Friday, December 26, 2008

"Finish that book yet?"


Recently, someone asked my mom how she and I manage to live together so peacefully. She said, "It's easy. I don't ask how her book is coming along."

Wise mother! Of course, I had to train her first by warning her that she was more likely to reach 93 if she never asked that question.

This silly-sounding situation is an actual, real, painful problem that a lot of writers have and they find it hard to handle. Possibly you've recently heard some version of that dreaded question, yourself, you lucky writer, you.

When writers ask me what to do about it, I wish I had a list of stock answers to give them, since "if you ever ask me that again I'll kill you," is not conducive to happy marriages, or talking to strangers at cocktail parties.

How do you answer that kind of question without strangling the questioner? And pul-leeze, don't say, "Don't let it bother you." If the people it bothers could do that, it wouldn't bother them! And honestly, it doesn't bother writers all the time. If the writing is going well, or if they just got an acceptance letter, then the question is no problem. But when some unwary person asks it on a bad day--or in a bad year--then it's dangerous to innocent bystanders and depressed writers. It ties their tongues, or makes them burst into tears, or throw things, or hole up in their room fuming for hours.

Yes, indeed, it brings out the best in all of us.

I recently promised a writer that I'd throw out the question to you smarty-pants, especially since some of you haven't confessed to being writers, and you may be able to shed some light on it from the other person's point of view. Do you have any funny retorts or thoughtful responses a poor beleagured writer might use that won't scorch the shirt off the one who asks? If you do, I'll pass your ideas along--and reap the undying gratitude of writers and everyone who knows them.

17 comments:

Nancy P said...

If it's coming along well, I can smile easily and say so. If it isn't, the last thing I want to do is talk about it casually, so I grit my teeth and lie through them. But I know that it can get very verrrrry touchy for a struggling writer when people keep asking, and keep asking, and keep asking.

Feel free to ignore this topic, unless you actually want to talk about it, okay? :D

Meanwhile, we had warm weather today! (Friday) Now on to Saturday. . .

Nancy P said...

One more thing--it's especially hard for new writers, because they feel they have to prove they *are* writers by producing something to prove to their family that all those hours they spend in solitude--not washing the car or plowing the north forty or making money--are worth it.

Beth said...

It honestly doesn't bother me when someone asks - I just tell them until their eyes glaze over. I do tire of explaining why finishing a book doesn't mean they'll see it in Barnes and Noble tomorrow. Although their confidence in that actually happening is flattering.

It does get a little irksome when folks act like I'm not working because they see me sitting on the couch all day and night. I hope that someday I can wave a book in their faces and say, "See, I WAS working!"

I'm sorry I ever asked how it was going, Nancy - I'll never do it again!! :-)

33 today - freezing rain tomorrow - and 60 on Sunday. Winter in the Northeast....

Happy weekend to all who follow!

AndiF said...

I think I'd ask them how their sex life is coming along (or if it's coming at all). People who ask intrusive questions deserve them back.

Or if you're into object lessons ... punch them in the stomach, smile sweetly, and say "does that hurt?".

Off to Cincinnati in a bit to celebrate Xmas with the rest of the F's. Hope everyone has a fine day.

Lisa M said...

Morning All.

It's a hot 70 here and the cold front hasn't arrived yet.

Done 10 minutes of WiiFit. Will be interested to find my rhythm.

There seems to be several versions of 'How's the book coming?'
Relative and friends that don't see you often use it as a reconnector.

The second group are actually interested in the process of writing.

The there's the 'how long is this going to take' and 'shouldn't you be letting go of this project if it's this hard and moving on' group.

The first two groups seem happy to hear me babble about where I am in the editing and about the coming workshop I've signed up for in California. They nod and give me the 'you seem to know what your doing' reaction.
The second group enjoys hearing about struggles and concerns and different techniques I'm trying to improve the story.
That third group is the thorn in my side. One is my brother who is in the production end of television. The last time he talked about me maybe being too enmeshed in a project taking so long--I asked him how long it took him to win his Emmy.
He paused with that one. I told him I'm still learning my craft and that doesn't happen overnight.

Nicola Slade said...

