You Really Want to Know? Really?

2 Aug

Do you ever get questions that are impossible to answer?  Questions that make you wonder, um, can you think for yourself?  Questions like these, for example:

“Where’s the bathroom?”  Do I look like I know my way around the Shanghai airport?  Being here once before does not make me an expert of this airport’s layout.  I know ‘bathroom’ is difficult to say in Chinese, but come on – that’s, like, the first thing we learned here.  And you’ve been here once before, too, just like me.  Seriously.  There is a sign two feet away from you that shows you where to go.  

Can I switch to an aisle seat?  I feel sick and don’t want to sit in the middle.”  Do I look like the flight attendant you just spoke with five minutes ago?  She printed your ticket five minutes ago, I’m sure you could go back up there and ask her.  Do I look like I have the necessary authority to switch your seat? 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a little about other such questions and the people who ask them.  I’m a few years beyond the dreaded, “What are you doing after college graduation?” question* but others have risen in its wake, especially since I started writing my novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong – these questions are not ignorant ones, like the ones above.  It’s just that they are the ones everybody asks.

What is your book about?

When will you be finished?

Have you sent it to a publisher yet?

Legitimate questions – difficult to answer.  I’m finding the responses I give depend entirely on who’s asking.  

Some people want to hear nice, quick answers – how you wrote your fantastic breakout novel in one month and scored a publishing deal (and got paid some major big bucks, oh, and they want to make it into a movie) with the first person you showed it to.  Things like that.

 These are the questions that are the hardest to answer, because most people who ask them don’t expect to hear a five- or ten-minute long explanation**.

They’re even less thrilled when you explain, “Well, actually, writing a book takes a good deal of time…Yes, I was still working on this same book months ago…Yes, I’ll probably be working on it for several more months…”

It kinda reminds me of the whole “How are you?” thing where people have time and energy to handle your “I’m great!” but not your “Well, my week was pretty lame, actually, and here’s [thirty minutes explaining] why…”

Sometimes, though, the rare gem of a human being makes your day and wants to hear the truth.

Like the whole “How are you?” thing, these questions feel wonderful to discuss with people who care to hear the real, not-always-neatly-packaged answers.  Some people expect a five-second answer, but are pleased when you tell them more than that.

Thank goodness for people who understand that writing a novel is not a project where you snap your fingers and a finished book appears.  Thank goodness for people who understand the desire to produce my very best possible work, and not just fly through it for the sake of seeing lots and lots of ink-covered pages.  Thank goodness there are people who know, and care, that writing is not just about the finished product but how you got there.  Kinda like life.  


*Fortunately.  Being an International Studies major who does not want to work in politics or move overseas does not lend itself to a wealth of job opportunities.

**To clarify: I’m not talking about instances where you are supposed to be succinct, like when pitching your novel.  That’s totally fine with me.  It’s more the I’m asking because I’m being polite and don’t reeeeally care thing that bothers me.

8 Responses to “You Really Want to Know? Really?”

  1. lifeofaprimadonna Monday / 3 August 09 at 10:36 am #

    Kudos! I totally loved it! I absolutely have to agree with you on most parts of this post. You are officially my favorite person! lol I love talking with someone who knows the process and is also writing a novel.

  2. Laura Best Monday / 3 August 09 at 7:14 pm #

    Now that my first Y/A novel is coming out this fall many people are asking. “When’s your next one coming?” Sheesh what if there isn’t a next one? Does there even have to be a next one?

    I agree with you about the question bit sounds quite accurate to me!!

  3. kmariefoley Tuesday / 4 August 09 at 1:58 pm #

    I get so nervous when I think I’ve found someone who actually cares what I’m writing about. Two minutes into my description and basically every minute after that I have to stop myself from saying, “If this is boring you please stop me.” or “You really don’t have to let me go on like this!”

  4. jenniferneri Tuesday / 4 August 09 at 7:54 pm #

    I find many people are intolerant of any form of art as a career. When I was dancing, I had people look at me and say, “but WHAT do you study?”
    A few weeks backs someone said of my writing “oh. you’re still doing that?”
    But, there are those who are interested and offer an ear and encouragement.

  5. katieday Sunday / 30 August 09 at 4:26 am #

    omg, I totally understand you! Hallelujah, there actually are other people who feel like I do.
    You know, sometimes I get those questions (and they bug me!!!) and I really considered recording the answer and just press the play button, because it´s always the same (answer is long, because complicated – people get bored – I get mad).

    “What will do after high school graduation? What are you going to do with a degree in those things?* You want to write a novel? …”

    Concerning the “Oh, you´re still writing on that novel?” questions, I really wanna avoid them, so I didn´t tell anyone that I already started to write…. I think my mum´s already wondering why the hell I´m spending so much time in front of my computer….

    Oh yes, if you say this “Well, actually, writing a book takes a good deal of time…Yes, I was still working on this same book months ago…Yes, I’ll probably be working on it for several more months…” people instantly think you´re a loser who´ll never make it, who´s only daydreaming, simply because they don´t get it. I want to see their faces if your book becomes a bestseller!!!

    *haha lol, I am starting my International (Development) Studies this fall together with an English major, and I don´t think I want to work in politics too. I really don´t know why I chose International Studies, but okay……may I ask what you work?


    [oops, very long comment, sorry! ]

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 31 August 09 at 10:16 am #

      I second your Hallelujah! Thanks for your comment – it’s always nice to feel like there’s someone who gets your frustrations!

      To answer your question about International Studies, I chose it originally because I wanted to be a foreign missionary. Halfway through, I decided it was a better fit for me to stay in the States instead, and go overseas on a short term basis every once in a while. When I made that decision, it left me with a “Well, I don’t want to do politics and I don’t want to move to Washington…What do I do?”

      Truthfully, there are not jobs for this degree where I live in Texas (and we live here because of my husband’s great, local job). I worked at a bank for a few years, then at a Starbucks, both of which left me hating customer service. My husband encouraged me to quit and focus on my writing, since I hated the job and it didn’t bring in too much income anyway. That’s what I’m doing now, and I feel a thousand times more productive (not to mention satisfied) than I ever did with those jobs, even though it doesn’t pay at the moment. Sorry, that’s not too helpful if you’re looking for ideas on where to work. 🙂

      I don’t mind long comments, by the way. As you can see, I kind of tend to leave long ones myself. Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words!

      • katieday Monday / 31 August 09 at 12:15 pm #

        Yay, long comment writers forever!! lol
        Thanks for your quick answer!!!

        Well, I have to say you are sooo lucky to have a husband who encourages your writing and you staying at home focusing on it!! I want to have such a husband later too!!!! lol
        And you are lucky that he has a great job and is able to support you! And I totally understand that you hate working in a bank or at Starbucks…

        I´m happy for you that you feel better now that you finally can do what you want to do! That´s the bestest thing ever! lol
        It might not pay now, but maybe in a few years, so don´t give up!

        No, no problem if there are no ideas what to work, I haven´t got any either…for now, I´ll just focus on my English degree…but I still have time.


        [hmmm….definitely too many exclamation marks…]


  1. Schemes & Schedules (Plus a Few Groovy Little Tricks) « Owl and Sparrow - Tuesday / 11 August 09

    […] do you think you’ll be done?”  (For my more elaborate ramblings on such questions, see This Post.) […]

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