10 Stupid Things People Say to Writers (And 10 Appropriate Responses)

6 minute read
Author: Jo

So you’ve outed yourself as a writer. Congratulations! You are now subject to a non-stop barrage of idiotic comments, unsolicited advice, and back-handed insults from friends, family, and complete strangers regarding your beloved creative pursuit! What a joy. What a ride. What an arse clenching lesson in tolerance.

Since this seems to be such a common literary complaint, we thought we’d put together a selection of the top 10 stupid things people say to writers, along with a few choice responses to help you out next time you get cornered at a party by some bro asking if you’ve ever heard of the Hero’s Journey or your mum asks you why you can’t just write a nice story with a happy ending once in a while. (Sorry, Mum.)

#1. Haven’t you finished that novel yet?! You’ve been writing it forever….”

Polite answer: <through a clenched smile> “Yep! Still writing! It’s gonna be 80,000ish words and they all have to be in the right order haha!”

Honest answer: “Well, you see, writing a novel can take an incredibly long time when you’re also working/studying/raising kids/caring for a family member/living through unprece-fucking-dented times like, y’know, a pandemic, climate change, a couple of financial recessions, the looming threat of war, assorted mental health conditions and/or disabilities and/or generalised existential dread*. Also I get distracted by the internet a whole lot. So what have YOU done lately?”

(*delete as appropriate)

#2. Have you written anything I’d have heard of?

Polite answer: “Um… well, probably not because a) I haven’t been published yet or b) I have this weird micro fiction about a fish that contains the entire universe and can only swim backwards otherwise the world will end that got picked up by an obscure lit mag called Troutwarbler Quarterly, so, uh, yeah. Probably not.”

Honest answer: “I dunno, I have no idea what you may or may not have heard of. Am I the arbiter of ‘things you’ve heard of’, all of a sudden? Also, how many lit mags do you read? Do you even know what flash fiction is? Do you even care? Probably not.”

Gif of Maya Rudolph shrugging and saying "probably not, I don't know."

#3. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book, in fact I’ve got this great idea for a story — let me tell you aaaaall about it. Maybe you can write it for me!”

Polite answer: “Uhhhh I don’t think I can take on another story right now ’cause I’m kinda writing my OWN stories but you should totally have a go yourself. Have you heard of Writers’ HQ?”

Honest answer: “How about no?”

#4. “So… what do you REALLY do?”

Polite answer: <sigh> “I work at [day job] / I’m unemployed / retired*.”

(*delete as appropriate)

Honest answer: “Look, buddy, all I want to do in this life is make words into sentences that somehow convey the beauty and pain and complexity of humanity, and whatever I do on the side of that to survive this capitalist nightmare we are somehow still alive in should not define me, nor dictate my worth. So all you need to know is I’m a writer, goddamnit. The rest is just irrelevant.”

#5. “Can I be in your novel? Haha.”

Polite answer: “Uhh haha yeah maybe I can find somewhere to add in a Steve…”

Honest answer: “Sure, you can be murder victim number 32. How would you like to be disembowelled?”

Gif of Wednesday Addams smiling in a gloriously terrifying way.

#6. Have you ever been published? (And if the answer’s no, bonus follow-up: “Oh, so you’re not a REAL writer then…”)

Polite answer: “Yes! In Troutwarbler Quarterly! Have you ever heard of them?” / “Not yet! But hopefully in the future! So many exclamation marks!”

Honest answer: “Have you ever considered that not everyone writes for publication. Or even if they do hold those aspirations, that it may not happen for everyone who writes? And that’s entirely fine and has no reflection on the joy and purpose and value of writing. I write because I have something I need to express. And even if I do have work published, that doesn’t make me any more a legitimate writer than anyone else who puts words to paper. Also go fuck yourself.”

#7. Do you write, like, erotica? Hur hur hur.

Polite answer: “Um, yes?” or “Um, no?”

Honest answer: “LOOK, BUDDY. Some people write about sex. Have you ever been on the internet? Why is this even still a ‘hur hur’ situation? And why the insinuation that erotica would be any less of an art form than any other kind of writing? Have you heard of the Bad Sex in Fiction awards? Do you know how hard (pun intended) it is to write GOOD sexy time shit?! Read some Leone Ross and stop being a fucking creeper, it’s gross.”

#8 Anything to do with money. Eg: asking how much you get paid. Or, “When your book is a bestseller you’ll be RICH!”

Polite answer: “Hmm. Not ready to quit the day job just yet haha.”

Honest answer: “Ok, real talk. Did you know the average author’s income is less than £11,000? Did you know most literary magazines and competitions run on fumes and good vibes and volunteers alone? Did you know that the government has been cutting arts funding by hundreds of millions of pounds each year for the last decade? So instead of once again equating ‘success’ with monetary value, why don’t you put your wallet where your massive mouth is and donate to organisations seeking to provide more development opportuntiies for low income and systemically-excluded writers, huh?”

Image of Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop wearing a massive red coat looking angry, saying "you think I look like I got money?"

#9. Are you going to be the next J. K. Rowling then?

Polite answer: “Ehhhhhhhhh.”

Honest answer: “We don’t have time to go into how many different kinds of wrong this assumption is but let’s just say: no, and also is that the only famous/female author you’ve ever heard of, and also please stop talking to me now.”

#1o. Calling your writing a ‘hobby’

Polite answer: “Fuck yourself.”

Honest answer: “Double fuck yourself sideways with a crowbar.”

Gif of a very angry man grimacing and shaking

Look. So. Two final thoughts.

  1. We know we’re being grumpy and ornery and people are often just interested and/or tactless and/or well-meaning but unintentionally irritating and/or just think they’re funny (we think we’re pretty funny too). So in reality, a smile and a nod is the general accepted (polite) response to this shit. Ugh. Fine. It’s FINE. But also:
  2. Don’t let the comments grind you down. Let them bounce off your shiny, happy, fictional exterior. YOU know how important writing is to you. YOU know how awesome it makes you feel. YOU know none of the naysaying really matters. So if you feel like giving the honest response once in a while, go for it. Be free. Take no shit. Give no fucks. Write on.

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