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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Some Non-Writers Just Don't Understand

Some Non-Writers Just Don’t Understand

*Please note:  This doesn’t apply to all non-writers.  Just a select few, and you likely know who the ones in your life are.

If you’re a writer (and most likely, you are.  Why else would you be reading this blog?), chances are you’ve come across some interesting questions, misconceptions, or behavior from some non-writers.  There are a lot of things some non-writers just don’t get about us.  We have a tendency to clear our search histories because if a non-writer ever saw the things we researched, they might be inclined to call the local police, or even the FBI.  They certainly might be a lot less comfortable around those of us who have to research murder weapons, ways to dispose of bodies, and rates of decomposition.  And heaven forbid if you ever start sharing some of the interesting tidbits of information you dig up during the course of your research.  But that’s not the only thing non-writers don’t get.

Many don’t even understand how the process works.  Once I was telling someone about a story I was working on, and the person asked me how the story ended.  Well, I was forced to admit that I didn’t know yet.  They asked me how I couldn’t know, wasn’t I the one writing the story?  Well, I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so no, I really had no idea how things were going to turn out.  We can discuss pantsing vs. plotting at another time, but I will say that I’ve never been a plotter.  When I was in creative writing classes in school, I despised the outline with a purple passion, as we used to say.  My stories NEVER stuck to the outline, and the few times I tried to force it to stick to the outline, the story came out lifeless and forced, not very good at all.  While I didn’t realize that what I was doing had a name, I did know that I wrote better when I just sat down and started writing.  Most of the time, my characters would come to life and started doing whatever they wanted, and let me tell you, it was wonderful to watch.  Disconcerting sometimes, because sometimes they would do things I didn’t want them to do, or they would do things that shocked me, but fun nonetheless.  But most non-writers don’t understand that.  The scope of their experience with writing is whatever they learned in creative writing or composition classes in school, and most of those classes crammed the outline down your throat.  They think that’s the process for every writer.  That you sit down, plot out your story and then write it.  Some non-writers just don’t understand that sometimes you don’t know everything about your story while you’re writing it.

Along those same lines is the question of “How long is your story going to be?” or “How many chapters is it going to have?” or “How many pages will it be?”  Uh…I don’t know.  The first time I was ever asked that question, I sort of stared at the person who asked.  I honestly didn’t know how to answer her.  Of course, as a writer, I always knew the story was done when the story was done.  It came to its conclusion on its own, and that was always what determined the length of the story.  I once wrote a story for the school writing fair that was somewhere between sixteen and twenty hand-written pages.  (I still have part of the copy floating around here somewhere, but I believe the last couple of pages are missing.  And yes, there are plot holes in the story that I cringed over when reading it a few years ago, before the ending went missing.  But it was pretty good, and I was happy it placed in the writing fair.)  It was one of those stories that originated from a prompt the teacher gave us, and the other kids in my Freshman Honors English class were stunned that my story was so long.  They wondered why I didn’t MAKE it shorter.  It didn’t seem long to me.  The story ended when it reached its natural conclusion.  In all honesty, I could have expanded it, but it probably was long for a school assignment.  The point is, again, the story ended when it ended.  I didn’t set out to write a long story, but that’s what happened.  Some non-writers just don’t understand that a story ends when it ends, and that you don’t always have control over the length (at least, not before revisions and edits).

And what about the misconception that makes well-meaning people tell you how much it’s going to cost you to publish your story?  Yes, now we have a lot of indie writers who self-publish, but they’re not talking about that.  They’re talking about taking your story to a vanity or subsidy press.  These people want to tell you that you’ll have to have a lot of money to get your book published.  I try to very politely tell them that you don’t HAVE to publish that way, that you can try to get an agent and publish your book through one of the “big houses”.  When I tell them that, they want to tell me I HAVE to have my manuscript in printed book format before I can even get an agent or publisher to look at it.  I try to again politely point out that’s not true, but they’ll have none of that because they know someone (relative, friend, cousin of a friend, boyfriend’s sister’s first cousin’s daughter) who couldn’t get an agent or publisher to look at their manuscript and they were told (by whom?  I’d love to know) they would have to have the book published before those people would even look at it.  At this point, I have two options.  A) Say “Okay” or “I didn’t know that” and move on while feeling sorry for the person who actually fell for that scam, or B) get into an argument that would only lead to hurt feelings and in which I would likely be called names.  I’m more likely to choose A., unless the person trying to argue with me is someone I really can’t stand.  Some non-writers just don’t understand that you don’t HAVE to publish your book to get published.

Another favorite misconception of some non-writers that I love is that since a person writes, the writer must always have time to spare, since they, you know, don’t have a “real job”.  They don’t understand that many writers do have a set schedule for when they write.  It might be from 7:00 am to 9:00 am.  Or it might be from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.  It doesn’t matter what the time is, a lot of writers do have a writing schedule.  But the non-writers think they can drop in or call anytime, even if they KNOW the writer’s schedule, and they expect the writer to drop everything and cater to them.  If the writer tries to tell the non-writer that they’re trying to work and can they call them back or visit later, the non-writer either want to know A) when they got a new job, or B) what time they have to be at work, or C) what the writer’s plans are, and maybe they could do it together.  Now, I’m all for spending time with family and friends, absolutely love it.  However, this always strikes me as a bit rude, not to mention depressing.  If the person knows they’re invading the writer’s writing period, this shows a lack of respect for the writer and their chosen field of work, which is what I find rude.  I also said depressing, because it seems like the person doesn’t support what you’re trying to do in life, that they don’t take your dream seriously, or they don’t think you’re going to be successful anyway, so what’s the big deal?  Or all three.  Yeah, that’s just depressing.  Some non-writers just don’t understand that your time is just a valuable as anyone else’s.

