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

    I’ve called this the “Thanks for Mowing My Literary Lawn.” As in, yeah, I can mow my own lawn, but there’s a kid at the door who will do it for $20 and take it off my hands. It’s an attitude that devalues writing from craft to just a chore.

  2. So … Hit them, tase them, bludgeon them, kill them. Ha. Ha-ha? Do you rationalize violence whenever people disagree with you, or just about writing?

  3. lol this article is written by a pissed of writer with a lame superiority complex! So the things not to say to a writer are basically showing any kind of interest to their work or aspire to be like them?? I am sorry but I just don’t agree with most of these responses! I am a writer myself and this how I would interpret to these comments:

    1. “I want to write a book someday” – This is nothing but a very humble desire to be a writer. Lets face it, everyone wants to be a writer! Writing is a cool job and I don’t see how someone expressing that desire would offend me in any way. In fact, if I get offended, I would be a hypocrite, because before I became a writer, I myself had said the same thing to other writers and many times to myself in the mirror. And also, how writers can take this statement as an insult to their own writing ability is beyond my comprehension!! You may have a sea of books in you, but that doesn’t mean if someone who has just one book in him has any lesser potential for writing than you. If fact his/her one book can be better than your hundred books, who knows?

    2. “I wish I had time to write” – To me that’s a very valid concern. I myself wanted to write the book I had in my mind without having any time to write it, due to busy schoolwork, family matters I had to take care of at that time etc. After that, when I got older, more matured and had more time to give to myself I started writing! As depressing as it sounds, getting enough time to write is a prerequisite to writing.

    3. “Can you write my idea?” – Ok I admit this will be a quite annoying to hear! But honestly, I never had anyone say that to me. If you hang around with people who has such lazy superiority complex, may be you should reconsider who you should be friends with.

    4. “You should write my own life-story” – WOW! That’s even more annoying! But then again the same logic as above applies here.

    5. “I don’t read.” – Ok this definitely very annoying and I admit I heard some people say that. I simply cut ties with them if they do. Not reading books is one thing, but saying it out loud with a smug confidence as if it’s a good thing is another story.

    6. “You must be rich!” – I always take this comment as a joke as I know that nobody with a sane mind would say that seriously!

    7. “Has your book been turned into a movie” – Serious dude, who do you hang out with?? 😮

    8. “Will you read my novel?” – Once again you have to have a very hypocritical attitude if you actually get offended by that. If you are an aspiring writer with a little piece of your own, you will never dare go to people you don’t know with that, no matter how professional they are. You would be much more comfortable instead if a good friend of yours who writes takes a look at it and tells you how you may improve. That is how I started writing! So if anyone ever cam to me with that question, I would actually be quite flattered, because firstly, he trusts me enough to hand me his own writing and secondly, he thinks I am a good enough writer to actually take writing tips from. If you get concerned with legal ramifications just for being asked that question, perhaps something as humble and as noble as writing is not for you. Try studying law maybe?

    9. “Do you know Stephen King?” – WOW I seriously cant relate to that! Again, I would really like to meet the people you spend your time with!

    10. “Where are out of coffee” – Well…what does that even mean?! Who are these people??

    11. “Where do you get your ideas?” – To me that’s a perfectly valid question. I honestly don’t even understand why it would offend anyone! Writing is a complicated process and everyone’s process is unique and sometimes, sharing and talking about each other’s process help.

  4. I’m a writer. In fact my debut novel is published next week, and I recognise every single one of these idiotic comments, as they have all been said to me… repeatedly. My own favourite question came from an elderly relative. Would I be flying between book signings in a helicopter?

  5. My husband’s grandfather once asked me how much I make off my books. BWA-HUH? I was mortified. I don’t ask how much people make at their jobs, and it’s never appropriate to ask writers, either.

  6. Wow Chuck, You’ve made it SO much to better to have to hear these things. Now I will suppress a smile as I think of your CORRECT response while some polite incorrect response dribbles out of my mouth. Then I will walk away and write a scene where a writer bludgeons some poor soul at a cocktail party with a copy of THE POISONWOOD BIBLE for committing such an unspeakable crime. 😉

  7. My grandmother used to always ask me how much I made. In her eyes, unless I was making X amount, it was a waste of time. It got so bad that I just stopped answering her question. I would end up saying “Enough for me to be happy.”

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s business how much a writer makes as it varies so much.

    That said, I’m completely with you on the ‘we’re out of coffee.’ Never, ever a good sign. Especially on a writing day.

