The question that shouldn’t be hard, but is


“Oh, hey! You’re a writer? What do you write?”

Am I the only one who gets totally floored by that question? Because I do. Every time.

It’s been on my mind, because lately a lot of people have been discovering that I write, and that’s normally what they ask. And it’s a wonderful thing for them to ask! Really. Giving a writer the opportunity to talk about her writing is better than cookies. Better than lemon cookies with honey-sweetened green tea! So, why why why, do I flounder around panicking when I get asked?

There are, of course, obvious answers to the question. Maybe the asker just wants me to narrow the field. Do I write books / poems / sports articles / etc? I normally start my answer with, “I write fantasy novels.” But then what? Maybe they’d like a brief plot synopsis, or the names of my characters, or that neat twist on the genre I’ve been working on. Okay, seriously, Olivia; say something!

“Like… you know… with magic and stuff…”


I guess I struggle because a book is about so many things, and it’s hard to pull out the one and only thing I want the other person to know about it. While I adore the world-building in this trilogy, it would take a long time to explain the histories and cultures and magic systems. This character is great, but how can I talk about him without going into paragraphs of backstory? I can’t talk about themes without feeling pretentious, and I’d rather not talk about the thrilling twists in my plots because… well, maybe they’ll want to read it someday, so I can’t spoil the ending.

Whittling all of my writing down to a two-sentence explanation feels like I’m cheating somehow, like I’m devaluing everything that I don’t mention. (Or perhaps that’s just me trying to sound deep and the real answer is that I don’t think well on the spot.)

So, my pathetic, sputtering answers are normally followed by imagining the conversation over and over and listing all the things I would have rather said. And somewhere in these thoughts, it occurs to me: Wow, I’m lucky!

Really: writing is such a many-mirrored room that it’s practically infinite, and how freaking cool is it to be part of that? There are so many ways to answer “What do I write,” and all of them are simultaneously true, and that’s downright exciting.

Candles 100314

I still wish I could sound I bit more eloquent when posed the question, so I suppose that’s something I’ll need to work on, and I’ll just accept the fact that I can only give one aspect of my life as a writer, and that’s okay. Now as for what aspect… that’ll be another day’s meditation, methinks.

What do you normally answer when people ask you “What do you write?”



10 responses »

  1. If I was a marketing guy I’d say that this might be an opportunity to perfect your ‘elevator pitch’ – you know, when you’re supposed to distil the essence of your book into 12 words or 22 words or whatever. Which can be incredibly difficult of course, and most writers are likely to feel they’re more or less eviscerating their story by so doing. But being able to do so is useful in some situations.

  2. LOL, I totally sympathize.

    I often say I write fantasy. I must say it in a way that either terrifies or turns people off, because they don’t usually ask me to expand on that.

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