What Are You Writing About?

So, when I say I’m writing a novel, inevitably the next question is always: “What are you writing about?”

I’m secretly annoyed by this question. Although I know everyone who asks it really means well, there’s something sort of unfair about it.  So, you might be asking again: “Umm… okay.  But seriously. What are you writing about?

The Typical (Fake) Answer: I’m writing a fiction novel. It’s a fantasy using themes and characters from Latino mythology, history and culture.

The Unconventional (Real) Answer: How the hell do I know? I’m writing it (present tense) I haven’t wrote it (past tense).

It’s kinda like asking a architect whose working on a blueprint: “So, what are the dimensions of the rooms going to be? Which way will the windows face? And what color will be the inside walls?”

How does the architect know? That’s what he’s working on at the moment! When he’s finished with the blueprint then he’ll let you know.

The question is also no different than asking a baby boy: “So, what kind of man are you going to turn out to be?” The baby would look back at you with a frown, as if you were crazy. You would be.

But I don’t blame you. I’d imagine I’d ask the same thing of someone else who said they were writing a novel.

Let me think about this. Maybe the better question would be: “What do you hope your novel will accomplish?”

There’s several reasons why this is not only an appropriate question but also one that is respectful of the author.  Because it acknowledges that writing is a process, and right now there is no real product. But it does show that you know the writer is not wasting their time. There are goals he or she is striving for, and that is really what the writing is “about.” It’s broad enough too. Because if you were to ask questions like “What’s going to happen in the novel?”  Well, chances are a writer will not tell you “what’s going to happen.” They’d prefer you read the novel and find out for yourself when their done. That’s why writers are writers and not public speakers. Stick to questioning the writer about what they want the novel to “do.” Do they want it to simply entertain? Do they want it to make people think? Do they want it to be new and original? Or a fresh spin an something old? There are so many different reasons why someone begins to undertake a creative work and I bet you any writer won’t mind answering this question. They’ll probably find it refreshing.

“So… ummm…  Ollin.  What do you hope your novel will accomplish?”

I want it to be a really great story. That’s my focus at the moment. Everything on top of that will be just butter. Sorry, I wish I had a more detailed or complex answer, and I’m sure other writers or artists might give you just that. But for me it’s that simple. As a reader I don’t care how culturally specific, original, socially conscious, or entertaining a book is. I read a book because it has a good story. The rest is just butter on the bread.

much love,

Ollin

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8 comments on “What Are You Writing About?

  1. This is so true! I hate when people ask me what my novel is about and I always give a generic answer, without revealing anything.

  2. Lua says:

    Your post made me smile… I guess there is always that one particular question for that particular profession. When I used to tell people that I was a lawyer, our conversations kind of went like this;
    “So I am having this problem with my landlord, maybe you can tell me what to do…”
    And now I tell people that I am an aspiring writer and that I’m working on my first novel- well, you already know what they ask! :)
    I always tell them the truth; that I don’t like talking about the project I’m working on because –just like you said- I DON’T know what it is exactly about or how it will turn out when it ends…
    Well, I have to admit –it is annoying but at least it’s not as bad as the response I get when I tell people that I’m looking for an inspiration: “write about me!” :)

    • ollinmorales says:

      Thanks for your comment! Ha! That’s true. They seem to think they’re the only ones who say that: “write about me!” But I have several friends who have made that similar comment. I’m not sure if they’re joking or they really are that self-absorbed. Ha!

  3. Linda says:

    It’s funny, though I totally understand what you’re saying, coming from a screenwriting perspective it’s almost protocol to “pitch” what you’re writing. So, knowing what the story is even while you’re in the process of writing it is always expected. Like, “What’s it about?” –heart beats quickly, mind starts spinning, try to think of the perfect set of words–”Well, it’s a family drama centered around Sarita, a child who…” and so on and so forth. Everyone’s always in a position to “sell”, so having a pitch prepared is expected.

    Which leads me to why I sometimes really hate filmmaking. =) I miss the solitary, intimate, and satisfying process of writing prose without limitations (that is, 90-120 pages for scripts usually) — and allowing the prose to take you anywhere. You just tell a story. There are definitely elements of that in screenwriting, but it gets bogged down by the industry. Maybe I’ll get back to finishing the novel I started years ago.

    Thanks for being inspiring, Ollin!

  4. agatha82 says:

    I have lost track of the amount of times I’ve been asked “What are you writing about?”
    A good answer to throw them is: “Life” :-) – Because that is what all writers write about really.
    Love your idea of using Latino mythology/culture because we need something like that to introduce the world to a different “mythology” to what we’re used to.

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