Nope, no clever responses developed yet. I wish I'd had something witty to say to the kind people who, when my first novel, Scuba Dancing, came out said:'How much did you have to pay to get that published?' (And the ones who said: 'Romantic comedy? Oh no, that's not my kind of thing at all.')
It would also be nice to have something to say to the people who assume that your next book will be AUTOMATICALLY taken by a publisher!
(And now I've had a brain holiday for a month and must get revising soon; according to my daughter and critic, one poor character started as a wimp and ended up a pervert because I changed my mind about him half way! That's got to change.)

Maria Lima said...

Like Nicola, I've not yet developed a clever response. If it's a friend, I am courteous and polite. If it's a fan, I do my best to be courteous and polite. If it's a stranger and a PITA* I grit my teeth, smile the "on-stage" smile and do my best not to say something I'll regret later.

I know people generally mean well, but as Nancy said, some days, it's easier than others to answer that question.

Happy Saturday!


*PITA=pain in the a**

katiebird said...

I think from my experience of being trained that it's just better to get that bit (the training) over with if the person asking is someone you want as a friend.

On a totally different topic, have you EVER seen the sort of storm we're having? It woke me up 3 times last night. And the thunder we just had sounded like a train was driving through the front yard.

FARfetched said...

Hm. I kind of see it as equivalent to "how's your work going?" inquiries about my day job… it's a conversation maker, mostly. I figure some people are genuinely interested in the writing process. For others, it's basically a way to get you to ask them what *they're* doing so they can tell you about it. Except for relatives who can't stand the idea that you're writing while they have to ("actually") work for a living, I wouldn't see it as a pressure thing.

Except for people like me asking people like Kelly when the next book is out… and I'd think that would be a good thing too; it means you've got fans who want to read your stuff. ;-)

FARfetched said...

Good Lord… more rain. I want to go break in my new camera, dangit!!!

Beth, did you see my quip from yesterday? "A writer staring out the window is working."

Nicola, wouldn't it be cool if you knew your next book would be automatically taken, though?

Big hello to everyone else! Hey, do I have all the ladies to myself this morning? >8=}

Beth said...

I did, Farf, and love it. As long as one takes breaks from window-gazing to actually WRITE something! :-)

Thunder, KB? Wow! I see parts of the midwest are under a floodwatch. We're supposed to have 60 tomorrow - 3 feet of snow fell last weekend, and single digits all week. I guess it keeps things interesting!

Another (hopefully productive) writing day ahead, and maybe a movie later. Off to Maine in the morning to make up my missed visit from last week. Happy Saturday, all!

Dina said...

OK, I humbly apologize to any author I have ever asked that question to.

But speaking as a fan, when I have asked it I usually mean it as a conversation starter/an indication of how much I love the author's work and do not expect much beyond a tentative publication date.

When asking an author that is a friend (and I still pinch myself that I can say that), it is meant again as a compliment and conversation starter because I really want to talk about it, but if the author doesn't I let it drop. Just as I would if someone asked me about my working life and I didn't want to talk about it. It is never meant to put anyone on the spot or force a conversation one doesn't want to have.

Promising to try not to do this in the future (except for a selected few!)

Nancy P said...

Andi wins! I love, "how's your sex life," though I would never say that.

Lisa, seriously, your answer to your relative was genius.

I'm loggy. Went back to bed after taking out the trash. Thunderstorms!

Kelly McCullough said...

Hi all,

I've got nothing to add on the primary topic that's going to be particularly useful as it's not something that really stresses me out. I do know not to ask it myself except under certain very specialized circumstances. I do like Andi's response.

On another topic entirely, I got Nancy's 7 Steps as a Xmas present and am looking forward to reading it.

I'm beat today after running into the Cities for dinner with friends I haven't seen in five years. We were out way late last night and ended up doing a total of three hours driving in heavy fog there and back again--it's normally a two hour round trip.

Gotta go get a Wii fit later in the week.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Lisa M nailed the responses to this question except for one group. These are the "I'm a writer too, because I once wrote something for my church-newsletter-junior-high-bulletin-company-flyer and it was sooo easy" people.

They only ask the question so they can give me advice about how to write.

Yes, these people exist. How do I deal? I'm a mystery/horror writer. Instead of listening I try to think of unique ways of murder.

boran2 said...

Hi all.

A quiet day here. Except where the b2 boy is concerned. He starting to get cabin fever even as we speak. See ya in a bit.

A.M.Writer said...

It seems the more people ask how I am doing, the less I write. I try to keep a low profile, even with my family.

It has been very cold in Mid-MI over the holidays, although we had one warm day. This week in the lower 20's all week.