Peggy Bechko on Stuff You Should Never Ask A Writer

by Peggy Bechko

Today I’m going to approach things from the opposite direction of normal. As writers, whether novel or script or some other writing avenue, we’ve all heard a lot of weird questions. So, this is something you can pass on to your non-writing and some of your newbie-writer friends.

What questions should you not ask a Writer?

First – Is being a writer a real job?

Seriously, I’ve been asked that. Followed quickly by personal and impolite questions (after I answered in the affirmative) such as, how much money do you make and can you pay your bills? Answers?

Enough, and yes.

And of course those questions are asked AFTER you publish a book, option a screenplay or otherwise gain income from your writing. My father kept telling me to get a ‘real job’ even after the fourth novel was published with Doubleday and I’d been offered a contract for a book with Harlequin.

He didn’t live long enough to see me option my first script (it was illness that did him in, not me) and I haven’t lived long enough to see one of my scripts make it all the way through production to hit the screen (well except for one half hour animation).

Here’s the thing. Not all novels are published though once purchased they usually see publication. Not every screenplay is purchased and once purchased not all are produced and once produced not all see distribution. So of course we hear the question – “where can I get your book?” Or, “where would I have seen one of your movies?”

It can make for a very strange exchange. And if you can’t direct someone to one of your creations you’re liable to hear the next question – “so, then what is your REAL job?”

Really. Don’t be surprised if you get that one. And to the non-writers or newbie writers out there – don’t ask those kinds of questions from your writer friends who may be a bit ahead of you in the success department.

Then there’s the next one – “is your family (friends plus whoever) backing you?” I think they want to hear no, for a variety of reasons, but I could be wrong. It kinda comes across either like “oh, you poor thing”, or “whohoo, you have a fan club”.

For me, you already heard about my father’s position – my mother was the support and a few friends who thought it was cool I would take “such a risk”. (Well, even fan clubs have their flaws.)

It’s nice to have support of any kind when tilting at the windmill of screenwriting or novel publication but I never think of writers as wounded, needy folks who need to hang on to someone or something just to get that writing done. Mostly the once I know have been pretty fierce and independent…kinda had to be.

Non-writer? Here’s a question to not ask your writing friend. “You write – can you give some advice to my friend’s neighbor’s cousin’s daughter?”

Or the reverse (more rare, but I’ve heard it). “Oh, cool, you’re a writer. My Mom’s neighbor’s friend is a published novelist (or screenwriter or whatever); should I ask him or her to read your script (or novel or whatever) and give you feedback?”

Uh, no.

Another question not to ask. “Oh, is that your hobby?” Seriously?

Uh, NO!

Here’s another one. “My mother had the most interesting life. Would you like to write a biography (or screen script) about her?” Please don’t ask this of a writer, then start pouring out all the details of said person’s life.

Oh, please no.

And don’t ever ask a writer this question. “So, do you hang out at a coffee shop all day using their free WiFi for research and acting like you’re writing?”

There’s no ‘acting’ about it. A writer writes…pretty much all the time. There are all sorts of stumbling blocks and there are also all sorts of deadlines (internal and external).

Writers serious about their craft, whatever kind of writing they do, churn out a certain number of words or pages every day. That’s how it works.

From the novice to the full-time pro, writing is a tough go. Thinking just a little bit before asking a question of a writer friend will cause them to appreciate you above many others.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.