Ten Things To Never Say To A Writer

“You Know, I Wanna Write A Book Someday.”

They say this to you with this wistful gleam in their eye, as if writing is just a hobby, like it’s just some distant silliness that they’ll get to when they manage to win the lottery. A worse (the worst, even) version of this is: I have a book in me.

Your response: “I don’t come down to your job and tell you, ‘I wanna be a janitor someday.’ You have a book in you? Well, you better do what I did, which is take a long hard squat in front of a computer or a notebook and force that story out, because that’s the only way this thing gets written. I don’t just have one book in me. I have hundreds. I have thousands. I am large, I contain multitudes. Whole libraries where every book has my name on its spine, motherfucker. Don’t write a book someday, write a book today. That’s what I did.”

Then, drop the mic. Right on their foot.

“Gosh, I Wish I Had Time To Write.”

Here, the person offers a little elbow-elbow poke-poke-poke suggestion that writing is this little side table, this luxury of the wealthy or perennially lazy. The translation is: “Oh, sorry, I have a lot more important things to do, but when I get some free time, I’m sure I’ll write a book or maybe take up decoupage. Could be I can catch up on some of my favorite shows, too, while I’m doing nothing else at all in any way important.”

Your response: “You do have the time to write. You have 24 hours in your day and I have 24 hours in my day. Oh, what’s that? You have a job and kids and important things to do? Yeah, because nobody else has those — that’s just you, holding up the American economy and the nuclear family single-handedly. Hey! Guess what? Everybody has shit to do. Kids, dogs, jobs, second jobs, flower beds to weed, checks to write, groceries, Facebook, porn, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, fucking. We’re all living life one minute at a time. It’s not that you don’t have time to write. It’s that you do not consider it important enough to give it time. But I do. I carve little bits of meat and skin off the day’s flesh and I use every part of the animal. I use the time I take to write. Fifteen minutes here. A half-hour there. A lunch break. That’s how shit gets written.”

Then, whack ’em in the forehead with a calculator watch. Bop.

“Hey! You Can Write My Idea.”

Because your ideas are dumb and this person’s ideas are great! They’re the architect. You’re the builder. You can be the diligent wordmonkey, and they can be the idea factory — and together, you can form a New York Times bestselling super-team!

Your response: “Hey, can I also chew your food for you? Maybe you’ll let me defecate your poop, too. I love to work other people’s jobs. You’re the boss. I’m basically just a transcriptionist — a stenographer for your brilliance. Or, or, maybe I have a whole head full of my own ideas, and if you want someone to write yours, then here’s a weird fucker of an idea: move those wriggling little sausage links you call ‘fingers’ and put your unmitigated genius on paper your-own-damn-self.”

Then, press a pen into their hand and trap said pen into said hand with an entire roll of duct tape.

“You Should Write My Life Story.”

Sometimes this comes from a noble place, sometimes it comes from a gravely Narcissistic one. But the point is, these people feel they have lived a life not just worth living, but worth everybody else reading about. Of course, it’s almost never true. It’s never, “I shot Hitler on the deck of the sinking Titanic.” It’s not, “Here’s how I saved an orphanage from a pack of sentient cyborg dingos during a four-week trip across the Australian Outback.” Sometimes it’s “I worked hard and accomplished things and raised a family on minimum wage.” And trust me — that’s great. Amazing, and you should be proud and everyone should be proud of you. But unless you also saved your family from a Terminator, it’s probably not the stuff of a stellar biography. Worse is when it’s just some upper-middle-class shit who thinks they have something vital to share regarding shopping habits or diversified investments or Beverly Hills real estate.

Your response: “Oooh, bad news. I would. I would! But the Authorial Council won’t let me write your life story until your life has effectively ended. For your story to live, you must die.”

Then, kill them. As they gurgle their last breath, whisper at them, “I don’t make the rules.”

“I Don’t Read.”

Never, ever, ever tell a writer this. Just don’t do it. Don’t tell an architect you don’t enter buildings. Don’t tell an arborist, “I totally hate trees. And nature in general. When I see trees, I cut them down just so I don’t have to look at their dumb tree faces and their stupid asshole branches anymore.” I mean, really, you don’t read? It’s just — whhh — what is wrong with you?

