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IWSG: Writing questions–friend or foe?

This month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) post asks the question: what are your favourite and least favourite questions asked about your writing? Since I don’t have anything new causing me insecurity at the moment, or brilliant tips to share, I’ll kick off 2019 by answering the question of the month.

My least favourite question used to be, without a doubt, “How’s the writing going?” This question never failed to trigger feelings of guilt and self-loathing, because more often than not, it wasn’t going. Ever since I was five years old, I’d wanted to be a novelist, and I was mortified at how long it was taking me. Sure, I was successful journalist, a marketer, and a publicist, and those careers stole time and creative energy away from my novels, but those successes never comforted me. I always felt like I was failing to live up to my true potential, that I was never doing enough. I still feel like I’m not doing enough, but at least I’m published and finishing books every single year. That was a mere pipe dream not that long ago.

Now I guess my least favourite questions are not actually about my writing, but related to it: Can you read my work? Can you give me a review? Can you blurb my book or story? Will you edit my work for free? I’m often asked these questions by people I don’t know, people who haven’t put any time or energy into building a relationship with me before they hit me up for a favour (I was once asked if I could edit a fellow’s manuscript via a public Tweet–a guy who’d followed me for about a minute before making his request.) But it’s actually worse when it’s people I do know a little bit, because I feel horribly guilty when/if I can’t, or if I know it’s going to take me forever. Writers are part of a supportive community, and we love to help each other out. I was thrilled when Chuck Wendig blurbed my book, and though I’m nowhere near his level, I want to help my fellow writers the same way, and I will as much as I can. But the sad truth is, I can’t help everyone who asks–if I did, I’d never have time to write.

My TBR (To Be REVIEWED) pile is massive, and I feel endlessly guilty about that too. There are so many generous, amazing writers who gave me a boost with a positive review early on in my career, and I want to return the favour and review all of their books. But the more I write, the less time I have for reading. I still managed to read sixty-two books last year, by the skin of my teeth, but some of the books had to be for enjoyment only–otherwise, I’d have gone mad. When I’m reading to blurb, or to provide a review as a favour, I’m not reading for fun anymore, even if I enjoy the book. I’m reading for a purpose, so I can’t let the analytical side of my brain go and just enjoy the story. It feels like work. (Some would be surprised to discover I actually don’t read a lot of dark fiction, and very little horror. I prefer to read lighter or non-fiction books. I also don’t consider myself a horror writer primarily–most of my books are supernatural suspense, closer to mysteries or thrillers than horror. Writers would have better luck getting me to read a cozy mystery or a true crime than a horror novel. If you can send me a paper copy, I’ll get to it a lot faster than an ebook–I much prefer tangible copies.)

That said, of course I’ll still help as many authors as I can, but I always feel guilty that I’ll never be able to help everyone who asks. I can understand why people like Chuck eventually say they can’t give blurbs anymore–even when you’re nowhere near his level, the requests can get overwhelming. (If I have blurbed your book, rest assured I was happy to do so–no need for you to feel guilty too.)

My favourite question asked about my writing? I love to be asked about the places I’ve traveled to in order to write my books, which include Poveglia, the most haunted island in the world, and a ghost city in China. My process feels so strange that I used to dread talking about it, but I’ve gotten over that, so I’m happy to talk about how my characters feel like real people who tell me their stories.

And then there’s the questions I wish people would ask: why did you choose to end your book that way? Why did you feel compelled to tell this story? What ongoing theme guides almost all of your work (there is one)?

How about you, fellow writers (and readers)? What do you hate being asked? Love to be asked? Wish you were asked? Do you ever feel guilty being asked for reviews and blurbs? Do you struggle to keep up?

I wish you all the very best in 2019, whatever your goals may be. And I have good news–soon after my last IWSG post, I came up with an ending for GhostWriters #4, so the pre-order for that book should be announced shortly.

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. 

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Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

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56 Comments

  1. I’d love to meet you in person one day and sit down over a cup of coffee and ask you all sorts of questions about your travels and how they inspire your writing. I think that would be a fascinating discussion!

    Reply
    • Me, too. This would be a fantastic meeting with you two.

      Reply
      • JH

        Agreed! We need to make it happen.

        Reply
    • JH

      That’s an awesome idea, Ellen! Can we meet on your boat? As the long as the coffee is something in the cola family, I’m in. And I’d love to meet Simon too, if he’d grace us with his presence.

      Reply
  2. I know what you mean about reviews. It’s part of the reason why I never did reviews on my blog. It just seemed like it would take so much time. (And would very possibly tick some people off.)

    Reply
    • JH

      True and true. Wise choice. When reviewing for friends, it’s either positive or nothing at all, I find. Friends who give you negative reviews are jerks.

