How to Deal with Questions About Your Novel


How to Deal with Questions About Your Novel

If you're writing a novel, you're probably getting a lot of questions about it from friends, neighbors, and just about anyone else you run into. These people are well-meaning; they are interested in what you're working on, and they're probably curious about the writing process, not being writers themselves. But for someone like myself who guards her novel-writing process carefully, mentioning the novel can seem like opening a big can of worms. For those of you being plagued by questions about your novel, here are a few tips for surviving the most common questions likely to dog your steps in the coming months.

What's it about?

This will be the first, the most common, and the most difficult to answer question. I always find this question a little depressing to answer; the minute my one-sentence explanation leaves my mouth, I realize what a small, pathetic, and silly topic it really is, and I'm left wondering why I would want to write a novel about that in the first place.

How to deal

It's up to you whether you want to answer this fully or not. Novel-writing is an intensely private process and I frankly believe that being asked about the topic can seem a little pushy, as though you are being asked about your religious beliefs and practices. Few non-writers realize how invasive the question can seem, however, so be tolerant. Answer politely that you're not sure yourself, or that it's vaguely about the place in which it's based. Don't feel pressured to justify the novel's existence!

How did you get the idea?

Again, here's a question that's unintentionally invasive, and that is expecting a boiled-down small-talk answer that may be reductive. I always struggle to answer the question because I'm not sure myself, and I'm not sure how in-depth an answer the person really wants. Do they want to hear about all the books I read and life experiences I had that led up to this moment of the novel?

How to deal

Try to gauge whether the asker is asking out of politeness or genuine interest, and edit your answer accordingly. Also, keep it light - you don't need to plumb the depths of your soul in order to tell them that you'd always been interested in deep-sea diving.

Is it about your life? Am I in it?

Inevitably, this question is going to come up in varying forms - and I find it the most irritating. I don't really want to go into how the novel relates to my most personal inner life, and I especially don't want to flatter you by telling you you're in it, uncle Fred, or offend you, Aunt Alice, by telling you that that cold, cruel character is you!

How to deal

Most non-writers simply don't know that novels don't have a one-to-one relationship with reality. It's difficult to characterize the complex, blurry way fictional worlds tend to overlap with our real lives. In cases like these, I think it's fine to note (politely) that the question is a little more than you'd like to answer. Or else settle for "it's complicated." Sometimes it just none of the questioner's business.

When will you be finished?

Aah, the most dreaded question of all! For people who haven't tried a novel themselves, the task must seem like a walk in the park - a month or two of typing it up, and then you're good to go, right? So, so wrong.

How to deal

First, breathe. The question is probably innocent and is not a passive-aggressive jab that you're taking too long and wasting your time, money, and youth. Gently remind your questioner that James Joyce took ten years to write Ulysses. These things take time!