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.