Oh, So You’re a Writer?

The party. The crowd. The separating into cliques. Here come the questions.

‘What do you do?’

‘I’m a writer.’

‘Oh really? What’s your book about?’ (I always answer, ‘Which one?’ and they always want to know about the one I’m working on.)

This is the most difficult question I’ve gotten. It seems so simple, but it really isn’t. I could go on for hours about the different nuances of my writing, the subplots, the funny characters. But that’s not what they want. They want a short, two or three sentence summary. And the more it sounds like a Dan Brown book the better. (This guy runs around the world collecting clues to reveal all the Catholic Church’s dirty laundry! Thrilling stuff!) The problem is, I write stories that lean more toward psychological fiction, darkish fantasy, dark humor. It’s hard to summarize what’s going on in a character’s head, or to describe the world you’re building, without monopolizing all their time for the next several hours. It would be easier if I just pulled out a copy and told them to read it. Not to mention the fact that people don’t exactly want to hear about brutal murders and suicides over hors d’oeuvres. 

Then there’s the fact that the book in question is still underway. It might not turn out to be the book I intended at the beginning. I might be stuck on some points. I might not have a complete idea of the storyline yet. It might be too hard to describe some of it without giving too much away. (All this depends on how far along I am.)

The moral of the story: I don’t know the answer to your question. I really, truly, don’t. I’m glad you’re interested, I really am. But please don’t stare at me like I’m a moron if I can’t answer your question to your satisfaction.

Another common question: What made you think of that idea? (aka, What inspires you?)

I get this a lot, but only from people who have read my work. I’m pretty sure it’s because they think I’m messed up in the head. I wrote a story about suicide the other week. Several people have asked me if I’m suicidal. (I’m not, in case you were wondering.) I wrote one about a woman and a man both going insane in their own special ways after the loss of their son. It was dark. I loved it. Someone asked if I’ve ever had a miscarriage. My mom looked at me like she didn’t know who I was and was suddenly a little creeped out by me. My husband said he didn’t know I had that kind of darkness in me. Also a little creeped out by me.

All of them asked where I came up with the idea. I think they were hoping I plagiarized it or something. Anything other than it coming from my (seemingly normal) brain.

The answer of where ideas come from depends on the story (obviously). It also depends on the writer. I’ve heard people say they’re inspired by a setting. I’ve heard them say they’re inspired by current events.

For me, random imaginary people pop into my head. And then continue to bug me until I write their story. At any given time, I’ve got at least five people running around up there. (And before you ask, yes, it gets annoying at times. And no, it’s not the same as ‘hearing voices’. I promise I don’t need to be on medication.) Telling people this, however, seems to scare them even more than my writing. I’m suddenly the crazy lady and they need to get away from me before I snap and act out one of my stories.

Two runner-up questions that are just awful:

‘What do you do for money?’  

‘How’s the book coming?’

I don’t even know what to do with either of those.

Do you have difficulties with these questions? Have you come up with a standard, reusable answer or do you struggle through each time?


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