I was asked *the question* this weekend. The one I hate. The one I cannot answer. But back to that in a moment…

As writers, we get many of the same questions asked over and over again, and we can create a general answer for each to have ready at a moment’s notice and shoot off the answer and we’re done. Like: 

Q. Where do you get your ideas?

A. Everywhere: radio, TV, movies, news shows are my favorite.

Q. What is your daily writing schedule like?

A. I get out of bed, go to the computer and write. Every day. (Now, clearly this leaves out the shower, feeding the dog, breakfast, exercise, doing something to my hair, my weekly half-hour massage, tea or lunch or sushi with writer pals, and days off to run rivers. But it sounds really dedicated and kinda cool. Like, I’m a writer, Dude. I live for it. Oh — it also leaves out my day job, but that’s another story.)

Q. How do you structure your books to keep up with everything?

A. Up until now I have said I have a: history file, timeline file, character file for each character, and I refer back to them all the time. Soon, MagicalWords.Net will release a program just for this and I will be using it to keep track of everything. I’m probably not supposed to say anything about it, but I’m impressed with the program. I’ve seen an early version of it and it is killer! I wish I’d had it when I started the Skinwalker duology. It sure would have been easier to keep up with the world and the characters and the smells of vampire blood….

Back to the blog topic. And my favorite three questions:

Q. Where’s the bathroom? And, Q. Where are the Nicholas Sparks books? And, Q. Why don’t you write romance? I like romance, you know? You should write romance.


But then there’s *the question*.  The one I freaking dread.

The conversation usually starts off this way:

Her: I’ve had a really tragic life.

Me, External Voice: Yeah? Sorry to hear that. (Though I’m known to be a gracious listener so it’s more like, “I am so sorry to hear that. My heart goes out to you.)

Her: And I want to write a book about it.

Me, Internal Voice: (Oh crap. Which question will it be? Will she ask to tell me her story so I can write it for her and she’ll spilt the money with me? I have an answer for that one. All neat and packaged in my brain, waiting for it! A. I can’t. I’m contractually obligated to tell lies for a living. I have to write fiction. My publisher only wants fiction from me. Really. I’m so sorry. If you go on online you can find a ghost writer. Most charge between 5 and 10 K for a book. Good luck! [Which usually leaves her dumfounded. After all: Why would I not jump on the opportunity to do all the work and give half of it away?] Or will she ask *the question?*) Here it comes…

Her: How do you write?

Me, Internal Voice: (Ahhhhhhhh! *The question!* Crap!) External Voice: Would you be more specific? (Hoping she means something else, like, how do you organize or how do you structure a book. But no. She doesn’t.…)

Her: You know. How do you write? How do you *do* it. Write? Words? On paper?


That is *the question* I hate most. *How do you write?*

Me: Ahhhhh! (Stomps feet. Grabs head melodramatically.) I do not know. I have no freaking idea. How do I not write? How do I breathe? How do I dream at night? How do I not think about the pink elephant when you tell not to think about it. I just can’t help myself! It is what I do. Which is no kind of answer at all. Not at all. This weekend, I tried to be nice. Really. I always try to be nice despite what is going on in my head at the time. But I simply cannot answer that question.


So – anyone else have a writing question that begs to remain unasked? Or, even better, an answer to my fear of — *the question.*








35 comments to GAC! THE *QUESTION!*

  • Beatriz

    The answer: “Much the way a prima ballerina dances, or Bach composed, or Matisse painted. Practice. Practice. Practice. You find something you are passionate about, something you love, and you do it even if no one will watch, or listen or view. And if you are very determined and very lucky, you improve and someone *will* want to watch, or listen or view. Or, in the case of a writer, read.”

  • Mikaela

    Me, the question I hate is ” So, how does the book go?” I never know wheter to tell them the truth( Um. Not at all, see I realised that I needed to add a new POV ( just happened to Wolf and Widow)), or lie and say fine. Most of the time I lie and say fine.

    Then there is the other one, where do you get your ideas? Luckily, I haven’t been asked that one yet…

  • Where do you get your ideas? *sinister and monotone voice* From my own twisted imagination. They just pop in there…all the time. I can’t seem to stop the visions I see. I’m like Nostradamus, but with fiction instead of predictions. They just intrude unbidden into my mind and I’m compelled to write them down. I suspect that if I ever finish them all some great secret of the universe will be revealed to me…or just another story… 😉

    How do you write?
    haphazardly…with no regard to my own well being…I do it for you all…it’s my sacrifice… 😉

    But then, I’m sort of a wry wit at times.

