dreaded questions

The topic of dreaded questions came up in the last post on measuring artistic success; I mentioned being asked, “So have you been published anywhere?” Nova brought up a dreaded question of hers, “So do you have a literary agent?”

That got me thinking about ALL the questions that I just CANNOT stand being asked as a writer. Some of them piss me off, some of them show off the asker’s cluelessness ignorance, some of them reinforce my self doubt, some of them freaking hurt my feelings, and some of them, yes remind me of the truth. Most of them carry the message of being judged as a writer, whether the asker is trying to assess your “level of success,” or questioning your choice to be a writer, etc. Rarely are these questions asked in the name of sincere interest or curiosity.

Here are some questions that you should please not ask me, the writer, in the name of “small talk” (or maybe, EVER):

  • So, have you been published anywhere? (not as a leading question, please no–though you can ask me at some point).
  • So, do you have a literary agent?
  • How long have you been working on that novel? (Once, someone asked me that question and then followed up with, “How come it takes so long? I have a friend who wrote a novel in one month! Like *snaps her fingers* THAT!”)
  • Is there really a point to getting an MFA? What do you DO with an MFA?
  • Why would you want to be a writer?
  • So, does your husband support your hobby your writing career?
  • Are you going to write about me?
  • What do you do all day at home?
  • Do you make any money?
  • What’s your novel about? (followed by glazed eyes–if you are really interested, this can have a very cool outcome).

Those are just off the top of my head. What are yours? Next up…ways in which to ANSWER these stupid questions.



Filed under Life, Writing

16 responses to “dreaded questions

  1. How about: (this was asked of me at Thanksgiving dinner last night)

    “OH, so you’re a writer? What have you written that I might have read?”

    I said, “Nothing.” Ergh.

  2. leonessa

    A woman in Camp Marzipan’s cafe asked me “are you submitting anything?” I lied and said no. Well I was flustered, and meant that I hadn’t submitted anything that week. “I don’t see how people can call themselves writers if they aren’t publishing.”

    “Wow, are you planning to teach writing?” I asked her, thinking she was an English major. She’s way older than I am, BTW. “No? well that’s a good thing,” I continued “Because I’d hate for you to be around impressionable writers with that attitude.”

    Basically I don’t see the need to spout my resume at people in casual conversation.

    A writer is someone who writes. People who want to trash writers for where they are in the process are simply fucked up about their own process and looking for somebody to shame.

    Well, I’ve gotten the ‘have you published anything I mihgt have read” q from a quasi-famous writer – I think it’s a polite way of telling you to get yourself published before trying to rub shoulders. In that case, I didn’t choose to out myself as a writer – my MIL did it, while introducing me to her friend. I thought it was unkind of him, frankly.

  3. Aha! You’re reading my mind! So many of these are on my list, too. I stopped answering the “what is your novel about?” question to strangers actually, usually by saying “I’m not ready to talk about it” even though I know EXACTLY what it’s about. I find that some people can ruin a project-in-progress just by a single thoughtless comment when I’m at that opening stage. It’s too delicate then and I don’t want it to be tainted with other people’s impressions of what it might be. Yes, I’m insecure. What can I say?

    One other question that bothers me from other writers is the name-dropper Q: “Who did you study with at your MFA program/writers conference?” etc. Usually I find it turns out to be an intro for them to drop their own names about who their famous mentor is or who wrote their recommendation to such-and-such. It’s a game of one-upping that annoys me to no end.

    Great post! I look forward to hearing your answers to the stupid questions… 😉

  4. seneca

    The reason he is only a “quasi-famous writer” is that he cannot spell.


  5. Oh well, Seneca, that was my spelling error. He is a famous writer in certain circles. And I was over-excited and didn’t proof read my sloppy typing.

  6. seneca

    My apologies. I thought you were serious.

    I read a message board where one of the prominent writers adds the letter “g” to the middle of certain words, thinking he’s clever. Drives me nuts!

    I actually thought, when I read your piece, that this was a new fad!

    Where’s my therapist’s phone number?


  7. mel

    I’ve actually gotten: “Oh, you’re a writer? Have any samples?” (like I carry them around with me!?)

    and, “What is the point of writing fiction, anyway? What good does it do?”


  8. Oh mel, how about my own mother, a counseling psychologist, saying for years “I don’t read novels, I hear all about that stuff every day, I don’t need to read about people’s problems in my spare time!”

    Now that she’s retired, she has taken up reading novels, and she may be secretly writing as well. I think she was just trying to keep me from writing about *her* and her quirks. It worked. My novel doesn’t have her in it. In fact, the main character’s mother is probably dead.

  9. mel

    leonessa – that’s a lot of foresight on your mom’s part! my mom doesn’t really know that i’m a writer – otherwise she’d *faint*, because some version of her ends up in my stories (and often I don’t realize it until after…and it’s not always the most flattering). she actually thought all of art was impractical, “only a hobby,” she’d say.

  10. Lately (the past two weeks) I’ve started creating more of a secret dreamy writer-life for myself to the point of smug fog of seculsion that has been protective. But I did get, at a poetry workshop some version of the woman who snapped her fingers in your list–This public defender/poet told me: “I would never commit to writing a full novel. I’d get too bored with it.” But it was the tone, oh the tone of what she said that got me. As if writing a novel was the stupidest idea anyone could think of, like not taking the plea bargain for a crime you didn’t commit, when you could have a felony. I wish I would have thought of that quip. I could have told her, yeah…but isn’t being a public defender kind of dicey?

  11. my standard responses with people who don’t really care:

    * So, have you been published anywhere? (not as a leading question, please no–though you can ask me at some point).
    yeah, actually, i have. do you read?
    nowhere you’d read.
    not yet (followed by a long, hard glare).

    * So, do you have a literary agent?
    i’m in talks. (in my head).

    * How long have you been working on that novel?
    since day one.

    * Is there really a point to getting an MFA? What do you DO with an MFA?
    most people know better than to get me started on this one at this point. my usual response is “is there really a point to getting up in the morning? what do you DO with your day?”

    * Why would you want to be a writer?
    why would you want to be a lawyer/government bureaucrat/asshole?

    * Are you going to write about me?
    if you’re lucky.

    * What’s your novel about? (followed by glazed eyes–if you are really interested, this can have a very cool outcome).
    dragons. (i don’t write sci-fi, at least not yet.)

    my favorite is “oh, creative nonfiction. is that like james frey?” no. it’s like joan f*ng didion. it’s like mailer. it’s like tom wolfe. it’s like whitman. it’s like anything in the new yorker. it’s like WRITING, d*k.

    pardon my evil twin, she’s rather snappish lately. great post!!!

  12. mel


    Niiiiice. I must borrow/steal these, especially the first one for “Have you published…?”

  13. borrow away!

    in truth, i don’t always mind these questions, especially when i can tell the person is genuinely interested although unsure of how to ask the question. i think the celebrity-ification of writers has only worsened the situation: somehow writers are seen as a separate species of humanity, when really we aren’t–at least, not all the time. 🙂

  14. hey loose green tea! excellent responses! i plan on posting some funny/cruel/coping responses to those dreaded questions, your answers are excellent!

  15. Pingback: “…& A” « Writing Under a Pseudonym

  16. Pingback: What Have I Written That You Might Have Read? « ReadingWritingLiving

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