Are You Still Writing?

Anyone who has had any success at all within the precarious profession of writing will soon discover that there are certain questions or comments which you will hear over and over again. It will happen at public readings, or parties, at workshops or in the privacy of your own home. Quite often they are perpetrated by celebrities, on radio and television. Most of them are, when you consider them closely, and however innocently uttered, fairly outrageous. Or could it be that writers are touchier than most and hear insults where none are intended? Anyway, here are a few of them. If you are in company with a writer, and want to annoy the hell out of them, just drop a few of these into the conversation. Or feel free to add some examples of your own below.

1 I'd write a book if I had the time. A subtly insulting one this, implying that (a) it isn't very difficult and (b) the speaker is far too busy to be bothered with such trivia. Or alternatively....

2 I'd love to retire to the country one day, and write a novel. Much favoured by celebrities. 'When I'm fed up with acting/presenting/newsreading, I'll just toss off the odd novel. ' Sad thing is, when they do, it will certainly be published with maximum publicity, and copies will sell by the million. Do we ever hear about actors and presenters of a certain age deciding to take up brain surgery or rocket science or even plumbing? We do not.

3 My life would make a book. I have done all kinds of interesting things. Well, I think they are interesting, anyway. If I tell them to you, will you write them down in novel form, so that I can bask in the reflected glory? (Or sue you.....)

4 I've got a really good idea for a book/play/film. Just another version of 3, above really. I'll give you my idea, you can work on it, and I'll take a cut of the cash.

5 When I was writing my novel.... Another favourite of celebrity writers and, when you think about it, another variant of 3 and 4. When the ghost writer was interviewing me and going off to do the hard slog, this is what I told her.....Just as the queen thinks that everywhere smells of new paint, celebrity 'authors' think that getting books published is as easy as lifting the phone.

6 When you are writing a play, do you have to put all the speeches in? Or do you, as so many people seem to think, simply write a plotline on the back of an envelope, while the actors make up the dialogue? This has been said to me by a relative, of whom I am very fond. What on earth did he think I was doing all these years? Even a moment's consideration will explain this one - all kinds of media, and not just tabloids either, behave as though the actors DO make up the lines. To be fair, most decent actors try to counter this by constant references to the writing, but the media don't care to be reminded that somebody, usually a writer, made this stuff up.

7 Where do you get your ideas from? Simply puzzling, this one. The answer, of course, is from everywhere, and everyone and all the time. In my experience, writers are never, ever short of ideas. We always have more ideas than we have time to explore them. A lifetime is not long enough. This is, incidentally, a favourite of people attending creative writing workshops. It always fills me with gloom. Workshops and classes can help you find your own voice, and help you to polish your writing. They can help you present it for publication. They can inspire you to keep going. What they can't do is help you to get ideas. You have to have those in the first place. It is a prerequisite of writing. Most writers are quietly interested in life, the universe and everything.

8 Are you still writing? This is perhaps the worst. You meet somebody you haven't seen for a while - sometimes years, but more often only months, and they say 'Are you still writing?' It always seems to me to imply that the writing was a temporary aberration, and you have at last seen sense. Or am I being unduly touchy? Yes, I would like to say. I'm still slogging away. I write because I must. Because it hurts me not to do it. Because I love it. Because even when I hate it, I can't stop. Because when it's going badly, it's still worthwhile, but when it's going well, there's nothing like it. Nothing. But I don't say any of that. I just smile and say yes, I'm still writing. How about you?


Peter McLean said…
I can really relate to this post. I've had several of these comments directed at me over the years, especially the first and last. But I wonder if perhaps we poets get less of that than you do because we have something to show for our efforts more often than someone who writes longer works. Anyway, I certainly know the disdainful looks of those who think I should be doing something more useful and productive with my time, and the look of pity on the face of people who think you only write because you can't do anything else. They don't realise that we don't want to do anything else. (Even if we could, lol).