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I read an interesting article courtesy M.J. Kelley (@themjkelley) and I realized that, as simple as the posed questions may sound, they simply aren’t so easy to answer when you’re on the spot. A year ago, I never thought anyone would ask me, “What do you write?” with a straight face. I have to say, my initial reaction is always, Holy shit, this person is taking me seriously as a writer! Followed immediately by, Holy shit, what am I supposed to say?

Typically, I’m able to string words together to form a coherent sentence. But when asked about my writing career, the shy part of me – the one who stammers and blushes and speaks a language that just barely passes as human – bursts forth to take the reins of the vehicle that is Jessica P. West. In an effort to help that pathetic writer in the headlights, I’m going to follow the advice of M.J. Kelley (on Facebook) and answer these 4 Everyday Questions. Then, I’m going to memorize them. I may even record myself speaking the answers aloud so that I can kill two fears with one stone.

If you struggle with answering questions about your writing to potential readers, I recommend you read How to Answer 4 Everyday Questions by M.J. Kelley (on Google+). Onward!

1) So what do you do?

Kelley advises:

a) Make your answer short and simple.

b) Make it accurate and honest.

c) If you do another job, mention it.

I’m a stay at home mom who writes short fiction for my blog, Write This Way.

This is my standard response when folks ask what I do.

2) Have you published?

This one is a bit more difficult to answer, because I don’t want to just say, “No,” and end the conversation there.

Not yet, but I do have long term plans for three different novels.

3) What do you write about?

Here, Kelley advises choosing no more than three genres, and posing a follow-up question to help you determine whether or not you are wasting your potential reader’s time, and your own.

I write speculative fiction, fantasy and romance, depending on my mood. What are some books you’ve read?

Kelley further advises offering a sample of your work, perhaps a discounted or free book, to encourage a reader who is expressing an interest. After assessing the reader’s preferences, I would direct him or her to a specific story on my blog that I believe they would enjoy.

4) What are you working on right now?

Kelley advises: “don’t talk about your work-in-progress.” I agree. I always have several short projects going on at once, so my answer will be…

I’m working on a series of speculative short stories, the first of which is posted on my blog. I also participate in the occasional flash fiction contest and various writing challenges. I like to work with other writers, offering posts for their blogs or even partnering up for critiques.

Kelley turns the discussion back to finding out more about your potential reader, and I think that’s a great idea. This is typically what I do from the start of the conversation because I am, or have been heretofore, uncomfortable with this conversation.

Now that I’ve read Kelley’s article, I feel confident that I won’t be that writer who freezes when all eyes are on her. You know. The one who imagines people naked to get over her stage fright but ends up looking psycho because she gets the giggles for no apparent reason. Though to be fair, the fact that I’m a bit “eccentric” is probably why people take me seriously as a writer to begin with. Eh, I’ll still giggle, or in my case, cackle maniacally. (I’m a fan of the phrase “cackling manically”. Wrote a whole story around that phrase. Seriously. Called it Harvest. One of my first stories, written without the definite article “the”.)

And on that note, I’m off…To write!

Published in Random Rambling

Jess

Jessica West (West1Jess) is pursuing a state of self-induced psychosis (reading, writing, editing). She lives in Acadiana with three daughters still young enough to think she's cool and a husband who knows better but likes her anyway.

0 Comments for "4 Everyday Questions for Writers"

  • Nillu Nasser Stelter

    Love this post, Jess. I freeze too when questioned by people who I sense aren’t really interested. Less so with readers and other writers. Taking the time to work out the answers out of the spotlight is a great idea, n

    Reply
    • Jess West

      Thanks, Nillu! As I read Kelley’s article, I realized that I play out various scenarios in my head all the time, why not do it for those conversations that could help me connect with potential readers?

      Reply
      • Nillu Nasser Stelter

        Agreed. Very helpful for me to think like that so thanks. Will definitely help get past the awkward self-promotion in person aspect x

        Reply
    • M. J. Kelley

      I was the worst at answering these questions, and for years hated them. But something changes when you put yourself out there with true answers. It’s a part of bringing professionalism to something you love to do.

      I’m flattered by this response. Thanks, Ms. West.

      Reply
      • Jess West

        That’s the thing, I love when I’m asked about my writing, but have always been clueless as to how to answer when put on the spot. And you’re welcome! When another writer inspires me, I like to share it with the world! Oh, and technically is Mrs. West, but you can call me Jess. 🙂

        Reply
      • M. J. Kelley

        (Pardon me, Jess. “Ms.” is my default.)

        Reply
  • Joanne Blaikie

    This is great Jess. 🙂 To the point and easy to remember. I was asked what my book is called today and I found myself trying to sound confident with the title but saying it out loud was hard. I thought he was going to laugh. ‘He’ being my boss. Nillu is right “the awkward self promotion in person aspect” is well awkward. M boss was so lovely and is really encouraging about my writing and was trying to do me a favour and publicize it with the kids in school but I just felt so embarrassed.
    With this in mind could I now possibly get some advice on what to say when hoards of kids find out from said boss that you’ve written a children’s book (as yet unpublished) and they scream and jump up and down and think you’re going to be famous then one of them asks “can I have £80,000? :/

    Reply
    • Jess West

      Thanks! That happened to me at my husband’s company Christmas party this past year. Apparently, he’s been saying good things about me, which is great! And his co-workers were really nice about engaging me in conversation about writing, but I just kept turning the topic to other things because I didn’t know how to talk about the one thing I’m most passionate about. How crazy is that? But I think by this time next year I’ll have those four answers memorized, and I’ll make a few notes to expand on each point so that I’ll be prepared for how the conversation may proceed.

      You think they’ll do that? My kids love when I write a story for them personally, but they could care less about how many hits my blog gets, how much money I make (or don’t make), or how many Twitter followers I have. Which, now that I think about it, is a good thing. None of those things are what’s important.

      When you’re faced with a hoard of screaming and jumping kids who think you’re famous and rich, remind them of what is important. Learning, growing, doing what you love, and sharing your accomplishments with folks who will celebrate your success with you. And when they stare at you like you’ve finally lost it entirely, offer them candy. I would think, as a writer of children’s stories, you’d have to carry candy with you at all times. 😀

      Reply
  • Shane Wilson

    I really enjoyed this. Very good advice. I’ll be sure to remember it when I accidentally bring up my writing after a few cocktails. That’s when it gets dicey for me–I tend to ramble like crazy when I’ve had the grown-up juice. Most of the time I do alright, but this will come in handy over drinks. 🙂

    Reply
    • Jess West

      After a couple of margarita’s I tend to do just fine! 😉

      Reply
  • Harliqueen

    Brilliant post, I find it awkward to talk about myself and my work at times. These tips were great and your answers were very good, professional but friendly.

    Reply
    • Jess West

      Thanks! I’m an outgoing person, open to conversation with anyone really. But for some reason, talking about writing to a person who doesn’t write is hard. I’m so grateful for Kelley’s advice. I feel much more confident about those conversations now.

      Reply

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