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Ten questions about writing

May 21, 2011

As a fiction writer (who is not incredibly famous), once you decide to tell people that you write, you rarely get the reply, “Oh, okay.” The Pandora’s Box of questions opens. Some peolpe are enthusiastic on your behalf, some almost abhorred at the waste of your time, some genuinely interested. Here are ten questions that I have been asked about writing and my replies to them (that I didn’t necessarily say at the time).

Can’t you make a lot of money/a living from that?
There are some J.K. Rowlings and Dan Browns out there. But have you any idea how many writers there are? If you are not just talking traditionally published authors, but count self-published writers, people who have had a piece published in a webzine, and people who are working on their first stories, there is more than a lot. We are not all going to get rich. And, more importantly, who begins writing only in the search of fame and fortune? Many of us certainly would love a large audience, and if we could make a living writing, we could quit our dayjobs and do what we love, but even if a writer has a couple of novels published, it does not make him or her wealthy. We generally aren’t in it for the money. See the next question, please.

Why do you choose to write?
In Soviet Russia, writing choose you!
Because I need to and want to and love doing it. I’ve always had ideas, stories and characters in my head. They keep coming, and I like to get them out and make room for more. Writing is the most efficient method for me.

How do you come up with ideas?
How do you not come up with ideas? No, seriously. They pop up whether I want them to or not. And whether I do anything with them or not. They come out of the blue or from any kind of input. It is rarely a conscious effort. The hard part is not getting ideas, it is making sense of them and doing them justice in writing.

What is your story about?/What do you write about?
(Which one of them?) I tend to write character driven stories. I rarely write anything without any kind of humour, and I practically never write anything that is nothing but fun. I dabble in literary fiction, historical supernatural novels of development and really short fiction. I can’t tell you what my stories is about in a hundred words, but I can try in 140 characters.

Why don’t you write a book about ..?
Because that’s not the way it works for me. I don’t choose a subject or a theme and then build up a story and characters around it. Something turns up and I begin to develop it, but I don’t want to (and probably couldn’t do it very well) pick a popular theme and write about it or work on a story only because no one else has written about that subject.

So, in order to be a writer, you need to read as well?
Yes. Yes, you really, really do. If you’re a cook, do you need to taste other people’s food? There’s no question that writers have to read. What they need to read (apart from the obvious “as much as possible”) is another matter. Heaps of non-fiction for research, classic novels, bestsellers, and books in the genre you write in are some of  the answers. But everybody agrees that reading is important.

Since you write, have you read XXX by YYY?
There are two answers: Yes or no. I haven’t read everything merely because I write, but there’s a good chance that I’ve read the book you’re talking about or at least know of it if it fits the scope of my reading and writing.

How do you have time for writing?
I, um, make time? How do you have time for watching the telly? There is a number of things that we have to do every day or on a regular basis and the rest we more or less choose. It’s not necessarily a question of one thing or an other. You can get a lot of writing done in an hour. I don’t watch much tv and I’m lucky to have friends who write or have other creative hobbies, so we can meet and do them together.

Have you had anything published?
It depends on what you mean. I once co-wrote a non-fiction book for a publishing house in my country. But that had nothing to do with what I do now and it is published under a different name. I’ve put some of my stories online myself, and I’ve recently begun to submit short fiction to various online magazines, some of which have been accepted and published. But no, you won’t find a novel in your local bookstore by M. Howalt. Perhaps you will one day. It would be fantastic. But you know what? I’m going at a pace that I’m comfortable with, and even if I never have a novel published, that’s all right. I’ll still have written several and had a good time doing it.

Isn’t it hard?/Isn’t it easy?
No. And No. Or yes and yes. When you’re on a roll and have the time for it, it’s a brilliant feeling to be typing away, feeling your story and your characters. It can be intense and liberating. But writing is also hard work. And because it means so much to a writer, it can be heart wrenching and frustrating at times. I love it.

