What Are You Writing?

I do not like this question.

I fumble and falter when asked what I’m writing. I try to scrape together the plot from all the frayed pieces that never seem to make the right leap from heart to head to lips. I leave the conversation red-faced and hot-eared and all armpit-sweaty.  The only thing I really want to say is I’m sorry I’m a writer. I’m sorry I’ve got this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book in me but if I buy you a cookie, will you still be my friend?

I don’t know.  This question.  This what are you writing question. It makes me bridge jumpy.  I think I would rather hold up an excuse me for one minute finger, apologize to a tree, print out the 300 page novel itself, and place it in confused hands before I ever answer this question.  Then I could say: This.  This is what I’m writing. Have a lovely afternoon. 

Before a conference, where the answer to this inevitable question is far more significant than it is at an awkward dinner party, I sat on my couch, late into the night, practicing the answer.  Out loud. I repeated it to the window, the desk, the bookshelf. Over and over. I had a one-sentence pitch. I had a two-sentence pitch. I had a few-sentence pitch.

This, I decided, is how people with extreme social anxiety, people who have not yet kissed the legendary Blarney Stone, must get through a writing life.


7 thoughts on “What Are You Writing?

  1. Yep! I hate it, too, but it's easier with practice. I still remember one particularly painful experience where I was asked to explain not one, but TWO manuscripts to a friend, who then asked, “Okay–so the book is about a nun who wants to join the circus?” It was like he only heard random bits from two stories and mashed them together…to my great embarrassment. But I'm over that now. 😉


  2. sometimes i just hate the question, “so what do you do?”-
    it used to just absolutely make me cringe. i would always downplay what it is i do— almost acting embarrassed over it. finally, after several YEARS i was able to say confidently, and without apology “i'm a songwriter”.

    now i'm trying to learn to say, “i repurpose vintage jewelry” b/c now THAT's where my passion is… but i feel like a fraud when i say it. eventually, hopefully i can confidently and unapologetically say it!! 😉 b/c if I don't believe in it, then who will?!


  3. I am terrible at pitches. Terrible.

    When I finally got the nerve to tell my agent about my last manuscript over the phone, I mangled the pitch. She thought it was about Mayan pyramids. It wasn't. (You know it wasn't!)

    Writing out one and two sentence pitches — and then practicing them out loud — sounds like exactly the right thing to do. And I'll bet you'd be surprised how many writers have to do exactly that!


  4. I can relate! I need to sit on the couch and practice the one-sentence pitch. And then the second. And then nail it – maybe that would help even me know exactly what the book IS.


  5. Definitely relate to this post. No matter what answer I've practiced, my story always comes off sounding amateurish or weird — and I'm left standing in its wake, those awkward words hanging in there, feeling like I don't deserve to give myself the “writer” moniker. I'd much rather write to tell you what I'm writing… that's how we roll, isn't it? 🙂


  6. As everyone else, I can definitely relate. I try to stick to one statement and then when I get to end of the sentence I surprise myself by continuing on for an extended period of time. It's a strange out of body experience — my brain is urging me to shut it, but I keep on, keepin' on.


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