Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Questions I Will Not Answer Anymore...

It's not like I'm famous or very talented or anything, but once in a while other writers do ask me questions, because I've been there, done that. I also frequent a writers' board; I believe in paying it forward. I've learned so much since I started my journey as a writer about ten years ago. I think it would be nice to share some of my experiences and what I learned.

But there are questions I won't answer anymore. Not that I think people are stupid. Hey, I've been there; I've asked stupid questions, too. It's just that when something is asked constantly, and when that something could be easily answered by simply reading a lot... it just shows me that the people who ask these questions either don't pay attention, or they're too lazy to look the answers up themselves. They want to be spoon-fed. They want someone to do the work for them. Worse, they don't read. I'm sorry, if you want to be a writer, you've got to read. It'd be like trying to be a chef when you don't eat. Or trying to be a social worker when you hate people. It's part of the trade. If you want to write, you need to read. And if you read, you'd know the answers to these questions.

Here are some of the most annoyingly frequent questions:

- How long should a chapter/sentence/paragraph be?
Really? I know it's a cliche, but it really is like asking, "How long is a string?"  It is as long as it needs to be. Read a book or two, and you'd see that a chapter, etc. could be pages long, or just one word.  It all depends. You're the writer. You know what  you're trying to express. You should know. Don't ask others what you should do.

- How do you punctuate dialogue?
Really? Seriously? Do you ever read fiction?  Quick, pick a novel up. Any one. The one closest to you. On the shelf. On the desk. On the floor. It doesn't matter. Open it up to any page. Is there dialogue? Now read it. How is it punctuated?  Now pick up another book. Repeat. Do you see a pattern? Now, if you don't have any books in your house, then you have a bigger problem than "not knowing how to punctuate dialogue." Start with the basic: READ!

- How long does it take for you to write a novel? Do you write in the morning? Do you write in the evening? How many hours do you devote to writing? How often do you write?....
Seriously, none of your business. My process is mine. You should have your own. My work schedule and process have nothing to do with you. Stop being nosy and just write. I know, I sound harsh here... maybe you're just trying to see what works for me so you can try it. The truth is, it doesn't matter what works for me. You have to try and find out what works for YOU. We all have to do the work and figure it out on our own. No exceptions. No shortcuts.

- Do you outline?
See above.

- ... yeah but...
You can tell if a writer already has an agenda when he or she asks a question. They don't want an honest answer. They want a confirmation. They're already stuck on a concept, an idea, or some kind of conviction. They only ask the question so you can tell them, "You're right!" And when you disagree, here comes the "yeah, but..." That's why I keep my mouth shut and slowly back out of the conversation. Yanno, you don't have to agree. You don't even have to listen. But don't yeah-but me.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this post is a little harsh. It's flattering that people are coming to you for advice. They consider you as someone that's approachable and has sound judgement. Even if you are asked the same questions over and over, your response should be professional. Put up a FAQ, if it's so inconvenient.

MH Ruley said...

I disagree. As a novice writer, I found myself asking questions that others had asked thousands of times. I frequent the same forum that Ray does and I've noticed exactly what he's talking about. After doing my own research and reading more, I either found the answers myself or was prompted to ask different questions.

And as far as harsh, this guy is more patient with new writers than most are on said forum. It's a good place to go to meet writers and get your head bitten off.

I thought it was a good post, sir, and love your blog.

Trisha said...

I got my head bitten off with almost my first post on that forum. :P So yeah, I know how it is!

But...FAQ! good idea. :)

Ray said...

But that's the thing... there IS an FAQ, but said writers are too lazy to even check that out. And what's in that FAQ? "A chapter is as long as it should be"? And "read a book if you don't know how to punctuate your dialogue"? LOL

Look, I'm patient. If you have any questions on POV, effective dialogue, story structure, etc. I'm more than willing to tell you what I know, and if I don't know something, I'll find out or ask someone more knowledgable. But you've got to do some work. You've got to read. And you've got to read and learn. The best surgeons observe other surgeons. The best architects study buildings. The best actors watch plays and movies. Reading should be a requirement for anyone who aspire to be a writer.

Ray said...

Oh, and thank you! Trust me, I always try to be useful and helpful. But meet me halfway, folks.

cindystubbs said...

Be annoyed, these people should not ask, not yet. Not until they know more. Perhaps there was more to the question, shorter chapters may be better because attention spans are shorter? Chapter endings mean little to me, I quit reading when I;m ready or I smell something burning....

Ray Wong said...

@Cindy: there's always pacing issue, true. Shorter chapters make for a faster read. Etc. etc. Still it all depends. You have to know your story, your scenes, your structure, your pacing. No one can tell you exactly how long your chapters should be, and I find it odd that some writers say, "My chapters are always 2000 words long." Cool, if it works for you.

Jettica said...

Ray, I've always found you very helpful on AW. I imagine it is frustrating having to answer the same few questions over and over again.

There are multiple resources out there for those basic questions. I do hope you are flattered, though. I imagine it's nice to be so well regarded that you do get asked all those questions.

Ray Wong said...

Thanks Jettica!

Indie Author X said...

I understand why you would be upset, you have heard the basic topics a million times. Noobs such as myself still find minor elements of style to be a big deal and love talking about it and even arguing over it. So what if it is a loaded question? Arguing is half the fun!

Ray Wong said...

@Indie: I don't mind the basic questions. I really don't. I just mind it when the writer seems lazy, or shows that he doesn't read. Questions such as "how to punctuate dialogue" could be learned simply by observing the novels we read. They're all pretty much punctuated the same way (unless you're reading Cormac McCarthy). It'd be like someone standing in front of the bank and asking, "What are their office hours?" To which I would simply say, "Read the sign."

Anonymous said...

Dude,get off your high horse and quit overreacting to so-called "basic questions. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.

Ray Wong said...

Thanks ANONYMOUS.