  • Miz Bea, I seldom think of myself as an artist. (Artist?!? ME?!?) But I suppose I am. Sorta. And the thought of practice is so very true! But I also have to say that the words were *always there*, always a part of me. So were the stories, conversatinos taking place inside my head. And how does one explain that to the head-blind?

    Mikaela, I get one similar, usually phrased, “So. You writing any new books?”

    Like you, I keep it short and sweet, and yes, I lie from time to time. My Mom still tells me not to lie. (And here I am all grown up and everything.) But the truth isn’t what they want, and it takes too long to tell the real total truth anyway, and so I answer, “Um…yeah.”

  • Daniel.
    snort/snerk. I like the “It’s my sacrifice…” Ooooh, so perfect.

  • How do you write? Can one assume this is purely a practical question? I would have to take it as that, because to try and go into the shadowy realm beyond the physical process of how to write, would be a mind-bogglingly long conversation. I’m not really sure I could come up with a brief reply to the practical question either, far as that goes. There are so many compenents involved, so many possible avenues, and then it all rather depends on the situation, the book, the mindset, etc. I think I would give this the nice, vague standby of, “It depends on what you want to write” or perhaps better yet, “I don’t think you have the appropriate level of insanity and emotional instability required to write, so heed my sage advice and run away…very far away.” :p

  • Jim said :I don’t think you have the appropriate level of insanity and emotional instability required to write, so heed my sage advice and run away…very far away.” :p

    I totally agree. And frankly, people think I’m weird enough as it is, so this would be perfect for me.

  • “So. You writing any new books?”

    Argh. My answer’d be: “No. I only write old ones.”

    I can’t help it. Stupid and/or presumptuous questions make me go all snarky, and it’s out of the mouth before I have a chance to censor [or edit] it and save face.

  • The two questions I hate are as follows: The first one you mentioned in your post, “I have this amazing story idea, but I just can’t get it on paper, do you want to write it with me?” and another, which I ashamed to admit, but honestly hate getting asked, (especially with a casual, uninterested air) “So what is your novel about?” I know that I’ve got to get over that one if I ever want to publish the damn thing, but it’s a hard one for me answer if I’m totally honest. : )

  • The Question that lately drives me mad isn’t so much a question as an assumption – people assume that since I’m still working at the school, my book must have been self-published. It irks me to no end, because I worked hard to write a novel worth selling and then to actually sell it. Most of the time I smile and explain, but on the wrong day, I…overreact.

    Just this Tuesday a book rep was visiting, and brought us some posters of next year’s book award nominees. My book is up for the Young Adult award, but was not on the poster, so my coworker asked about it. The rep started trying to tell me how they never carried “regional” titles (one of many annoying euphemisms.) I grabbed a copy of Mad Kestrel off the shelf and shoved it under his nose.

    Later on I was awfully embarrassed at myself. My coworker thought it was hysterical. 😀

  • Rasish, I am going to add, “NO I’m rewriting an old one,” to my list of answers. I *love* it!

    Alexander, I hate that second one, and it’s teeth grinding when it’s said with total disintrest. I admit that I once said, “It’s about 12 monkeys on an island.” For no reason, and with a straight face. I liked my own answer so much that when I teach a writing seminar, I sometimes use it in my speil.

    And Misty, I *love* it! People think every author makes a zillion bucks with each novel. They think we eat bonbons and drink pricy drinks served to us by uniformed house staff. (I *wish* I had a house staff.) I’ve made good money on a book deal. And I’ve made very little. Because I don’t trust the market, I kept my day job in the flush years and I am glad I did. I think I’d keep it if I made a million bucks on a book. Anyone want to offer me mill and see what I’d do? Huh huh huh?

  • Radish, someday I may learn to spell. Sorry!

  • Oh-hhh, Faith. And I thought I was having problems with my *real” name.

    Hurh! 😉

  • Vikki

    I’m terribly guilty of asking the first question about where do writers get their ideas as a less experienced person who didn’t know many other writers. (hanging head in shame) I don’t ask it anymore because now I know I’m not crazy. Most writers have people living in their heads demanding that their stories be told. It was nice to finally find out I didn’t need to commit myself.

