Your writer is a delicate person. They have papered their wall with rejection slips, but in doing so have ensured that if they spend too long in the presence of said wall, they will begin to sink into misery and a sense of doom, which is never the best time to talk to them. If they are in tears, they probably just killed a character. If they’re muttering to themself, they’re having issues with a dialogue scene.
And there are some things you should never, ever say to a writer.
- You control them, don’t you? [about characters]
Some writers – mainly those who are ridiculously thorough planners *shudders* – would say that they do control their characters. But up to a point. Even for them, it’s very easy for characters to surprise by coming out with a particularly interesting line of dialogue or a plot twist that you weren’t really expecting. You can never be sure quite how they’ll behave, and that’s one of the things that makes writing so exciting. If you wanted, you could probably control them, but it would be boring. Very boring.
- How is the novel going? [when you haven’t seen them for months]
Many people think that this is the thing you should say. No. Unless you spoke to them a week ago and they told you about their novel, don’t ask after progress. If they’re anything like me, they’ve probably moved onto something else by now, and they’re not going to be able to remember which novel it was they told you about a year ago. What’s more, if they had to stop for any reason, or if they just abandoned it, you’ve now made them feel guilty. (NaNoWriMo is the exception to this rule. Feel free to ask them then.)
- When are you going to publish your novel?
Okay, this is less annoying now that it is possible to just go out there and publish it, thanks to e-publishing and the like. But, ever since I was about eleven I’ve been plagued by the same question. It’s either this or Are you going to get it published? And I want to shake them. Yes, I intend to try, I say, but it’s not that straightforward. If I go trad, I’ll have to do queries and synopses and stuff. And it might take ages. Their eyes have glazed over by now because they don’t understand indie/trad publishing – another reason not to talk to me about publishing. Plus, to non-writers, ‘getting published’ is the be all and end all of writing a book, when actually, there’s a lot of stuff after that. I.e, trying to sell it. So unless you know they’re going indie in the near future, this is an annoying, invalid question.
- Oh, you’ve finished your novel! Can I read it?
Unless it’s well and truly finished and polished, they’ll probably say no, and refusal often offends. Don’t ask. Unless you’re their beta reader, they probably won’t want to share their first draft with you. Just saying.
- You’re a writer. Can you read my novel/story/essay?
Have they said they’re bored and have nothing to do? Then by all means ask. But most of the time, writers are busy writing their own books, networking, and writing blogs. (Most authors have blogs, I’ve found.) They don’t have time to read the story of someone they’ve never met, especially when that person will expect feedback. If it’s not very good, they’ll feel guilty about giving it. If it’s very good, stop being so insecure and send it to a publisher, not another writer. Plus, the writer feels used if people just use them as an editor without ever putting that into words. It’s not their job to correct your grammar.
- How long is your book?
I’ll admit, it depends who is asking. If you know something about writing, go ahead. They’ll tell you the length in thousands of words. Not in pages. We don’t count in pages, okay? Why? Because pages and fonts and margins and line spacing vary so much that one person’s 70 pages is another’s 165, that’s why. A short novel (i.e. Hitchhiker’s Guide) is about 50,000 words, or 50k. Likewise Of Mice and Men. A long novel (i.e. Eragon) might be about 150,000, or 150k. There are some guidelines for you.
Be gentle with your writer, because if you annoy them they shall write you into a book and kill you. That is, if they’re able to find time to write between all the questions you keep asking…
(I understand that some writers are more tolerant than me. Maybe they have fewer annoying people talking to them. It’s the disadvantage of being a student, as 95% of the people I meet each day are not writers at all. Soon, I shall escape them. Soon….*cackles*)