      Reply
  3. My least favorite questions tend to be about my place in the industry: “Have any of your books been made into movies?” “Can I get it in the local bookstore?” “Do you know Stephen King?”
    When you try to explain how few books actually get option, let alone made into movies, how unless you’re a best seller you’re in a bookstore (if your town even has one!) for a couple of weeks at best, and that very few horror writers know Steve, you always come off sounding like you just snuck into the writer’s party.

    Another bad one, probably the most cringe-worthy, is, “I have a great idea for your next book. It should be about…”
    Folks, let me tell you. Rarely are your ideas better than the 300 we have in our heads already, waiting to be written. Ideas are personal things; I want to tell my stories, not yours. I don’t need ideas, I need an extra 50 hours a week to get all mine written!

    My favorite questions are ones that have to do with reading – my books, the books of other writers. I love to discuss reading and books, how ideas get shaped into stories, how themes and context can often appear when you didn’t even intend for them to be there. And I love seeing people discover new writers for the first time.

    Reply
    • JH

      Great answers, JG. I always love your comments.

      Oh yes, the “I’ve got a great idea for you” classic. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked that one. An ex once suggested I write a book based on his idea, and we’d split the millions that would result. Yeah, no.

      Reply
  4. I’ve always hated “how’s the writing going?” too, but lately I hate “what’s your book about?” because it’s usually one of my coworkers asking and I’m not really comfortable telling them.

    Reply
    • JH

      When a coworker asked this and I felt like being sarcastic, I said it was “a multi-genre epic about man’s inhumanity to man.” That tends to shut people up quick. Feel free to use it. 🙂

      Reply
  5. I’m with Ellen – that would be so much fun! I always like when you do those travel posts. 🙂

    Wishing you a wonderful 2019!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…I used to be part of a writers’ forum that ended up hosting an in-person conference so members could actually meet. Maybe the IWSG should look at doing that too, but hopefully not in NYC, like the other one was. The accommodations were out of reach for a lot of people.

      Happy New Year to you and the tortoises!

      Reply
  6. My least favourite question is where I get the inspiration for my books, because I genuinely don’t know, and that sounds like I just don’t want to tell people. The ideas just kind of pop into my head (often at the most inconvenient moments), but non-writers don’t seem to think that’s the truth.
    My favourite questions are ones about the actual process from people who want to write – I love being able to make people see that actually writing for a living is possible, despite what so many people will tell them, and being able to help them get started on their own writing journeys.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Great answers, Debbie. I love to hear stories of how writing for a living is possible. We certainly get to hear enough gloom and doom in this industry. There are so many misconceptions. Thanks for helping to set the record straight.

      Reply
  7. I certainly understand! I’m reading through a fellow author’s soon-to-be-published book right now and I know I’m not going to have the time to finish.
    Keep after it, JH!

    Reply
    • JH

      Alex, I have no idea how you accomplish even a tenth of what you do. I stand in awe, always.

      Reply
  8. I’ve asked for books and still taken way too long to read and review them. I’ve been thinking I can’t say yes to that kind of reviewing. I write theater reviews, and that’s easier. You go to a play, watch it, go home and write about it. A book is a much longer commitment!

    My favorite posts from you are when you describe your travels. They certainly give a sense of being there to your novels.

    Happy New Year! May all your goals become reality.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Mary. Your comments are always so positive and uplifting.

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Reply
  9. I think some fun questions to answer would be: “As an author, what kind of books and/or authors do you love, and why? How does writing yourself change how you appreciate books?”

    I also get how you feel guilty about reviewing. I have a stack of book sitting by my desk that deserve reviews, but I keep getting pulled in other directions.

    Reply
    • JH

      I can completely understand the feeling, Tamara. Life is too busy at the best of times.

      Reply
  10. Fortunately no one asks me for help with anything so I don’t have to feel bad for turning them down.
    Then again, if they did ask for help I would only give them terrible advice and I would end up feeling even worse.
    So I guess the moral is “don’t ask me for help/advice and we’ll both be better off?” Ugh, that makes me sound like a horrible person.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha ha, no, but it makes you sound like an amusing person. Congrats on the IWSG anthology win!

      Reply
  11. I really enjoy reading these personal posts, JH, and getting to know you better. I’m totally in the same boat with your initial “worst” question, especially since no progress was being made. Now that my focus lies on my memoir, I don’t mind that question anymore as I’m working my butt off with it and can say I’m making progress.

    And, yes, yes, yes, to your least favorite question these days. I’m like you. I want to help my peers out. But it is extremely time-consuming, taking away from my writing time. But, I do it. As a matter of fact, the only books I manage to read are ones to review. No time for other ones that I would otherwise select to read. And, you’re right, when needing to pick up on typos, inconsistencies and plot problems, it feels like work instead of entertainment. And, yes, I always deliver my thoughts or reviews later than I initially promise or hope to achieve. But, I can’t feel guilty about that. My life is extremely busy right now.

