Why Asking a Writer What He\She is Working On is a Loaded Question

Ask a writer what they are working on and you will likely regret it. You won’t regret it right away, no. But ten minutes later, when you realize that he’s only finished telling you about the first act and there are two or three acts left to go, oh yes. Then, you will regret it.

crying-babyI call them Blatherers and I’ve been known to be one. Why do many writers go on and on so comfortably, for what seems like hours, about what they are writing? What has removed their filter used in normal conversation – the one that keeps us out of the OMG, TMI zone?

I’ll tell you, and it will make you sad.

Writing a novel is solitary work. It requires shutting out the world and imagining made-up people doing made-up things, for hours and hours. When you were a kid, they called this daydreaming. Now you know – it is writing. Well, it is writing if you write down what the made-up people do.  Writing a novel can take upwards of 1000 hours or more.  It’s lonely. 

So why can’t they shut-up about it?

It’s because these made-up people are like friends to them, but they aren’t friends they can talk to, because, you know, they are made-up. You, on the other hand, are real. So they talk to you about their imaginary friends and what they are doing. And poor you… you asked for it, so they got a ‘get out of jail free card’ to tell you allllll about it.

Don’t blame them, but learn from the experience. Remember you asked them, even if it was just something ambiguous like, “What’s up?” You open the door, they came in and kicked off their shoes, putting their feet up on the coffee table and ate your food. You’ve got to own a little bit of the blame, maybe? No, not really, I know. Still, it’s a hair-trigger and you pulled it, however accidental and innocent it may be.

At the polar opposite of the spectrum are the writers who won’t tell you anything about what they writing. They clam-up when you ask, either because they are not confident it is good, or they are afraid you will steal their idea and put out a book before them, beating them to the market.

Here’s the thing about clammed-up writers: They want to tell you the whole freaking story, just like the Blatherers, except they are insecure or paranoid. If they are just insecure, if you pry at them a little with a few extra questions, they explode with the whole story, in all its verbose glory, director’s commentary and all.

Now, if you pry at a paranoid writer, he’ll probably call the police on you for trying to steal his idea.

“Officer, he kept asking and asking and wouldn’t stop no matter how many times I said, ‘no!’ or didn’t answer. He wouldn’t stop. It was an unrelenting, verbal assault and I want a restraining order placed on him now!”

When you ask a writer what they are working on, you are carelessly skipping into a minefield of social dysfunction that may blow up in different ways you never thought possible. Or maybe, the writer you ask will be a socially-adjusted person and you’ll have a nice conversation, but probably not.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

© 2012, Mitch Lavender

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2 thoughts on “Why Asking a Writer What He\She is Working On is a Loaded Question

  1. OK, that was a genuine side-buckler. You caught both kinds of writers and described them well. I’m guilty but I won’t tell you which lineage is mine. That’ll probably tell you anyway. Nice work. Thanks for the chuckle.

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