Your response: “You should start, because reading is fucking fundamental.”

Then, hand them your favorite book. Taser them until they read it all the way through.

“You Must Be Rich.”

Ha ha ha ha. Ha. Hahaha. … aaaahh hahaha.

Your response: *laugh so hard you barf*

Alternate response: “Yes, I am wealthy as fuck. Which is why I look like a feral hobo that just wandered in from the woods. It takes a lot of money to look this bewildered and disheveled. I don’t wear pants because pants cost too little. No pants are worthy enough when it comes to containing the valuable gemstones that I have pube-dazzled into and onto my genital region. Seriously, do you want to see my crotch emeralds? You heard me. Author money is awesome.”

Then, steal their wallet.

“Has Your Book Been Made Into A Movie Yet?”

For some reason, some portion of the population will always associate creative legitimacy with CAN I WATCH THIS ON MY TELEVISION AT SOME POINT? If it’s not on a screen with Tom Cruise acting in it, it basically doesn’t ping their radar. The suggestion here being that books are basically just food pellets that go into the giant trundling hamster that controls all of Hollywood. “FEED TEDDY HOLLYWOOD MORE BOOKS. THE BEAST HAS REJECTED THIS TOME AND THUS IT IS NOT WORTHY. THRUST IT INTO THE SEPTIC TANK WHERE IT BELONGS FOR IT CONTAINS NO ENTERTAINMENT TO NOURISH AMERICAN MINDS.”

Your response: “Yes, it has. Have you heard of a little movie called: The Avengers?”

Then, hit them in the crotchbasket with Thor’s Mjolnir. Film it on your iPhone.

“Will You Read My Novel?”

This is an honest outreach by an author who desperately needs someone to read his novel. It’s not meant to be malicious. Writers are addle-headed, desperate creatures and we want to find community and understanding and acceptance and some sense of if this thing we spent a lot of time writing is worth the ink cartridge we used to print it. (Hint: probably not. Ink cartridges cost more than most novel advances, I think.) Just the same: yeah, no, sorry, not today.

Your response: “I apologize, I do, but no, I will not read your fucking novel. I understand why you want me to, and I appreciate you coming to me with it. But reading your novel also means critiquing your novel and that would take time away from my own work. I’m a writer, not an editor, and specifically not your editor and frankly, who’s to say that anything I’d offer you would be worth a good goddamn anyway? Plus there are legal issues if I read your novel and it ends up being somehow close to something I wrote or want to write in the future and — it’s just a Bitey Ewok of a situation. But you should be really proud of yourself for writing a novel, and you should definitely go hire an editor or join a smart and compassionate critique group or find an online beta reader. I, sadly, am not your huckleberry.”

Then, shake their hand. Give ’em a hug if they’re willing. Because writing a novel — more to the point, finishing a novel — is hard business and they fought the Word War and deserve big-ups.

“Do You Know Stephen King?”


Your response: “Yep! We’re in a couple cooking classes together. Man, that guy makes one helluva goulash. Or should I say, ghoulash, ha ha ha, like, ghoul? G-H-O-U-L? Because he’s a horror writer, get it? Aaaaaanyway. Actually, we do this thing monthly called Orgy Thursdays, where every third Thursday it’s me, Kingy, Gaiman, Danielle Steele, the ghosts of Virginia Woolf and Harold Pinter, and we get together and — you know, it’s not always like, an actual orgy or whatever, sometimes we just go out and hunt humans for sport? But sometimes it’s an orgy. It’s cool. We all know each other. And we can communicate telepathically because we’ve all consumed one another’s blood. Chancellor Atwood of the Authorial Council decrees it must be so.”

Then, bludgeon them with a copy of King’s Insomnia.

“We’re Out Of Coffee.”

Coffee. Or booze. Or tea. Or whatever your writerly drink of choice is. 

Your response: *gnash teeth, wail, begin setting small fires, birth a clot of live screaming squirrels, fire lasers from eyes, hover above the city until you release a telekinetic wave of destruction the likes of which no one has never ever seen before*

Then, kneel down in the wreckage and open your mouth until someone pours coffee into it.

Bonus: “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

That tired old question. I get it, because people look at you and think it’s impossible for one brain to contain such weird ideas — ideas interesting and strange enough to commit to paper. Still — understand if you’re gonna ask this that we’ve been asked it approximately 457 times before.