    Reply
    • JH

      What can I say, Liesbet? Great minds think alike.

      Reply
  12. I’d have to agree with you on the “how’s the writing going?” question. I feel guilty about it too, for the same reasons. Man, some of us writers must be a guilty-feeling lot.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I would say. Hence the Insecure Writers Support Group to the rescue!

      Reply
    • JH

      Most definitely. As I said in another comment, nothing is more nervy than a desperate writer. (Perhaps I should add misguided to desperate.)

      Reply
  13. I’m not anywhere near your success but when someone asked me to read their work, I said I could read a page or two. They didn’t send it to me… go figure. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Ingrates. They should have taken you up on it. A page or two is better than nothing.

      Reply
  14. JH — Since you were the one who first directed me toward my IWSG introduction I knew yours would be one of the sites I visited today.

    Now, having read your in-depth, and frankly rather daunting answers to the month’s question, I am more than ever glad that I am entering IWSG though the side door. For thirteen years I have self-published the stories I want to tell. There are 20 of them so far…..each one of which passes my personal inspection. I decided early on to settle for that, especially if I wanted to create the Geriatric Adolescence stories I tell.

    All of which means that at IWSG a rank amateur like me has the opportunity to read and digest the opinions and input of writers like yourself. I appreciate that.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to the IWSG, Gil! I hope you enjoyed your first experience.

      It sounds like you’ve published a lot already. Well done!

      Reply
  15. “So, when will your book be finished/published” is #1 on my least liked questions. But I love talking about the inspiration for my stories, real and imaginary. I love talking about ideas.

    I’m amazed by the number of posts today that echo your frustration with constantly being asked by strangers to review/edit/ their work gratis. Who are these people?

    I have a good friend, published author of several books, who has offered to read my work when it’s ready. But I’m not taking her up on it until I’ve already had some beta readers and an editor go through it. I wouldn’t dream of presuming on our friendship or wasting her valuable time, otherwise spent writing her own books.

    Reply
    • JH

      That is a good friend, indeed. And she’s clearly offering because she wants to help. I’ve stopped editing for friends for free because it ended some friendships, no matter how kind or well meaning my feedback. If an editing client is willing to pay for my services, this tells me they’re serious and are looking for something more intensive than a pat on the back.

      As for the posts that echo mine, there’s nothing more nervy than a desperate writer. 😀

      Reply
  16. I hear you about the reviews! I am happy to review for people I know (though I have to disclose that, which may make reviews less valuable). And I do like to pick interesting books from the blog tour site I use (Great Escapes tours). But I really don’t want to be asked by strangers if I’ll review. OTOH: because I review what I read and enjoy, as well as what I like, I was approached by publishers of two rather well-known writers to review their new books on my blog (because I’d reviewed others of their books and confessed to loving them). Needless to say, I was delighted!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, getting approached by publishers is a different animal altogether! That would be an honour, especially if they are books you enjoy reading.

      Reply
  17. Time is precious and valuable. Sometimes you have to say no or you compromise your own creativity.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane. Sometimes you need to hear that, especially from someone who knows. x

      Reply
  18. There truly are never enough hours in the day. Even during my no day job phases of year (summer vacation from teaching), I still can’t find enough hours to write all the things, read and review all the things, and have a little recharge time, too. It’s hard for givers to let go of the guilt of not giving and protect themselves from themselves sometimes. Hope balance comes your way more often than not.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Samantha. I used to chase that fabled balance, until I accepted it really doesn’t exist, at least not for me. Sometimes my writing will take precedence, others times it will be a different priority. I’ve never been able to successfully juggle everything I’d like to.

      Reply
  19. People who ask how my writing is going are never writers, so I forgive them. They know not what they do. 🙂 I find that I now dodge talking about my writing with non-writing friends. I can’t explain what I’m doing or why or how. But give me a writerly companion and I can go on and on. Great answers to the question this month.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee. I don’t think I held the question against them, but I just remember it made me feel horrible, much like “Are you still xx?” would make a person who quit xx feel badly, unless they made a conscious decision to quit and are at peace with it.

      Sometimes people don’t know what to say, and other times, they ask to show interest and support. I just know it feels much better to be asked how the writing is going when I’m actually writing.

      Reply
  20. Wishing you a joyful year. Happy IWSG.

    Reply
    • JH

      Same to you, Juneta. All the best in 2019.

      Reply
  21. I like your take on the questions. I hope one day to be where you are, having folks ask for a blurb! And to have one by a writer I admire would be awesome… Thanks for dropping by my blog! Happy new year!

