Questions a Writer Shouldn’t Ask

This post may upset some people, but I want to throw the bait out there and see what I catch.

There are some questions a writer shouldn’t need to ask. If find yourself ask one of the following questions, maybe you need to ask yourself what you’re really wondering about.

We all have rough days. Sometimes we think these things. If you are a writer, and you know for certain, beyond a doubt, that you will sweat blood until you’re published, but you still find yourself feeling these doubts, you need to look at what in your writing life is out of whack.

I don’t have any ideas, but I want to be a writer. What should I do?
So, if you don’t have any ideas, why do you want to be a writer? What is it that you want to write? I can give a personal example for this one. I was a newspaper reporter for several years, and I had a terrible time coming up with ideas for hard news stories. Features? Sure. I could do that. But I was a city beat reporter. A real, dedicated, curious reporter is always looking around the world and seeing news. I don’t. I look around the world and make up fictional stories about it… and that doesn’t fly too well in news.

If you want to write, but you don’t know what to write about, you need to ask yourself why you want to write at all. But if you do write, and you don’t have any ideas, that’s a classic sign of writers’ block, and a topic for another blog post I may not be qualified to write. (I have a running list of ideas that will probably keep me busy for the rest of my life.)

I’m terrible with language, but I want to be a writer.
If you don’t like playing with language, if you don’t understand the basics of grammar, why do you want to write? This one may seem harsh. I, for the life of me, can’t remember which affect/effect to use without looking it up. It’s embarrassing. I’m willing to look it up, though, and do my best to learn it permanently. If you can’t tell the difference between a verb and a noun, suck it up and learn, look it up, or don’t be a writer.

I’m bored with my story. What should I do?
This is the tough one, and I saw it so often in the NaNoWriMo forums. People get stalled with a story, and they don’t know where it goes. I’m pretty sure this comes from not having a clear goal or conflict in your story. But most writerly, creative types will be able to create a write-around, will know their characters well enough to know what they will do next, or will at least be able to puzzle out what the typical plot answer would be.

Plus, if you’re bored with your story, why are you telling it? If you, the writer, are bored, your reader is absolutely going to be bored. It’s time to look at your story and figure out where it fell apart, or it’s time to look at yourself and ask if you’ve moved on from the characters.

Bottom line, a writer writes. If you don’t like writing, if you don’t like telling stories, writing may not be for you. But we all know stories, like stories, tell stories. We all have a story to tell. You may not have found the right story yet. If you’re willing to be patient, though, to keep searching and to work hard to get there, you may yet answer your own question.

Is this too tough of love? Am I being harsh on the potential writers who ask these questions? What other appalling questions have you seen asked by self-proclaimed aspiring writers?

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5 thoughts on “Questions a Writer Shouldn’t Ask

  1. I think it is important to face the tough questions. Writing can be a very tough and lonely journey. At some point you need to be honest with yourself and find out if you are willing and/or qualified to make it. Great post!

  2. You’ve said some debatable stuff here but you haven’t crossed the line. The way you’ve phrased them are things that people say when they want to be president of a country (if I learn all of the laws, will that be enough?), a swimmer (if I train a few times a week, will that get me to the Olympics?), or, say a writer.

    As a writer I do ask myself, “I don’t have any ideas. What the hell do I do?” and other Qs like, “I’ve got one of the smallest vocabularies in any English-speaking adult.” However, I do something about it. I read tonnes, I constantly think of writing, of ideas, until something comes. I started my Cert. IV in Prof. Writing & Editing this year. The latter has improved almost all of my writerly problems.

    I don’t ask someone else questions like those above. I think people who have the determination to be writers THINK the Qs you wrote, but they figure it out themselves from researching, learning and being proactive before they get the chance to ask someone.

    1. You’ve really nailed down the difference, and I wish I’d made it that clear in the blog post. It really is okay to have private doubts, and even to asked loved ones these questions, but if you’re wandering around asking professionals these questions… not so good.

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