Your response: “The question isn’t, where do you get your ideas.” Then, grab them by the collar, get real close until they can smell your old coffee breath and hiss at them: “The real question is, how do we make them stop?”


* * *

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214 responses to “Ten Things To Never Say To A Writer”

  1. I have on occasion answered that last question by explaining to people that all my ideas come from the tonsils and the appendix.

    Then I squint one eye, peer at them, and say “Have you had your tonsils removed? Tragic…”

  2. Such a great list, a terribly large amount of them are applicable even for having a blog or being a game master. I constantly have friends mention about having more time to write. It is difficult to smile at that one constantly, I can’t imagine how difficult it is on your end.

  3. When I first started identifying as a writer, I was at work having a conversation with a guy who said “You’re a writer?”

    I responded cautiously “Yes.”

    “And you’re published?”

    Again…”Yes.” Then he said something that floored me…”Then what are you doing working here?” I was floored that this guy thought that just because I had written a few things and been published in underground mags that I would be able to afford not to work. Sort of a compliment, I guess, but it seemed so strange for him to assume all writers are rich…or at least make enough that they don’t work other gigs.

    And then I laughed so hard I barfed. I won.

  4. Your. Blog. Is. FUCKING. AWESOME. Chuck. Thank you for doing that thing you do every once in awhile where you make the sorta-kinda-on-the-cusp-of-being-writerly-but-not-people (most of us) see the err (error?) of our ways and just get to it. Confession: Many blogs in my reader, but I ALWAYS make time for yours. Even if I do have some writing to do. 😉


    HAHAHA! *whimper* Yes. This.

  6. Every day I get your posts, I think, bless Chuck. You make me smile inside and if there’s a heaven, and I hope there is, because I’m expecting a massive library, I’ll tell God you’re a good guy who made a difference. If I don’t get to go to heaven, well, read books for me. Thanks!

  7. You forgot one, usually delivered with a slightly suspicious gaze. “You write books? You mean…real ones, not just self-published on Kindle?”

    Followed up on at least one occasion with: “So if I google your name, I’ll find these books are real?”

  8. One time this dude told me his idea for a story/novel without asking if it was cool first. Turned out to be this paranoid libertarian murder fantasy. Now I tell people that I am a cake maker.

  9. I never understood how adults could be so proud that they haven’t picked up a book since high school (a number of my former coworkers used to tell me that when I talked about books).

    The other one that I’m not… fond of is “I only read books that have at least fifty five-star reviews.” (Thanks, bro.)

  10. Damn… and I thought I was the only person trying to fit my writing around a day job, wife, kids and porn!!! Curse you, Wendig…you’ve totally smashed the illusion of my “martyrdom complex.”

  11. Yeah, whenever someone tells me they “don’t read” all the neurons in my brain kinda start fritzing ’cause the words didn’t compute and the very basis for my understanding life gets very confused and my brain just starts shouting “Input error! INPUT ERROR!!!”

  12. Sometimes I don’t want to like your stuff, because of all the ‘naughty language’. But I’m here almost every damn day, because you are funny and honest as hell, and I suspect you shit gold. (And if I were saying this on my own blog, I’d probably use different language.)

  13. Lol. You forgot this other most hated question, “Do you make enough money to call it a career?” Oh? Let me get out my spreadsheet and show you every cent I have ever made on my books. I’m sure if you go ask the next person if they make enough money at their job to call it a career, you’ll get a punch in the face. But for some reason, it’s okay to ask an author this.

  14. Artists of all sorts get the same sorts of comments. “Oh my niece did that in high school.” “I can get that cheaper at Walmart” “Yeah, I used to make that too, when I was a kid.”

  15. Oh, Chuck, your blog never fails to inspire me! However, you almost made me spit coffee onto my laptop which would have made it difficult to explain to my editor why my story was late. That said, my answer to the bonus question has turned into a running joke – they’re from the leprechaun I keep chained in my basement, of course!

  16. Totally love this, especially the bonus. The only people with whom I’m patient about that are the children. THEY really are trying to figure things out. But even there, I suspect the ones who will be writers don’t ask. They don’t need to. Besides, they’re too busy scribbling stories on their math homework. [note: this is not to imply at math is unnecessary, nor that writers are bad at math. Just that we will scribble stories on any paper we can find].


