What Do You Write?

I know I don’t let her out very often, but I’m speaking to you today as Writer Sarah. As most of you know, I also write. By which I mean, sometimes I jot down a paragraph that could someday end up in a novel, and then let it sit for months without writing anything new because “free time” is a thing of myth and legend.

But, sometimes I write.

In New York, if you say you’re working on “a novel,” the response is not “Oh, how interesting. What’s it about?!” It’s more likely to be a subtle eye roll and a polite “oh” with the clear subtext: “Yeah, who isn’t?” I appreciate this about New Yorkers. Nobody here is special, and many New Yorkers will think nothing of reminding you of that fact. It’s one of the things non-New Yorkers think is “rude” about us, but it’s actually quite refreshing.

New Yorkers in general might not care about what I’m working on, but when friends and family hear I’m writing a novel, they ask the inevitable “What do you write?” It’s a harmless enough question, but I hate answering it. Mostly because this is what usually happens:

Q: What do you write?
A: Fiction.
Q: Yeah but what kind?
A: For teens.
Q: Is it a mystery? Scary? Romance?
A: No. Just fiction.
Q: That sounds boring. You should add vampires to it.
A: ::falls over and dies::

Or this happens:

Q: What do you write?
A: I’m working on a young adult novel right now.
Q: What like vampires?
A: No, like just regular fiction. But for teens.
Q: ::does not compute:: ::thinks I’m not a “serious writer”::

I feel the need to give my credentials when people give the “you write for teens?” look. It’s mocking and ignorant and I’m always tempted to quote Shakespeare and rub my MFA diploma in their faces (if I knew where said diploma was). But I don’t do that and instead just say to myself “Yep, YA. Oh you don’t know understand what it is? You must be really stupid then.” and merrily walk away. (I hope you other writers do the same. But seriously, only say it to yourself. Not out loud.)

Maybe my “non-specialness” of being a New Yorker has made me shy away from this question. Truthfully, I’m more concerned about coming off like a novice, even though that’s exactly what I am. So, I’m curious what you real writers answer when asked “What do you write?” Do you downplay what you’re working on out of modesty? Do you proudly offer your genre even if it’s not taken seriously by the less-informed? Or do you just ignore people and keep typing?

Happy Writing this weekend 🙂

32 thoughts on “What Do You Write?

  1. I always try to proudly explain what my writing is about to anyone who cares enough to ask. A professor of mine (from ages past) once told me before presenting my work, that “If you are not proud of your work, why should I be? Or anyone for that matter?” When I genuinely explain what I am working on, I find that I get enthusiastic responses pretty much 100% of the time. Now, whether or not they are genuine, that's simply something I may never know.


  2. Oh, I loved this and I also love the New Yorker frame of mind. I never EVER tell anyone I'm “working on a novel.” There is such an air of pretension and la-tee-da in “working on a novel.” I don't even say it to myself. I think it cheapens the grit published authors have had to go through in order to have their novels it shelves.

    At the college I attend, a lot of Creative Writing majors like to update their facebooks with “132 pages into my new novel” and then my teeth grind and I almost comment with “THAT'S A MANUSCRIPT NOT A NOVEL AND MANUSCRIPTS ARE MEASURED IN WORD COUNT NOT PAGE NUMBERS.”

    When someone is at home working on a long piece of writing, that's a manuscript. You can call it a novel or a book after you go through query hell, submission hell and every other layer of hell that one must surpass in order to get from typing the standard manuscript header to fawning over the printed thing in a bookstore.


  3. I think of what I write in terms of why I write. This might have something to do with why I haven't achieved “published novelist” status yet, but it's the way projects have meaning for me. If I classify my find before I've carved it out of my imagination, it's not fun anymore. So, the why is usually to find some meaning in the chaotic world around me. If I'm lucky, I find some humor in there too. Sometimes the meaning and humor make the painful stuff easier to take; sometimes, they only make it more acute.

    A lot of people still look down on YA, but a lot of people also look down on romance, mystery, sci-fi, horror, or anything that makes it onto the bestseller list without winning a prize (or at least being a runner-up, or being the true story of someone wealthy overcoming “adversity.”)

    Whatever you're writing is the most important story because it's yours.


  4. I write 20th century historical fiction in series and family saga form, some of it geared towards teens and mature preteens. I also have some soft sci-fi/futuristic fiction with YA-aged protagonists.


  5. Usually I say “fiction, as in novels.” If they don't just smile and nod at that, satisfied since they were just being polite by asking and want a more detailed answer, I tell them I write about ghosts.


  6. If someone asks me what I write, I like to deadpan, “A war between teenage vampires and zombies in a post-apocalyptic future.”

    Then when their eyes are nice and wide, I gently laugh to let them know I'm joking.

    This quickly clues them in that it would be silly of them to think I would write about any of the above. =)


  7. First I cringe. Around here everyone wants to know, not only WHAT I write, but, “Can I read it?” Uh…NO! I typically tell people that I write YA, or books for teens. I explain my stories are reality based with magical or fantasy elements. Some ask me if there is a map or vampires. Uh…NO! If the person says something to belittle YA, I say, “I work with teens. I don't get why people think they're dumb. They are often way more observant and willing to speak up than adults. At least I did. Didn't you? I mean, before we got older and jaded. I like that teens aren't. It's refreshing.” They tend to double blink at that response.


  8. Meh. Yeah. My problem is that if I say that I write and people ask “what?” (cause I'm no New Yorker, as much as I'd like to be), I don't really have an answer. Everything? Nothing? Some day?

    Yeah. It should come with a job description.


  9. I give people the most information possible so there's a long pause while they're processing my answer, allowing me to slyly change the subject — something you're allowed to do if the pause is long enough.

    Usually I say, “It's fiction, it's about a girl that turns into a genie, kind of like I Dream of Jeannie but less 60s than that. I try to buck the gender roles.”

    They reply, “Oh, that's nice.”

    And then there's the pause. Probably they're processing the fact that I'm a feminist revisionist.


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