Ten Things Not To Say To a Writer

Yesterday, the hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter was trending on Twitter. I chimed in with a few suggestions, and it got me thinking.

For a long time, I didn’t think I was worthy of being called “writer.” (I even wrote a poem about it in my journal.) I thought I needed to be published, getting paid, well known. The truth is that I don’t need a novel or a contract with a newspaper to be a writer. I am a writer because I am committed to the art and act of writing. (That said, I’m never going to approach a published novelist and assert that definition. They have more of a right to be stingy with the title than I do.) These are ten things that you should never say in my–or any other writer’s–presence.

1. “So, when are you going to get a real job?” This is my real job. I’m a writer, not a couch-surfer. Remember how much work it was to do writing assignments in high school and college? It’s still that much work; it just happens that I like doing it. Also, half of being a writer is self-promotion. What’s the point of writing if nobody ever reads it, yeah? So, once I’ve written something, I have to get the word out–through social media, word of mouth, whatever. Regardless of medium, it’s time consuming and hit-or-miss in the early stages.

2. “How’s your little blog thing?” Oh, I don’t know. How’s your little teaching thing, parent thing, engineer thing, pastor thing? I’m building something from the ground up; you don’t belittle other entrepreneurs, so please don’t belittle me. P.S.: If you took the ten minutes a week to read my blog, maybe you wouldn’t be burdened with stupid questions.

3. “Would I know your name/blog?” No, probably not. But now you do. Go forth and put this information to good use.

4. “Can you edit this for me?” While I was a writing tutor in college, and I don’t hate editing, it’s not right to assume that all writers are good editors. If you’re asking for this favor, you need to be asking yourself some fundamental questions: Did I offer my services? Are you going to pay me? I don’t solicit free plumbing or electrical work from you; that would be insulting. Don’t assume that my job is any different.

5. “You should be writing [topic/idea/genre]. You know, important stuff.” Oh. My. Word. There is an infinite realm of things to write about. Each writer chooses his or her topic of interest on purpose. Sometimes it deals with talent or passion; sometimes it’s following the money. Regardless, I promise you that, if you are saying this to me, we have very different definitions of what is “important.” So, please, for your well-being and mine, just don’t.

6. “Young adult? Why not pick a real genre?” I recognize that this is similar to number five, but it deserves its own bullet. My full thoughts here.

7. “So, you sit at home doing nothing all day?” No. See number one for details.

8. “I’d read your [blog/books/column], but I’m not your target audience/don’t have the time.” This is the equivalent of saying, “I would have come to your party, but I didn’t want to, so I stayed home and watched Game of Thrones instead. It was a much better use of my time.” Please, don’t make excuses for why you haven’t read our writing–and don’t ask for free books or the like as a way of doing so. If you don’t care to read our writing, then don’t pretend that you wish you did. I will never ask if you read my blog, so you shouldn’t feel compelled to tell me if you don’t.

9. “So, you married rich,” or anything else that implies that I’m a gold-digger. For starters, rude. Are you implying that my husband and I haven’t discussed this, that he wasn’t part of the decision? That you know more about the situation than we do? Because, no. Let’s be honest: This is none of your business. Please don’t.

10. “I’m not a big reader.” I’m not big on people who don’t appreciate the written word. Bye, Felipe. (Okay, maybe this one’s slightly harsh. But honestly, there are so many ways of consuming literature that the physical act of reading is no longer the point.)


11. “You have a blog? Don’t you want to be a real writer?” Agh! “Real writers” come in a variety of forms: journalists, novelists, biographers, memoirists, technical writers, political analysts, and–yes–even bloggers. And that’s just a few possibilities. What matters is not what we write; it’s that we’re dedicated to excellence in our writing.

2 Comments on “Ten Things Not To Say To a Writer

  1. Great stuff Leah 🙂 I’ve encouraged several of my students to establish a blog to showcase their writing talents for college & career. I should also be giving them this “list of things not to say” so they’ll be prepared with responses when folks say them anyway. 🙂

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