    I dislike being asked what type of book are you writing. I am writing a paranormal romance. Paranormal. Romance. Apparently, those two words together can trigger one of two reactions. Disgust with a smattering of “I don’t read that kind of book” and “I don’t understand why that type of stuff is so popular.” Or I get the other reaction. “Paranormal romance. Like Twilight?” Twilight was very successful and I’ve read all four books, but no, my paranormal romance is nothing like Twilight. Vampires and werewolves are not part of my mythology. I’ve finally started answering the question with two words. A. Novel.

    Does anyone else get this type of reaction from other people?

  • Misty,

    What in the world is a “regional” title?

  • I love writing. I do have a specific answer to the question about where I get ideas for my stories though. For the novels, I get ideas from dreams. Instead of having the chaotic, non-sensicle dreams that some have, I dream in stories. For my children’s stories, I get ideas from my children. (With seven children, new stories and ideas come pretty frequently!)

  • Beatriz

    Misty– That response made me smile, and it made me think of the day I was in Joseph Beth’s with two co-workers. This was just a few days before your book was due to release and I asked the nice gal at the counter if they had any copies in yet and could I please, please, please have one.

    Then I turned around and saw the gi-NORMOUS poster for your book. I screamed! I shrieked! I caused all kinds of mayhem and misdialed your number twice because I was shaking so hard.

    So, your wonderful book may not be on that particular poster, but I won’t ever forget the moment I saw it on its first poster. ~grins~

  • Vikki said, “I dislike being asked what type of book are you writing.”

    When people found out I had a book being released, this question came up often. I would always answer, “Fantasy!” when they asked. Since I work in a school library, the questioner would immediately assume it was a children’s book, so I started saying, “Fantasy, but adult.” So then they thought it was porn. Nowadays I say “A pirate adventure fantasy.” *sigh*

    C.E., “regional” is a euphemism (at least around here!) for self-pubbed memoirs or memoir-style stories. Books that would only be of interest to people who live in the same town as the writer, and would never sell anywhere past the county line.

  • Beatriz said, “I won’t ever forget the moment I saw it on its first poster.”

    *hugs* I won’t forget, either. That was one of the most exciting phone calls I ever got! 😀

  • Vikki said: I’m terribly guilty of asking the first question about where do writers get their ideas as a less experienced person who didn’t know many other writers. (hanging head in shame) I don’t ask it anymore because now I know I’m not crazy. Most writers have people living in their heads demanding that their stories be told. It was nice to finally find out I didn’t need to commit myself.

    There is no need to be ashamed of asking any questions. Not even *the question*. All questions have their basis in personal need. Like you, my ideas are everywhere, but mostly just there in my head. I can’t answer the casual questioner of the *where do you ideas* by telling them the story of me in the eight grade, standing in the plarground, lips moving, having a conversation between two characters … and *waking up* to realize several kids were standing around me watching me in horror. They thought I was losing it. And maybe I was. I certainly lost those friends. That is why I have pat answers — so that I don’t have to get personal with the answers and probably scare off a reader. But *the question* is different. I can’t tell a person how to put words on paper. I’m not that kind of writing teacher.

    Vikki also said: I’ve finally started answering the question with two words. A. Novel.

    I usually say, “A fantasy,” quickly judge their reactions and then add, if needed, “Think Harry Potter for grown ups.” Though I am likely the only person on the face of the earth who never read Harry Potter.

  • CE, a regional title may also be a small press title. I am using/referencing a small press title in Skinwalker its sequel. (Yep, it’s in the acknowlegments.)

    Becky — ulp. You have *SEVEN* children and still have time for ideas? I had to fix five spelling words in the last sentence from just thinking about it.

    Misty, would you rent out Bea? I can’t pay big money, but I’d treat her like a queen…(smiles)

  • Faith said, “CE, a regional title may also be a small press title.”

    Faith is absolutely right; good small-press regional titles have a wider audience, too.

  • Where do I get my ideas? Well, those little plotbunnies lurk in the woods, the moors, in historical sites and museums, and they will pounce out of their hiding place, bite me in the ankle and stick there. Some of them also jump out of history books. 🙂

    How do I write? Erm, type words into the computer. It’s that simple. 😉 In fact, it is exactly how I started. I was supposed to work on my PhD about the Connections of Medieaval French and Old Norse Literature, but instead started writing a scene of two knights fighting each other …. Out of the blue. In English. I have NO idea where that scene came from. When I went to bed I thought that Roderic’s father would not like the fact he promised Kjartan fair treatment, and I wrote on the next day. At some point I had a BOOK – not a very good one, but I’ve been hooked ever since. And it’s still about typing words into the computer.