At least half of those questions could easily be turned into the theme of a whole blog post. I may do that. Any one in particular that you would like discussed a bit more in-depth?
Also, what questions are you asked about writing? Do you enjoy when people ask you things about writing, or is it plain annoying, or does it depend on the person and the question? What would you reply to some of the questions in this post?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2011 9:24 pm

    Isn’t it hard?/Isn’t it easy?

    I’d say it’s easy to write, but it’s very hard to write very well.

    Funny, I’ve had mixed reactions from my friends. Some want nothing to do with my writing, some are supportive of it, and some simply acknowledge that writing is what I do.


    • May 21, 2011 9:47 pm

      The hardest thing is for other people to grasp that it is indeed “what we do”. And that making money is a bonus, not the reason we do it.

      Friends and family can never give you objective judgements about your writng, so best to keep them distant.

      If you’re a baker or an electrician no-one asks you about the loaf of bread you baked or the house you’ve rewired.

      The worst thing about being a writer is the assumption by people who aren’t writers that is you get a rejection it’s because your writing isn’t good enough. But good enough for who?

      Our novel was deemed not good enough by the UK agents. So we put it on Amazon and sold 60,000. Now the agents come to us, from New York.

      And yes, at the moment we’re making money. But it will be a sad day when that’s the reason we write.

      The money is a bonus, and it may well be we can go full-time in the near future. But when we start writing for money, not for the joy of writing, that will be a sad day indeed.


      • May 21, 2011 10:31 pm

        Excellent writing / money points. Many people- writers included- consider writing a hobby unless it earns enough money to support the writer. It’s the same attitude regarding other art. If you aren’t “in demand,” you’re “dabbling.”


        • May 22, 2011 10:19 am

          The “hobby” definition is a bit odd. To me, a hobby sounds like something you can easily put away for a period of time and that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you. Lots of creative “hobbies” are more than that – without necessarily paying the bills. That’s how it is for me, at least. Writing is important.


          • May 22, 2011 5:26 pm

            Yes, the “hobby” definition is odd, and I think its pervasiveness is why so many writers don’t become authors.


            • May 22, 2011 7:19 pm

              I think you’re right. And then we’re back to the definition of the difference between “writers” and “authors”. – Seems to me we have the same understanding of the terms. 🙂


      • May 22, 2011 10:14 am

        I’m in a writing group with friends, though, and I think we’re doing our best to stay objective. But it is hard – we may go overboard and be harder on each other in order not to be too nice, or we may like something simply because we have been behind the scenes and know how the story developed.

        Great points about your writing (not) being “good enough”. Sometimes it’s not a matter quality, but audience.

        And a sad day, indeed. My muses would most likely refuse to cooperate if I began doing it for money.

        Thank you for the comment!


    • May 22, 2011 10:05 am

      Well put! 🙂

      I know and have known people who couldn’t care less about my writing (or thought it was a waste of my time), but these days most of the people I am closest to are creative in one way or another, so they understand it to a certain degree even if they don’t write themselves.

      Thank you for the comment! 🙂 Always greatly appreciated!


  2. Maggie permalink
    May 22, 2011 1:52 am

    I get mad when people tell me I’m not going to make any money writing. I don’t care whether I make money or not! I do it for fun and because I love it!

    Excellent post. 🙂


    • May 22, 2011 10:16 am

      Thank you! And for the comment as well. 🙂

      Well, first of all, people can’t know if you will make money or not. And secondly – well, what you said, really. Call it a hobby or a passion. Writers love writing. That is why we do it.


  3. May 23, 2011 5:25 pm

    You said:
    “How do you come up with ideas?
    How do you not come up with ideas? No, seriously. They pop up whether I want them to or not.”

    *Very* true! For every story I plot out or book I write, I get about 10 more ideas. 🙂 Great post!


    • May 23, 2011 7:51 pm

      Ah, you have that abundance thing as well. 🙂 It’s great. And a little frustrating at times.
      Thank you for visiting! I’m glad you liked the post! 🙂


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