Some non-writers don’t understand why you’re so excited that your character just showed you how they really feel about the boy who sits across from them in psych class (especially true if you’re a pantser). Or why you’re a little creeped out by your character because they’ve decided they’re done with their girlfriend and are now going to kill her because they decided that even though they don’t want her, they don’t want anyone else to have her, either.

Some non-writers don’t understand how you can cry because a character YOU CREATED had to die, or isn’t going to wind up with the person you thought they would wind up with.  They’re going to tell you if you feel so upset about it, why don’t you just NOT kill them off, or why don’t you just put the couple together.  They don’t understand you when you tell them it doesn’t always work that way, that the story is the boss and that you’re just the medium through which the story chooses to tell itself.  Again, this is primarily true if you’re a pantser.

Granted, this isn’t true of all non-writers, and bless those this doesn’t apply to.  We need their support!

But sometimes, some non-writers just don’t understand.

What are some things you’ve been told or asked by non-writers?  Or some things you wish non-writers wouldn’t do?


Lidy said...

That writing was a hobby. Something done leisurely and for pleasure. An activity to pass the time like collecting Pokemon cards or something. Not as if it's something that takes your blood, sweat and tears to do. Not as if it's real work just as stressful and rewarding as being a doctor or lawyer. And the non-writer that said that to me was my teacher. I get it, from her standpoint, writing wouldn't pay the bills. But to just dismiss it as a hobby, something done in your spare time as fun, really threw me.

Unknown said...

I love it when my characters surprise me by doing something I didn't expect. As for the process of writing today, it is much easier to publish and a lot harder to sell. But that doesn't matter if you really are a writer, does it?


Huntress said...

I am 80% pantser. Heavens knows where my characters will take me.
Non-writers assume knocking out a story is easy, the biggest fallacy ever.
Btw, my research includes exploding intestines. Not something the average (normal?) person needs to know.

Liz A. said...

Wow, you know some truly inconsiderate people. I've never had any of those issues.

The one I get is when someone has a great idea for a story, and wants me to write it.

Nicola said...

Great post! I've experienced similar from non-writers, especially regarding time. When I gave up full-time employment to write, others thought I had a lot more spare time and tried to interfer with how I planned my day. 'Oh she's at home, she can do this, that and the other for you.' Even at home, I've had to be quite harsh to be left alone when I'm in my writing zone. I ended up buying an apt sign for my office door which politely says, "Sod off, I'm working!" At first, I used to give in a lot, which left me extremely grumpy because I wasn't able to get my work done, but now I've toughened up: my writing time belongs to me alone!

Angela said...

@Lidy Ugh! That falls into the "don't quit your day job yet" category to me! It's amazing how many people don't take you seriously, or how many think you're not a "real" writer just because you haven't been published. It's frustrating and annoying!

@Kathleen Exactly! And that is so much fun when they start kicking around on their own. That's definitely one of my favorite parts, because that's usually when the story starts to flow for me.

@Huntress I know. A lot of non-writers (except for those who have day-to-day interactions with writers and who know better) think that creating a story is the easiest thing ever. It's not. And seriously? EEEWWWWW. But, yeah, it does sound like some of the more *interesting* things I've had to research. I've had to research some truly disgusting things like that!

@Liz Thankfully, most of these are some of the more extreme (but definitely less frequent) things I've seen. I think if I encountered a lot of people who behaved this way, I'd probably never interact with anyone or tell them what I was up to! Oooh, I've had a few of those, but mine have been more along the lines of, "You know what you should write?" and then they proceed to tell me the story. But God forbid you actually sort of like the idea and start telling them that instead of doing this, they (the characters) should do that. Uh, yeah. They're usually like, "No, no. You can't do that because _____________." LOL!

@Nicola Exactly. Since you're at home, you can watch their kids for a few minutes while they run some errands since it would be so much quicker if they didn't have to get them in and out of the car. Or you surely wouldn't mind chatting with the for a couple of hours. When you're a writer (and sometimes other people who work from home have to deal with this too) they don't think you have a schedule, since it's not a "real" job. And sometimes it's kind of funny because in a lot of cases these are the same people who would never DREAM of coming up to a work establishment outside of your home and trying to get you to chat with them while you were working. But for some reason, they don't view this the same way. It can be frustrating.

Trudy said...

When I mentioned a dream of using a cabin for a writing retreat, someone said, "Oh, are you trying to become a writer?" Excuse me? I'm not trying to become a writer. I AM a writer!

I love this quote: "If there's a writer in your life who you love, don't call what they do a "hobby." On the other hand if your long-time nemesis is a writer, be sure to undermine their confidence by referring to their life's work as a quaint pastime." (Andrea Cremer)

Angela said...

@Trudy I hate hearing that phrase. "Trying to become a writer." As you said, you ARE a writer. Even a writer who isn't published is a writer, simply because they write. You don't have to even be seeking publication to be a writer. I know several who enjoy writing, but they really don't have much interest in getting published. Writers are writers because they write. Writers simply ARE. You have to be a writer to get published, but you don't have to get published to be a writer.

Love that quote!

Darla M Sands said...

Fantastic post! I can totally relate. Most annoying for me is my partner's tendency to interrupt. Argh... Happy writing!