By Chuck Wendig *
“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?”
Then, punch yourself in the face screaming, “MAKE THEM STOP OH GOD THESE IDEAS WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE I AM JUST AN ANTENNA FOR THE MUSE’S GROTESQUE FREQUENCY.”
*Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And the madness of toddlers. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.