Thursday, May 12, 2016

5 Things Not to Say to an Author

Occasionally I go out. When I go out, often it comes up that I am an author. People are usually pretty great about it, but many times someone says something that really just gets under my skin. After three years now of informally gathering data, I present to you the five worst comments that we hear.

1.      I Could Write, but I Don’t Have the Time
Here’s the thing, none of us have the time, some of us make the time. Most authors I know have a day job and a family in addition to their writing career. They have houses, hobbies, significant others, field trips, and pets. Being an author doesn’t somehow magically release you from all of your other obligations, though wouldn’t it be amazing if it did? We write because it is such an intrinsic part of us that we don’t feel whole unless we do. We become cranky, irritable, creatively constipated. So we make time. We give up sleep, we jot things down in the checkout line at the supermarket, or dictate into our phone while we are driving. We sacrifice time out in favor of a night at our laptops. We wake up hours early or stay up hours late. To assume that we just “have the time” cheapens the deliberateness and sacrifice we make for the sake of our passion.

2.      You Should Write My Story- You Wouldn’t Believe It.
This is generally followed by the line, “you’ve never heard anything like it.” Actually, I have. In fact, I have this exact conversation at least once a week. I don’t want to write your story. You write your story. I want to write my stories. Also, real-life drama generally doesn’t for good stories. Either they are not as interesting for the larger audience than they are for the writer, or they come across as trite, bitter, or contrived. So listen, if you want to write your memoir, do it. You have my full support. If you want to fictionalize some aspect of your life, even better. But please, please do not make me feel like I need to sit down with a stranger and take notes on their life story so that I can somehow help them. I love helping people, just not that way.

 I Always Thought I Could Be a Writer?
Really? I always thought I could be a Neurosurgeon. You know, if I’d applied to med school Then graduated. Then picked a specialty. Then excelled at it. If I’d done all of that, I could totally be a neurosurge
on. In fact, I bet I could do it now. I’ve watched a lot of medical shows after all. I took an anatomy class online. Sound ridiculous? It does to us as well. Being a writer involves dedication, practice, honing your craft, talent, all sorts of things. Can anyone do it? Maybe. Should everyone do it? No, no they shouldn’t. Can the average person toss out a well-crafted novel on the fly? Not usually. Give us some credit, please.

4.      If I Tell You My Idea, You’ll Steal It
No, I won’t. There are so many reasons I won’t. First and foremost, I have way too much respect for other people to do something like that. Our ideas, that little seed that germinates into this (hopefully) beautiful, blooming plant, those are precious. I won’t come creeping into your garden and steal yours. I’m a better person than that. Second, I have enough ideas of my own, thank you very much. I currently have 12 novels outlined, and that’s less than a lot of people I know. These are ideas that I had, about which I am passionate. I don’t need your idea, and I’m kind of insulted at your implication.  Finally, I know that it wouldn’t be as good even if I did. Our ideas are our passions, our perspective, and trying to write as you, or write something you saw, just wouldn’t work. So please, don’t worry.

5.      But What’s Your REAL Job?
Other job? Sure. Day job? Likely. But please don’t use the word “real.” “Real” implies that writing is fake, invalid, when the simple fact is that for most of us it’s the other job that is unreal. Writing is when we come alive. It’s when everything feels like it is falling into place. It is us pursing our passions, talents, and drives. Please, don’t try to tell me that’s not real.

So that’s it. Next time you see an author, pull up a chair and chat if you like. But be kind, be respectful, and don’t be one of those people.

So, fellow authors, what WOULD you like people to say? 


  1. I would like people to say things like: "When do your ideas come to you, usually?"

    You know? As in, let's talk about the craft. Let's discuss procedure and tactics in getting story from nebulous brain-thing onto paper. Since they're talking to a publisher when they come to you, they can even ask things like how many revisions or editors does a manuscript have to go through before it's generally considered 'done'?

    After hearing about your 12 novels in outline, I'd probably want to ask you if you wrote on them all at once, in shifts, or is there a queue and you don't start the next until the first is complete?

  2. 1. Yes. My sister schedules her writing time each day and keeps it like an appointment. My parents got me a micro recorder to keep in my purse for those random inspirations.

  3. 1. Yes. My sister schedules her writing time each day and keeps it like an appointment. My parents got me a micro recorder to keep in my purse for those random inspirations.