As mentioned last week, asking me how writing is going can often open a can of worms. Sometimes those worms are good! Happy worms! Ecstatic worms!! But sometimes they are not. And when they are not, it can be… grim. So what’s a safer, more sure-fire question? (Hint: you can probably guess from the header.)
Editing is like cleaning: one can either regard it as a wholesome activity that frees the mind and soul or a joyless soul-sucking chore that requires constant redoing1. Either way, it can get boring after a while, and lonely, and even if it’s going well it doesn’t come up in conversation, much the same way that people wouldn’t ask how the dish-washing is going.2
However, even if writing is not going well, chances are SOMETHING is hanging around needing editing, and asking your prospective writer friend might jar some cobwebs loose and remind them that, hey, yeah, they should get back to that half-edited novella or short story and send it out. Either way it will be a question that they will have to think about, instead of knee-jerk replying “ugh, I can’t write at all, I’m the wooooooorst”, and sometimes that’s all you want to avoid, depending on what sort of parties you frequent. No judgement here.
Asking how editing is going is a very very safe option; it might just get answered with a few words and a shrug. That’s okay, but what if you really want to get your writer friend animated without risking sinking them into a black fog?
That’s when you ask about research.
I don’t know if I’ve ever met another writer who didn’t have at least one topic on a back-burner, simmering away, even if they already had their hands full with a currently-successful writing project3. There is very little chance that they will start a chorus of the “I’m the worst” song and dance routine, a) because there’s no wrong way to do research, and b) almost by the definition, informal research is something the writer is actively interested in, and enthusiastic about.
Plus the topic they’re studying might be fascinating and of interest to you too4, and it’ll jump-start a whole new conversation thread and you’ll have a sparkling evening full of intellectual discourse sprinkled with Simpsons quotes. Wouldn’t that be nice?
So those are my top two recommendations for conversation starters. I have heard back from a few of my contacts, so I’m looking forward to turning Things I Wish People Would Ask Me At Parties into a regular guest post. I’m hoping to do at least one a month, and I have two lined up. Stay tuned!!
- While I like cleaning and find it meditative, I definitely find editing boooooring. So there isn’t a 1:1 correlation.
- Actually, I really like this as a metaphor: if editing is cleaning, then writing is cooking: lots of people like sharing recipes and hearing about what interesting dish you made last week but very few people are keen to hear about the new technique you figured out for scrubbing Teflon safely.
- See? Metaphors! You’re just lucky I didn’t go for the pun and say currant-ly.
- Not gonna lie to you, Marge: that topic might be something hideously, monstrously boring. That’s the risk you take in talking to new people.