9 Questions Writers Love to be Asked
In the spirit of balancing out my
rant list of 9 Questions Writers Hate to be Asked, I thought today I’d focus on the positive and offer up 9 questions writers (usually) love to be asked. Again, I can’t speak for everyone, nor would I want to (I mean, people be crazy), but this should be a decent guide to doing the writers in your life a solid.
1. What are you working on these days?
Polite interest is always appreciated. (Nosy interest is sometimes annoying.) The only times writers might dread this question is if A) They’ve been bad little elves and aren’t working on anything these days or B) They’ve been naughty little elves and are working on something they can’t describe in mixed company. In which case in come vagaries like, “Oh, I’m doing research for my next book,” or “Just another story for an anthology.” In a case like that, read the cues and don’t press. But if the writer is excited and wants to share, buckle up, because there are few things that get our chatter boxes going quite like a WIP we’re in love with, and we love that you want to hear about it.
2. Is there somewhere I can read your work?
Unless a writer is very, very new, there’s almost always something you can read somewhere, even if it’s just a personal blog or a single poem or maybe even a hardcopy story they can hand you. If they’ve been published, this is pretty much the nicest thing you can ask. We write to be read, after all; showing interest in doing so is flattering. Most writers don’t mind if you check us out from the library or borrow from a friend, but please don’t ask for free copies from us. We’ve gotta eat if you want us to keep churning out those stories.
3. Can I pay you to do this writing task?
Rarely are writers offended when offered a job. We like money! We might say no, of course, if it’s not worth our while or if we’re simply too busy, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. What does hurt to ask, however, is if we can write or edit that thing for free.
Let me save you the time and the brass: No, no writer ever wants to write that thing for free.
4. Can I pay you to come speak at my meeting/conference/class?
Again, the key word here is pay. A question in the form of a job offer is fantastic, even if we can’t say yes this time around. A favor is presumptuous and puts us on the spot. Even those of us who genuinely enjoy speaking to kids at school or rooms full of writers or what have you, we still need to be compensated for our time and effort. To throw back to my first post, if you wouldn’t ask a lawyer to do a comparable thing for free (talk at a professional conference), don’t ask a writer.
5. Can I pay you to judge this contest?
Weee! I love a good judging gig! Again, see above: the question should come with basic compensation. Without = sigh-inducing personal favor. With = awesome invitation. We all love to be considered for a solid job.
6. How would you like me to send that speaking honorarium?
Okay, I promise this will be the last one that hinges on money. It’s just that money is the main thing well-meaning people get wrong when it comes to the questions they ask writers. Like it or not, for most of us writing is a job (or at least we want it to be), and jobs require payment. So if we do accept your generous offer to judge that contest, edit that paper, or speak to your workshop, the proper follow-up should be: “How would you like me to send that speaking honorarium?” not “Would you still like me to send that honorarium?” If it’s offered, you should definitely send it. Don’t make us decide between getting paid as promised and false courtesy after we’ve already committed. And lest it seem like I’m only focusing on the negative here, a reminder: we genuinely love being invited to speak/judge/teach/edit. Really, ask us!
7. Where did you get your idea for this book?
This one might seem ironic considering that, “Where do you get your ideas?” was in my list of questions writers hate. (And as one commenter noted, some writers love even that one.) But to me, the difference is in the specific. I can’t sum up where all of my hundreds of ideas came from into anything other than “everywhere.” But if you ask me about as specific book, story, or poem, I can almost certainly point at the spark that started the fire, and that truly is fun to talk about.
8. What’s the best thing you’ve learned about ___?
It’s no big secret that approximately 90% of humans want to be a writer. And possibly some cats. It seems like half the writers I meet make their living publishing books about how to publish books. Go to any famous author’s reading and the audience will ask not about their most recent novel, but about how they got their agent. It’s a fact of the business. It’s a crazy difficult and complex field that everyone wants to break into; of course we all have questions for those who’ve gotten further along than we have.
Luckily, it’s human nature to enjoy sharing one’s knowledge. Every writer I know likes to teach what they’ve learned or figured out the hard way, so most writers don’t mind a question or two about how they did this or that. (A few specific things, not everything. Someone with desired knowledge probably doesn’t have time to catch you up on twenty years in the business.) You might run into a few secret-hoarders who think giving away the goods will increase competition, but you can just ignore them. They’re cotton-headed ninny muggings. Most writers welcome this question.
9. What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Ask with caution. Any writer worth his/her salt always has at least one book to rant and rave about. Sit down and put up your drool guard. You’ll likely walk away with five recommendations and a paperback loaner.
Go ahead and try these out on your writer friends. What's your favorite question to be asked as a writer?
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