Tuesday, May 10, 2016

If strangers talked to everybody like they talk to writers

by Rick Blechta

My post topic this week (well, last week, actually, but as you know that never happened) was not going to be on this topic, but an upcoming post by Vicki that’s also gotten rescheduled made me decide to break this one out because it does dovetail nicely with what you’ll be reading from her in a couple of weeks. This post today is primarily directed at writers, but it should prove amusing to anyone who enjoys observing the foibles of human beings.

First, you need to read this: If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers. I think Elizabeth McCracken and Lincoln Michel hit the nail squarely on the head, don’t you?

Everything said about the sorts of questions and comments we writers receive from the public is true and accurate. For some reason, when the general public meets a writer, even in the most casual of circumstances, all their social filters seem to shut down. Those of us who are ink-stained wretches have experienced the comments contained in the article I invited you to read. It really is a very odd, disconcerting occurrence, even after many years in the game. I’m always left wondering what I should say. Usually my social filters stay up and I don’t shoot back with a cutting comment or walk away in a huff – but I’m always tempted to do so.

My personal favourite is “Oh! So you're a writer. Would I have read anything of yours?”

How the hell should I know? Unless you suspect me of breaking into your house in the dead of night for the purpose of giving your library a once-over, or being an accomplished mind reader, there is no way of answering such a stupid question. And it’s not as if I’ve gotten this question from unintelligent people. On the contrary, many of them are people who are well-educated and otherwise pretty smart and accomplished. Think lawyers and doctors here, folks.

Regardless, everyone seems ready to dispense helpful hints to those of us who write. From plot ideas (“I'll share my plot idea with you for a 50/50 split of the profits!”) to financial pointers (“You really can’t expect to make your living from something like this, can you? You’ll definitely need to keep a day job going.”), we hear it all at some point or another.

Being a musician as well, I have a lot of friends in the arts. While they do occasionally get asked similar sorts of questions, it’s not a constant thing. Every time I’m invited to a party, for instance, I ask myself how many slightly embarrassing, more than frank, questions I’ll be subjected to.

Why is that? Is there some sort of open season on writers about which I’m not aware?


Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

I love it when people ask me how much I make. This usually starts with "How's the book doing?" at which point I'll say something like, "pretty good" or "it's getting good reviews." (I'm waiting to tell someone "It's been on the NYT bestseller list for the last 10 weeks.") But after my vague-ish reply, it's amazing how many people will actually ask, "SO, how much money are you making?" Would you ask anyone else what they earned in a year?
Another great post, Rick. You always make me laugh.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for commenting, Judy!

Yeah, people are so blunt and personal with authors, and even when that's pointed out to them, they seem unrepentant. I wish I knew why that was.

As you know, I also do graphic design professionally, and about the only personal question that I'm ever asked is something along the lines of "So how's business?" I deflect by saying something like, "Not bad. I'm keeping busy," and that's the end of it. You're absolutely bang on when you say with writers, the questions will continue, well into the personal realm.

Happy to make you laugh!

Eileen Goudge said...

Thank you, Rick. Nice to know I'm not alone. I, too, get asked those annoying questions from strangers when they learn what I do for a living. I've learned to block them by quickly asking, "What do you like to read?" before they can inquire as to whether they might have read one of my books. If they say horror or sci-fi, I KNOW they haven't read one of my books. In the pre-digital era, I would often be asked, "Do you have an extra copy you can give me?" Um...no. Nowadays I suggest the clueless individual download a sample on their Kindle. If they don't like what they've read, I won't have to know about it.

Rick Blechta said...

All of those sound like good ideas, Eileen. Thanks for sharing!