    Reply
    • JH

      Be careful what you wish for, Lisa. It’s not as fun as you think.

      Happy New Year!

      Reply
  22. Regarding my comedy shows, I used to get asked “How long did that take?” I told the truth, which was “6 months writing, and another 6 months rewriting/rehearsing.” People would invariably go, “Oh my god! I could never commit to that.” That’s one way to spot the posers. Why should faster be better? It’s down to loving it (the creative process) for itself, in all its moods and changes. I think my Dad was asked once or twice “Why don’t you write a bestseller?” That could win a prize for terrible question. The question I personally would like to hear is “How do you keep going?” Mike Nichols had a wonderful answer which I think could apply here: “We’re on a pendulum. When it’s up it’s going to definitely swing down. And when it swings down it’s going to just as definitely swing back up.” I LOVE that “just as definitely swing back up”! Mr. Nichols is RIGHT, and that is what keeps ME going.

    Reply
    • JH

      There’s so much I love about this comment, Jim. Thank you for your wise words. Mr. Nichols’ advice is brilliant, but I can’t believe someone said that to your dad. Yikes.

      Btw, hasn’t he written bestsellers? I thought he had. He’s a legend.

      Reply
  23. So, I’ve got this manuscript I’d like you to read/edit/review/blurb. Ugh. You’re a real trooper.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha ha! For you, I just might do it. 😉

      Reply
  24. When I was new to blogging (and writing) I read/reviewed/ critiqued everything everyone sent me. Wow, that was a lot of work! And most of it was – uhm, trash. I felt compelled to say something nice all the time – probably to make friend. After a couple years I started saying no to everyone who did not take the time to get to know me (as in consistent blog comments, and eventually email exchanges). I can be open, honest, constructive, with these people. More partnerships.
    Of course, I’ve never been an editor or publicist. That could be awkward in this community. I’m glad you have found the time to devote to your own writing and publishing. Thats most important. I love when people are interested enough in my writing to ask about inspirations, character developments, research, and stuff. Doesn’t happen often enough.
    My biggest reason for blogging is to form relationships with other writers who understand my writing passion. Like everything else, gotta sift through the freeloaders, lol.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, Dolorah, that did sound like a ton of work in the beginning. I’m sure it’s still a lot of work, but at least you’re spending your time and effort on people who are doing the same for you now.

      I found publicizing a writing event extremely awkward. Some writing acquaintances dropped me and assumed my messages were spam.I won’t do it again, unless it’s my own retreat or course.

      Reply
  25. When people I know ask how the writing is going, I think they’re trying to be supportive. They don’t know what to ask. Strangers? Maybe they’re just curious. I had someone ask why I write. That answer could go on for an hour or so. LOL I say because it’s fun. Wishing you a great 2019!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it’s different when you’re actually writing. Nowadays, I don’t mind the question, but when I wasn’t writing, it sent me down a shame spiral.

      Happy New Year, Diane!

      Reply
  26. I’m so far behind on my reading of blogs! Sorry for the delay, but the great thing is, I’m subscribed so I get an email and then I just hold on to that email until I’ve had a chance to read it. =)

    I’m not a writer, but even as an avid reader there are questions or requests that really annoy or irritate me. Because I read and review so much I’ve started to get bugged by publishers or authors that want me to read their books. We are talking people I’ve never met or had any conversations with. Goodreads is kinda my safe place and when I get recommendations left and right from publishers or when I review a book and some random author responds to my review with a half-hearted compliment and a link to purchase their book, it gets annoying. I also suffer from guilt of wanting to read every author that comes along and help them out with a review but I also don’t like to be told what to read. I have SO many authors I met through Samhain that I try to keep up with and get their books when I can. I often feel like I’m so far behind in that and I don’t want them to think I’ve forgotten them! I think a lot of publishers and authors assume that because I was so in to Samhain and I read horror that I will like every horror book they write or publish but there is a certain finesse I look for in the horror stories I read to really be able to enjoy them.

    As a reader, I love being asked in-depth questions about why I liked stories, why I felt connected to certain characters and if I thought there were any underlying messages to the plot. I like questions that make me think about what the story made me feel. As an author, I can only imagine that’s even more the case – wanting to be asked questions that shows the reader was truly involved and invested in the tale you told. =) Can’t wait to hear the pre-order news! You know I’ll be all over that!

    Reply
    • JH

      No worries on being late, Nikki! It’s never too late, and often it takes me forever to get around to responding to comments and returning blog visits, so I’m hardly one to judge.

      Thanks for offering the readers’ perspective on this question. That’s pretty nervy of those authors and publishers, but I can’t say I’m surprised. You’ve been very good to the Samhain alumni, and we all adore you. None of us take your support for granted.

      Reply

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