    My PhD? Don’t ask. 😉

  • Gabriele, that is the part that I can’t explain. Just what you said! The part about *how to type words into a computer so that they become a story*…! Many people want to be told how to find the words… And I have no way to explain it.

  • Misty and Faith,

    I can see what you both mean by regional.

    Now I’d like that rep to explain how a Fantasy book published by Tor could be considered such? 🙂

    Perhaps they have a thing against pirates?

  • LOl, Faith, I can’t explain it, either. I think people who ask that sort of question dream about being a writer more than about writing, or they would know how it works, that very first thing that gives us the words. Techniques like Show Don’t Tell, how to avoid heat hopping, speech tags, three act structure and character development can be learned to some extent, but if you don’t get those words into the computer …. It’s like participating in American Idol when you’re totally tone deaf. 🙂

  • head hopping*

    Who pushed that typo demon under MY chair? 😉

  • (snerk)
    Think you have problems?
    Typo demons live in my keyboard!

  • From the road: The question I hate the most is “Where do you get your ideas?” Mostly because to me it’s very much like the “How do you write?” question. Asking me where I get my ideas is a bit like asking me how I remember my kids’ names. I just remember them. And ideas just come to me. If I knew where they came from I’d bottle it, sell it, and never have to work again. But I don’t. So I’ll be working again come Monday morning…

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    For what it is worth, here’s the answer I give: It’s a skill. Like any other skill. Nobody starts out good at it. You get better by practicing. You only have to compare the early efforts and the later efforts of a good writer to see how much they improved. No matter how bad you are at it, you can’t be worse than I was when I started. So, sit down and start putting words on paper, and if you don’t like what you get, try again.

    The difference between authors and all the writer wanna-be’s is how much they want to do it. If you keep trying, you’ll get there.

  • Vikki

    Here’s my answer to THE question. Discipline and Desire. You sit down with your butt in your chair and your hands on your keyboard and you type one letter at a time. The letters will become words. The words will become sentences. The sentences will become paragraphs. You sit and you write when you feel like it. You sit and write when you don’t feel like it. It took me years to learn this and I’m still learning it. My dad was a basketball coach and a math teacher. He would tell the students in his algebra classes “Math is like basketball. You have to practice to be good.” It is my experience that writing is also like basketball. The more you practice your skills by doing them, the better you become. That is my answer.

  • David, I like that about your kids’ names. I may steal it. Wait. Considering I don’t have kids, maybe not. Or…maybe I’ll insert my dogs’ names… Would that be totally rude?

    L.Jagi, you are so right. It *is* about how much we want it. If we want it enough, we’ll practice like Vikki’s dad said. If not, we won’t. We’ll quit.
    Thanks y’all!

  • QUOTE: It’s a skill. Like any other skill. Nobody starts out good at it. You get better by practicing.

    Ugh, I still have my writing from back when I first started writing and it’s terrible. I keep it to remind myself how far I’ve come. One day, if I can stomach doing it, I’ll type it up as is and drop a couple comparison excerpts somewhere. Some of it’s very faded, but still vaguely legible. It’s probably around 23 years old.

    QUOTE: The letters will become words. The words will become sentences. The sentences will become paragraphs.

    It is by will alone I set my writing in motion
    It is by the keys of the board
    that the letters become words
    the words become sentences
    the sentences become paragraphs
    It is by will alone I set my writing in motion.


  • Ah, but before letters can become words, there must be caffeine.

    “It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.
    It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shakes, the shakes become a warning.
    It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.”


  • I’ve been trying and trying over the last few days to think up plot ideas for some roleplaying writing that I want to do, and the ideas aren’t flowing, though the will to write is there; so I understand the “why” of that question, and I understand that it is not easy to answer. Some writers say that ideas are just overflowing with them. I’m not one of them. I go through serious dry spells on ideas. And when I do, I try to read other things or watch tv shows to bring them to me. But this week it hasn’t worked. I’m still waiting for my plot to percolate.

    And even worse, I’m not a fast writer, so I would really like that idea to get here before Monday, so I can spend some time with it. If anyone is holding the Plot Muse hostage, give her up and send her my way. Soon!