With a few exceptions, being the inspiration for a character in a novel isn’t usually a good thing. You know how writers get revenge? We turn you into a character in our book and then kill you. You rear-ended my car and were a jerk while we exchanged insurance? Great, you just volunteered your first name and strange eyebrows for the guy who gets hit by a train. Thanks very much. You tried to claim all the credit for my idea in that group project? Oh, good, I needed someone with speech mannerisms like yours for the character who gambles away a fortune.
Just kidding. Writers aren’t quite that cruel. And of if some of us are, we’re still subtle enough that you’ll never recognize yourself in a book because there are still lots of differences. Once, I even used the name of one of my close friends for a good character in a story. I later changed it because it felt weird, but it goes to show that real-life inspirations aren’t always about revenge.
Anyway, this post came about because I was talking with one of my friends who also writes, and we started comparing comments we’ve received about writing that were really infuriating. A quick patrol of some writing forums showed that we aren’t the only ones to get these. So, here are some generic comments commonly made to writers that are guaranteed to make them gnash their teeth and maybe consider naming the villain after the oh-so-helpful speaker, and how I wish I could respond.
“I could be a writer too. I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it.”
By all means, join the writing club. (Which doesn’t actually exist in a formal way). I’m not going to discourage you from doing something I think is amazing, but be prepared to stare at the blank computer screen for several hours while you slowly realize that you actually don’t know what you want to say. If you did, you’d know how. It goes hand in hand. Writing isn’t easy.
“I’m a pretty good writer, but my grammar isn’t great.”
Hate to break it to you, but grammar is an essential part of writing material that people actually want to read and are able to comprehend. If you have no clue about grammar, you’re probably not a good writer. This doesn’t mean you don’t have wonderful stories to tell, but in order to share them properly in a written format, you will absolutely need to improve your grammar.
“I have a book all written. It’s just in my head still. I only need to put it down on paper.”
This one makes me just want to pat you on the back, give you a lollipop, and say “Oh, honey,” in well-meant but somewhat patronizing tones.
“You’re such a great writer, why don’t you publish a book?” And then they stare at you like this:
If only it were that simple! Of course, I should just publish my book tomorrow. Why have I been putting it off? I could always watch Downton Abbey later, after the publication is complete.
To be fair, I don’t think this one is quite as common. In my experience, I usually get asked how one goes about getting published, and this is a very good question. I had no idea either, until I started out on this loooong journey to publication.
“I’d love to write a book, but I just don’t have time.”
This one is particularly annoying for me. I don’t have time either. I work a full-time job, I cook dinner almost every night, I clean my house, I visit my friends, I actually do watch Downton Abbey and a few other shows, and I read lots, too. But I still find time to write, because it’s a priority for me. Unfortunately, sleep gets sidelined by this rather too frequently. (Thanks, friends, who don’t get offended when I fall asleep while we’re watching a movie! I can’t help it sometimes, especially if the couch is comfortable and you gave me wine).
“I have a great idea for a story, you should write it for me!”
This one is the WORST. Bonus points for atrociousness if also launch into suggestions of profit-splitting. I have enough ideas for my own books, thank you. Maybe we’ll talk in like fifty years, but I doubt it. Hire a ghost writer, or write it yourself since apparently the idea is half the work.
This kind of stuff probably happens in all fields. I bet lots of people get the “I’d love to paint a masterpiece/compose a wicked guitar solo/sculpt the next Michelangelo/save my company a million dollars/create a badass spreadsheet etc… if only I had time.” People have misconceptions about every job. I get them in my day job, too, but let’s not talk about that because it has nothing to do with writing.
This was a bit of a rant, and thanks for indulging me! If people often make awkward comments because they have big misconceptions about your job or hobby, feel free to share. I promise to sympathize whole-heartedly.