  8. Just another post where I swear we were separated at birth, other than us looking nothing alike and probably being different ages.

    What is that other cliche I am not supposed to use?? Oh yeah Kindred Spirits.

    Thank you for expressing these things in the manner they should be!!

    Me (sitting in Starbucks, researching (really) on my tablet).
    300-pound guy in groaning wheelchair, illegible once-black t-shirt, and fingerless gloves.
    Smelly scary guy rolls up to my table one handed, slurping a strawberry frap which has oozed down into the tangle of his long, gray, and frizzy beard and which looks uncomfortably like vomit.
    Guy: Mind if I share your table?
    Me: Uh…sure. (Return to my intent study of the tablet.)
    Guy: Whatcha doing?
    Me: (internal sigh) Researching.
    Guy: You in school?
    Me: (internal scowl) I’m a writer.
    Guy: I’m gonna write a book.
    Me: (internal scream) That’s great.
    Guy: “Bout my days in ‘Nam. (strawberry-vomit drips slowly from beard onto shirt) I could tell you stories…
    Me: Ahhh…looks like I’m out of coffee. Gotta run.

  10. When they ask where my ideas come from, I always used to say “I did a lot of drugs in college.”

    It had nothing to do with the ideas, but it was the sort of answer they wanted, so it worked great. Then I started doing children’s books, and…well…that doesn’t go over so well any more.

  11. I never want the ideas to stop. Even the bad ones. But they do show up at the oddest times…I had one day to myself several weeks ago. I took a day trip and ended up spending a nice chunk of the day working on notes for a short film. Briefly my mind screamed “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” So many ideas. So little time. Must write. Faster…

  12. Chuck, may I call you Chuck? Since I’m from the south, it’s custom here to ask…or I’ll just keep calling your Mr. Wendig. Anyway, sometimes your ramblings are pure brilliance. This happens to be one of those times. I especially like the “Gosh, I wish I had time to write,” and “I don’t read.”

  13. “You should write…”

    NO! I’ll write what I damn well want to write. If you’ve got an idea burning in your head that you want to see in print, write it your damn self!

  14. I can’t use the whole roll of duct tape. I need some of that duct tape to keep my car together.

    Another thing to not ask a writer. “Can you put me in your story?” I had someone ask me that when they saw me writing. Never talked to them before, then suddenly they were in my personal bubble and refusing to stop talking. This is why I hide away at home to write. There are *people* out there.

  15. As I’m grinding through the second chapter of my second novel of
    my series, this is the first WONDERFUL thing that has made me laugh and tears run from red eyes that don’t blink as they stare at the computer hour after hour in a sight-destroying daze. Thank you.

  16. Hilarious. I love every snarky word, I do. But this is me supposing you never once were this same person… a beginner with nothing but a desire to be somewhere someday and to learn from those who know just a little bit more than we do…

  17. My only regret is that I know if I forwarded this list to the non-writer friends/family to whom it applies…they wouldn’t get it. But thank you from the bottom of my caffeine-swilling, hobo-styled, no-pants-wearing soul for the validation.

  18. Acknowledging first and foremost that this is all in good fun, I honestly don’t get what some are suggesting about these being things beginning writers say to successful ones. I have not published anything longer than three pages or earned anything remotely resembling a living from writing, yet I’ve been hearing crap like this for years and never said any of it to other people. Unless we really are out of coffee. It happens. Fantastic post.

  19. Erica, Those *people* you are so disparaging about are the same ones who will buy your book, and put food on your table. Rock Stars are grateful for an audience – writers should be too.

    • Comments are moderated because:

      a) Sometimes posts are spam and are not caught by a spam filter
      b) Sometimes people are abusive and I don’t let those comments through

      This is a moderated section, not a free-for-all. If this is a problem and you’d prefer to have the ability to shout whatever you like at whomever you choose, might I suggest finding a street corner and a soapbox.

      — c.

  20. Alexander McCall Smith (in an interview) said his response to those who tell him they ‘have a book in them’ is they should have that x-rayed. Thanks for this article, it’s pure gold.

  21. I LOVE this. A friend became an acquaintance when dissing (behind my back) the fact that I had become a writer. Recently, she floored me by saying, “I want to write a book. It sounds like fun.” What?

  22. While I was blah, blah, blah (shit you’re not interested in), I came across your blog (on page TWO of Google, btw, should have been at the top of page 1), about finding your voice. Read that, snorted my coffee which I have plenty of, scared the bejesus out of my cat, and googled you, yourself – Mr Chuck Wendig. You’re funny, and clever. Thank you.

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