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.

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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. 😉

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  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?!

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  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!

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  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.

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  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? 🙂

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  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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