    This seems accurate for several writers I’ve come across…

    Actually, the worst thing I get is people asking to read my writing. I’m not published yet, and the thought of people I know reading my stuff makes me want to go hide in a wolf den. The rest of the world, fine, but people I have to talk to? Brrrr.

  18. There’s a probably apocryphal tale about Margaret Atwood at a cocktail party, where a neurosurgeon says to her, “You know, I might take up writing fiction when I retire,” to which she responds, “That’s a coincidence. When I retire I might take up neurosurgery.”

    I’ve actually written someone’s life story, two someones, in fact — as a hired ghostwriter. I haven’t calculated exactly but it’s possible that those two jobs, plus a couple of ghosted novels, have earned me more than my own eighteen novels put together.

  19. This has got to be one of the best posts on writing I have ever read!!

    I really hate it when people ask where you get your ideas, especially if you respond with something obvious like, ‘My head’ and they get hostile. (It does happen) It’s like they think there’s an idea shop which all authors visit and just fill their shopping baskets with possible story plots, and you’re deliberately keeping them from that idea shop.

    Can I add another bonus? ‘Oh, you’ll be the next JK Rowling then.’ Seriously, all you have to do is mention that you’re writing a book to some people and they come back with that response. It’s happened to me so often. Like reaching JK’s level is easy. Like anyone that falls short of lofty Harry Potter heights is somehow a failure.

    *makes noise of rage*

    • The “next J.K. Rowling” thing is even worse when the person knows you write fantasy. And then they look at you funny like they think you’re doubting yourself when you respond that you could never be like her.


  20. “WE’RE OUT OF COFFEE.” – I’m the saddest saddo. My drink of choice is tea (real tea, proper tea, tea that comes in packs that say “Yorkshire” or “Typhoo” or “Tetley” or “PG Tips” or “Sainsbury Red Label”). I carry a few tea bags with me. And when I visit the USA, I always pack a box of tea bags and a portable kettle (because microwave tea and coffee machine tea is not tea. It’s fraud).

    • “My drink of choice is tea (real tea, proper tea, tea that comes in packs that say “Yorkshire” ”

      Ah, Yorkshire Gold. A proper brew. But not in bags, surely. There’s a place called Yorkshire Pantry that will ship you a kilo of YG anywhere in the world. Having house-sat in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece, I rely on the Pantry.

      • UK tea bags are much better than American ones. I speak of what I know. British ones are made for the pot, so they’re stronger, and they are fresh, because of the quick turnover. The one time I was forced to buy American tea bags, they were as dry as dust and tasted of very little. The milk made the brew look like cafe-au-lait paint. It’s like giving an American a jar of Nescafe and calling it coffee.

        • I’m working-class British-Canadian. I know my tea, and good as Yorkshire Gold tea bags are, the leaf is better. Although the best tea I’ve ever had was from Murchie’s in Victoria, British Columbia. If you’re ever there, drop in. And there’s a lovely book store next door, owned and run (last time I looked) by Alice Munro’s ex-husband.

      • Thanks for the tip!
        Haven’t had a decent cup of Yorkshire Gold in years!
        A 1Kg bag should jsut about salvage the coming winter…
        (Of course, living in Norway, not all that far from the Arctic circle, we only have two seasons, white and green winter… )

  21. Oh God, it’s so so true. My Dad is losing his memory now. He asks me “Where do you get your ideas?” every single time I see him, which is twice a week, and every single time I have to say “I don’t know. They just arrive.” I suspect he’s never going to stop until I tell him that I pay $100 to a writer’s inspiration magazine and they send me one a month in the post.

  22. “You can write my idea” is one of the worst things ever. Thankfully, if I know the person well enough, I can just call them stupid.

    People also tend to back down if, when they say “I wanna write a book someday” you say vigorously and without breaking eye contact “You should do it!” (it’s funny, I don’t subscribe to dominance theory for dogs, but I really do for people). They realize how much they don’t actually want to at that point.

  23. Wonderful. So many quotables – the first that caught a re-read was “I carve little bits of meat and skin off the day’s flesh and I use every part of the animal.” So visceral. Love it. I have to share.

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