafts can take months and often years before the second draft can even think of rising from the writer’s pen to your fingertips. Like any other profession, the travel time between blank space and whole worlds takes time. You wouldn’t ask your server at a restaurant if your food is ready upon ordering, and you sure as hell wouldn’t eat a chicken sandwich raw and pecking. Give the writer time to work it out, or don’t be surprised whose squawk is served on a platter.
2. “Will you write a good review for my [insert your scribbles here]?”
i really hope that every morning michael keaton wakes up someone says to him you were the best batman there will ever be. —Jenny Sadre-Orafai (@86753ohnine)
Is my book pretty? Is it pretty?
Here is the difference between people who can write versus the writer: pussy writers versus pussy writers (see also dick writers versus dick writers; their bodies versus your body). You either write to sell, which makes your work bullshit—like gendered slang: grotesque, arrogant, useless—or, by the mouths of gods, you are the tormented latter: you write for the sake of writing. You will see both types on the best seller’s list, but avid readers will be able to tell the difference. True writers create work bibliophiles will seek and remember forever.
In other words, novice writers, don’t be a weight on another artist’s dust jacket. More often than not, your writer friends will ask to read or review your work on their own. For established writers to endorse a novice either means you’re well loved, or you’re deserving. Otherwise, begging for good reviews is a lot like stealing—you have to earn them, or the readers will figure it out. They can read, after all.
3. “How much does [that writing job] pay you?”
online dating bio: SWF can’t cook, clean, or raise kids, looks Jewish but isn’t, 200k student loan debt, likes pie, will laugh at your farts —Ivy Pruss (@IvyPruss)
To answer your question, it’s probably not enough.
Even with that expensive flat or that second or third heap of metal, you can still be unhappy. What’s even more likely is the super rich are just as miserable as the rest of us stretching the questionable leftovers from Tuesday night’s Chinese into breakfast.
When you’re a writer, you’re probably not in it for the money. That’s right: writers choose to be writers not only because they have a story to tell, but because their world isn’t right without it. But before you think too much on the artist’s selfless aim to change the world—the only true bleeding heart lies with the strive to keep it beating. A writer’s drive is less about happiness than it is about sanity, or insanity.
So, are you going to eat that?
4. “Your story reminds me of [some super famous author]’s [super famous story].”
editor says i have to come up with a more “timeless” title than “Fuckboy” —Daniela Olszewska (@bloodyicecream)
Oh, that piece you slaved over for the last 5 years? Another writer beat you to it.
Facing an identity crisis, your protagonist loses hope but falls into an unexpected journey of self-discovery. You’re right. That sounds exactly like Fight Club, The Bell Jar, Pet Sematary, The Little Engine That Could, Macbeth …
Fuck Off, She Wrote.
Every story has already been told, or so they say, but the same story has never been told the same way twice. If one were to say, imagine a tree outside your window. What tree do you see? A Douglas Fir? How about a weeping willow?
What if a writer sees Tina from Bob’s Burgers dressed as a tree? See, although the writer is reminded of another writer’s work, the story changes. Rather than fumbling her lines in a murder mystery at her father’s restaurant, Tina is now outside a writer’s window. Looks like her story is new. Imagine that.
5. “You should write a story about that.”
its spelled ‘alright’ instead of ‘all right’ because even the people who made up how its spelled knew that word means “i’m lying i’m not ok” —Lane Moore (@hellolanemoore)
If this suggestion follows a conversation, you forgot to listen.
Humans need to be more than their profession. Just like a nurse hates when a person asks about their mysterious rash when they’re off the clock, writers hate when conversation is dismissed as new material. Conversation, like any other human interaction, helps us coexist on this otherwise terrible, horrible, no good, very bad planet. You wouldn’t say, “Maybe you should stuff her for your mantle,” to your taxidermist friend who just lost a grandmother, so why would you push your writer friend back to the desk when you’re supposed to be—oh, let’s just say—sharing a cup or two together?
6. “What do you plan to do with your English degree?”
Marking every reminder that my loan grace period is halfway over as spam and abuse. —Brittany Spanos (@ohheybrittany)
If you want to see the graduate in its natural habitat, the most common species of the English major can be found on their bedroom floor. Watch how the graduate’s cheek plants the carpet and just lies there. But don’t be alarmed. It mostly just comes here to watch the light change.
If you’d like, you can coo the writer like its mother might. Nurture the English major with, “You can be anything you want,” then offer, “How about computers instead?”
Some people don’t know this, but an English degree? You can keep your critical thinking in there. Most use it to write. In fact, all the science and business-related fields are so desperate to hire writers that it would seem most English graduates get to have their skills and use them, too.
7. “What is your novel about?”
At night: “How can I even write one sentence” In the morning w/ coffee: “Why write ONE sentence when I can write ONE THOUSAND?? HAHAHAH” —Chelsea Hodson (@ChelseaHodson)
What do your insides look like? Turn on the porch light.
Believe it or not, the process of most art is unexpected. A writer creates a world that calls to be created, and much like a sleepwalker, wakes in an unexpected place. Quite often, writers don’t know where they’re going until they arrive. Like you should never wake a sleepwalker, you should never wake a writer from the creation process. Some call this an urban legend; others call it a Breaking Story at 12.
A suggestion? Read the work when it’s finished.
8. “Is this story about me?”
“My voice is only loud because I’m trying to talk over everyone else.” —obnoxious former classmate
Mom, this isn’t about you. No, no, really, this isn’t about you.
A writer cannot write you; your script is yours. Any grievances you may have will have to be taken up with the universe. Of course, what you do or say could end up in the story, but that’s something that you already wrote yourself, right?
In other words, don’t do it if you don’t want it written. We’re watching you.
9. “So, what do you do all day?”
It’s 3 AM. I stayed up writing and editing everything but the assignment. That rewrite shit ain’t gonna happen. Fight me. —Bassey Ikpi (@Basseyworld)
Writers are not sitting around all day eating Lucky Charms. So much more is involved. Writers take several naps a day, too.
All creation has a precise process, and every writer has one. The most polite answer is whatever gets the words on the page, but the most honest answer is whatever I want, you’re not the boss of me, and pass the bottle this way.
10. “Did this really happen to you?”
I’m so introverted it’s sometimes a major liability. —Ursula V-Moura (@Ursulaofthebook)
Yes, but only the parts you don’t believe.
Yeah. A person would never drive a vehicle across state lines on three tires, right? They would notice the sparks and the sound and feel of metal grinding asphalt, or get pulled over.
Or, they would just turn the radio up.
Don’t look so surprised. The other parts are about you. No, not about you, Mom.
What non-writers might consider their dingiest secrets—we’re talking about the grimy underbelly, the closet bulge, the puke-stained mattress of your past—writers will crack ribs to free from their minds. Whether you’re a writer or know a writer, it’s important to remember what kind of person you’re talking to. Even the softest recluse will scab her body and peel back secrets, fingers trembling, and consume the most churlish depths of the human psyche for her creation. So, either you create a life yourself or you support your artist, but do stop sucking the dead meat from their bones with your dirty questions. GoFund yourself.
—Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.