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.
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.