The dreaded questions writers hate and the 10 questions you should ask instead.
There is still an awkward feeling I get when I call myself a writer. Always wondering if I deserve to give myself that title and trying to figure out what it means. Am I a writer because I have a notebook full of stories? Does my master’s say I’m a writer? Or do I have to #publish my work to feel worthy? For this reason, it is why I have hesitated to call myself a writer for an incredibly long time. Well, that and the fact, I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve had the question “so what have you published?” hurled at me. Here’s how the conversations would go:
“Hi, what do you do?”
“I’m a Children’s Specialist and a Writer”
“Great. So, what have you published?”
“Nothing yet, but — “
“Oh, let me know when you do?” *Walks away*
Sskkrrtt. Talk about a curve.
Writers (and artists), sometimes, struggle with the fear of their work rejected by potential publishers. Whether for the first time or the twelfth time, the rejection is no small molehill to climb over. Be
lieve me; if a writer is submitting their work to, hell, anywhere, they are climbing Mount Everest after receiving a dismissal letter.
Take, for instance, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter. Yeah, she was turned down by twelve publishing houses. TWELVE! The woman who created Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, thirty-eight rejections! And let us not forget Alex Haley, who wrote every day for eight years until he received a yes for Roots.
The average response time for a publishing house is two months; six months to a year for manuscript submission. If it weren’t for their persistence, you would’ve never known Hogwarts existed, hear the iconic words “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn; or seen the guy from Reading Rainbow play Kunta Kinte on TV one for a week.
However, I’m sure they felt the same nagging twinge every writer gets when someone asks, “Have you published anything?” Listen, there is a feeling of validation every writer gets when published for the first time; it’s a “Momma I made it!” kind of feeling. Leaving your mark, in print, on the world is a big deal for most writers. What you need to understand is: between accepting the title, writing, and sending work to publishers, it all takes time. Even if self-publishing is the goal, it still takes time; especially, if self-doubt decides to appear.
Asking if a #writer has published anything is the equivalent to asking, “What do you do for a living?” Are you really interested or are you determining how much respect you’re going to give?
Instead, I give you ten questions you can ask to not make yourself look like a skeptical pilgarlic (too harsh?):
1. What inspires you?
2. What your favorite character/story you’ve written?
3. What’s your goal?
4. Whose writing style do you admire most?
5. How long have you been writing?
6. What was the first story you’ve ever written?
7. What do you like about writing?
8. When do you write the most?
9. Favorite genre?
10. Do you write (movie or play) scripts, poetry or stories?
11. (Bonus) How long does it usually take for you to finish a project?
Seems simple enough, right? The questions can lead to an interesting conversation but only if you’re open to it.
If you’re satisfied with your secured 9 to 5, excellent. Remember some people take risks by turning their passions into careers and your half concerned/half snarky comments are not, at the very least, warranted. Are you sure you want to do that? Are you any good? And how are you going to pay the bills? As if, you were paying them in the first place.
Those questions, among the sea of many, have no place. Every creative has thought about the pitfalls of their decision, and the answer isn’t always a firm yes. Instead, it’s a “f*ck it, I’ma do it anyway” type of response. Why? Because they believe in their dreams and can see them clearly. Even if, you don’t. Creatives have their reservations; don’t sprinkle more doubt like Salt Bae. So, either show a genuine interest in our craft or nod your head and tell us how you hated writing in college; we’ll understand.
To all the creatives: you are here to disturb the peace; to challenge views and to spark the minds of many. Do it FEARLESSLY and PASSIONATELY.