Recently, an unusual topic trended on twitter. It was 10 Things Not to Say to a Writer and offered a wide selection of the daft things people say to writers all the time. Such as:
- Are you a real writer?
- I have a great idea for a book. You can write it and we’ll split the fee.
- What a great hobby. When are you getting a real job?
- I don’t read books. They bore me.
- Where do you get your ideas?
- Of course, anyone can write a book.
- How much do you make?
- Your book got great reviews. Did you write them yourself?
- Please send us your scripts. We’ll change them without consulting you and won’t pay you, either. All our money goes to our actors…
- I read your book… Some people will do anything for money…
- Speaking of money: how about you write a 50,ooo word piece for us? It won’t take more than a year. Two, tops. Oh, no, we can’t afford to pay you…
Well, you get the gist. The thing is, these questions are obviously daft, but they’re also true. That is, writers get asked these sort of things all the time. Not just writers, either. Actors, musicians and other artists get asked equally inane, rude and insulting stuff.
Imagine if tradespeople were subjected to this sort of question. What would that look like? What would a plumber say if you were to ask him this stuff?
Are you a real plumber? Are you kidding me?
I have a great idea for unclogging a drain. How about I explain it to you and you split your fee with me every time you use it? How about I split your lip?
So, plumbing, huh? What a great hobby. When do you think you might get a real job? When do you think you might grow a brain?
I don’t take showers. They bore me. You bore me too, son. And you stink.
Where do you find the water? (There’s actually no answer to this question.)
Of course, anyone can fix a boiler. Off you go, then. Show me how it’s done.
How much do you make? How far do you think I can get this drain snake up your rear?
Your business gets great reviews. Do you write them yourself? Seriously. How far?
Please lay down the plumbing for this new housing estate. We can’t pay you, but it’ll be great publicity. How about I leave you without plumbing for, oh, say six months, then charge you double? (Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be an option for writers. There will always be someone so desperate for exposure or publication they’ll sign outrageous contracts.)
You get the idea. People don’t dare be rude to a plumber because, 1) their plumbing problem won’t be fixed and 2) most plumbers are pretty burly chaps with access to a wide range of potential weapons.
What’s a writer going to do? Sarcasm you to death?
It all comes down to respect, really. People don’t mean to be rude, they just don’t know any better. Writers, like other artists, do seem like mysterious creatures. How do they do it?
In my opinion, people ask writers (and other artists) two types of question:
- How do you do what you do? and
- Show me the money.
The first question is because we all harbour a desire to be creative. Of all the arts, writing seems the most accessible. You might be tone-deaf, clueless about playing musical instruments, and know nothing about art, but every fool knows how to write. Right? You just need to know the secret. So, come on, give. What is it?
Secondly, we’ve all seen the newspaper stories about the sort of contracts awarded to the likes of JK Rowling. We see people like Stevie King or John Grisham in the papers and assume ‘millionaire’. So when they meet a poor (literally) slob like me, they wonder why my shoes are five years old and I don’t even have bicycle, never mind a limo.
The two types of question are linked, of course: tell me how to do what you do so I can be rich, too. If only it were that easy.
Still, though, I suppose it could be worse. At least I don’t have people trying to video me while I’m working, unlike those poor sods playing Hamlet at the Barbican…