As a writer, albeit one who is just past the aspiring stage as my work does not yet pay the bills, there are certain comments I hear from people constantly. I write books, screenplays and magazine articles, mostly because there’s always something new that I want to write about and I believe that the idea that you should only write in one field is outdated. But whenever people hear that I’m a writer and have in fact published a novel, written a screenplay or what have you, there are a few responses I can always count on. A few, such as ‘wow, that’s amazing’ or ‘you must be so proud’ are certainly appreciated. The ‘I just bought your book and I’m already on the 5th chapter’ response is the one writers love most. But there are certain responses that are worse than nails on a chalkboard. You may have said them before, never realizing how it would be perceived. But just as a heads up, here are a few things you should NOT say to a writer.
1) I’ve always wanted to write a book but never found the time.
Seriously? Seriously?! This I think is the response most hated by writers. The sheer condescension of someone to suggest that the only reason I wrote a book and you didn’t is because I found the time is baffling to me. Because yeah, I did find the time. I also found the discipline to write every day until it was done, choosing to stay home from parties or seeing the latest movie. I had inspiration and ideas for a story and characters that I developed over several years. I worked diligently, day in and day out and then, when I had finally finished my story, I waited for an editor to rip it to shreds and make me start again. I have to listen to people who have no idea what my thought process is or what I’m trying to say through these characters tell me one is stupid or silly or what have you. If you just had a spare weekend, could you climb Mount Everest? Is a couple hours all you need to repaint the Sistine Chapel? No. Hell, you wouldn’t even be able to bake a cake if the only thing given to you was some spare time. It takes research, discipline, inspiration and talent to be a writer. Please don’t belittle our work by implying that it is something anyone with a little extra time on their hands could accomplish.
2) You should put me in your next story.
I get this one a lot. And by a lot, I mean 3 times in the last week alone. Please don’t ask a writer to do this. First, if you ask this question, I can guarantee that the only way you’re making it into the book is as the asshole who is brutally killed in the first chapter. I don’t change the names of my friends and go hey look, I wrote a book. There is thought, imagination and so much more that goes into each character. You won’t get this unless you’re a writer but my characters often choose their own names. I can’t just slap yours onto it. But more importantly, where do you get off thinking you are so much more important than everyone else in my life that I should use you in my next story. It’s so incredibly arrogant that it’s hard to believe people say it in the first place.
3) That must be such an easy job.
I hate this one. It falls near the #1 on my list but just doesn’t quite reach the same levels. This response is like telling a stay at home mom that it must be nice to not have to work. See, I’ve had a number of jobs and I’ve watched a fair number of people work in higher paid positions then myself. There are a lot of easy jobs out there. Writing is not one of them. It takes discipline, heartbreak, and the skin of an armadillo. That whole two pieces of positive feedback to one piece of criticism theory in the workplace has no place in writing. You will be ripped to shreds constantly. It’s a beautiful and rewarding career but it is not easy.
4) Wow, I wish I was a writer. Working from home or coffee shops must be a blast.
Really? A blast? First of all, working from home means I’m aware of all the other things that need to be done. I’ve got a bathtub with a weird stain in one corner, a kitchen that needs repainting and I haven’t dusted in a couple weeks. Plus Netflix just added several shows I’ve been dying to catch up on. And a coffee shop? Well those cost money. Most writers have the job that pays the bills and then the writing. So far, neither of those cover the cost of several cups of coffee and food over a six hour period every single day. Sure there are some fabulous aspects to working from home but it is not a walk in the park. Please don’t assume that I sit around sipping lattes while I wait for words to appear on a page via some form of osmosis.
5) So will you hook me up with a copy? (or anything along these lines)
I would love to hook you up. Also, since you work in insurance, I want a free policy, a free supply of bread from the baking friend and maybe that diamond necklace from the jeweler friend. Please don’t assume that writers can, or want to, go around handing out free copies of their books. It is our livelihood. You don’t hand out free things at your job (unless you work at a Costco sample table) so quit expecting me to hand over my book. If you really want to be supportive, go buy the book. And don’t just buy it online. Walk into the store and specifically request the book from a bookseller. I pay for every copy of my book so I’m sure as hell not going to give that money away to you.