I’m pleased to be joined today by Karen Murdarasi. I met Karen when she was reading at Noir at The Bar in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. Her story about a secretary who accidentally kills her boss was very funny! Karen is a Scottish author of books for adults and young people. After studying Ancient History at the University of St Andrews, she served as a missionary in Albania for a few years, taking home a husband as a souvenir. She now lives in Glasgow and spends a lot of time with her beautiful nieces.
Today she explains the top things not to say to a writer. Her piece certainly made me smile and will make me think more carefully about how I talk to authors in future!
You can connect with Karen and find out more at these links
Top Five Things Not to Say to a Writer
Writers are a touchy bunch. We are often more sensitive than the rest of the population, which makes us better at observing people, relationships and the world. That’s very handy for writing interesting stories, but less helpful when it comes to dealing with the inevitable rejections (“I’m a failure! No one likes my work!”) or to interacting with non-writers, and their well-meaning questions.
This is inevitably a personal list, but I’m sure there are a few phrases on here that make other writers’ hearts sink too. So here’s my take on what not to say to a writer.
What do you write?
Yes, I know, this is a perfectly reasonable question, and it’s probably a welcome question if you’re the kind of writer who has found a comfortable niche and can happily answer “crime fiction” or “political thrillers” or “magical realism set in Welsh former mining villages”. But I am left either mumbling something unhelpful about “different things” or listing the various genres I write in, from YA historical adventures stories to Christian devotional material to darkly humorous contemporary short stories, while your eyes glaze over and you start to back away.
A better question is “what are you working on just now?” That I can answer, that I can talk about, and if you look genuinely interested you might be there for some time. In fact, do you want to take some pages and give me comments?
Have you written anything I would have seen/heard of?
You remember that one about international religious conspiracy? The one with Tom Hanks in the film? No, that wasn’t me.
How do I answer this question? I don’t know what magazines or websites you read. Maybe you’ve seen my work, maybe you haven’t – but given the number of books, magazines and websites that are out there, it’s far more likely that you haven’t. So what this question does is force me to admit that no, I am not famous, I am not especially successful, I do not have a glittering literary career (yet). So thanks for that.
By the way, someone once said pretty much the opposite of this question to me: “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you.” I could have kissed her.
Have you had anything published?
On the other hand, some people’s expectations are too low. You might not have seen my books in the window at Waterstones, but if you ask me what I do and I say “I’m an author”, it would be pretty strange if I’d never had anything published. I bake some pretty amazing cakes but I don’t say “I’m a baker” when people ask what I do. Unlike my cakes, people pay (at least occasionally) for my writing; it’s my profession. But I shrink from saying “I’m a professional author” because I can’t help feeling it makes me sound like a fraud. I mean, when was the last time someone was introduced to you as a “professional doctor”?
“Have you had anything published recently” is a bit better. If I have, I love to be asked this, but if you catch me during a dry patch you will just increase my feelings of despondency.
You should write my life story.
Or my mother’s life story, or my father’s, or my next-door neighbours, or this bloke I met once, can’t remember his name; it would make a great book!
Oh, where to start with this one? Firstly, I write mainly fiction. You’re probably familiar with that; it means making stuff up. I have plenty of ideas, ideas are not the problem; writing it up into a story is the problem. If I have time and energy, I’m going to spend it on my own creations, not someone else’s life story.
Secondly, biography doesn’t usually sell, however interesting it might be, unless it’s of someone famous. My great uncle had a fascinating life, but if I ever do write an account of it, there would be no point in publishing it commercially because only people who knew him would ever want to read it. In fact, I’ve had a pretty interesting life myself so far; if I can’t even be bothered to write my own memoirs, I’m not going to write yours.
I have actually had a couple of biographies published, but they are fictionalised biographies of extremely famous and influential people (St Augustine and St Patrick) who lived exciting lives. Unless you’ve been kidnapped by pirates or blockaded by the fleet of a false emperor, while simultaneously changing the face of the Christian church, I’m afraid I’m not very interested in writing an account of your life.
You’ll be the next J K Rowling!
People say this to me, usually with a laugh, because I write children’s books, but I’m sure other authors get told “the next Stephen King” or “the next John Grisham” or some other staggeringly famous and successful writer. Now don’t get me wrong, it would be lovely to be rich, famous and successful, but you don’t really believe I’ll ever be J K Rowling, I don’t really believe it, and all you’re doing is making me feel bad that I’ll never attain such a ridiculously high level of success.
My main ambition as a writer is to be able to live on what I earn from writing, and not have to do other part-time jobs. How about letting me get there first, before thinking about a glittering international career? In fact, how about helping me get there by buying my books? 😉
And by the way, even if I should attain to those dizzy heights some day, I still wouldn’t be the next J K Rowling; I would be the first K C Murdarasi.
If you’re a reader and you have ever said any (or all) of these things to me, please don’t take offence; it’s better to be asked about writing than not, however many times I might have heard the question. If you’re a writer and this list strikes a chord with you, or if you entirely disagree, feel free to add your own most-hated questions in the comments section.