Question the Questions

I think most writers, if they have been bedding down words on paper for any length of time, have come across these questions.

Where do you get your ideas?  How do I write a book?  What should I name my character?  How do I get published?  How do I know where to start?  How do I know when to stop?  Why do my stories die in the middle?  What does ‘show vs. tell’ mean?  My best friend tells me my writing is really good so why do I need an editor?  Where can I find publishers to send my story to?

Those types of questions have been asked so often that they have become clichés, and questions that make many grown inwardly when they hear them.  What I can’t figure out is, why, if these are so common, do people keep asking them?  All you have to do is go to the Books section of Yahoo Answers and you’ll find hundreds of variations on these same questions.  It seems like these have been answered so, so many times, that the answers should be floating out there waiting to descend on the next person who asks how to get rich writing.

I think most of these must be basic building blocks in taking up a life of writing.  These are the questions that weed out those who ache to tell a story and those who think writing is a get-rich-quick (and easy) job.  They get asked so often because there are so many newbies out there.   Does that mean we should roll our eyes or run away when someone asks one of these?  Of course not, because everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.  And beyond that, a beginning writer should be held in the palm of our hand and supported, because once upon a time, someone answered our questions and supported us.

We were supported until we moved past those oh-so-blatant beginning writer questions and started asking a new set.  How can I make my dialog more believable?  Why do my characters feel so cardboard?  Help me understand scene/sequel.  How do I get rid of those passive verbs?

This new set of questions become a platform for clichés, where more experienced writers step.  And so on and so on. Will we ever get to the point where we don’t ask questions that someone else sees as obvious, boring, and a sign of our lack of skill?  I doubt it.  I just hope that no matter how many questions I ask, there will always be someone there willing to take a moment and answer with respect.

After all, I think the best thing I have learned over the years of asking questions, is that the best answer always includes empathy.

And let’s face it.  After years of writing and of having days when I feel like I’m not a beginner, I still posted a blog not that long ago wanting to know how to find a title for my story.   Guess I’ll cringe here, laugh, and go back to the pen and paper.  But hey, what’s the most embarrassing question you’ve asked about writing, or been asked?

7 thoughts on “Question the Questions

  1. Awww, love the picture…
    but your question…or better your post, brought me to the question “Isnt asking questions general conversation?” We need to ask questions to get answers. In my opinion it is a primarey thing to ask questions. Children start with it to understand the world, and we still do it, also to understand the world. There is nobody in the world who knows everything. Questions are for learning more and new things but also to just get general information, and luckily for us there will always be somebody to answer (usually! If you dont talk to yourself). And if we dont get the answer we wanted we ask more, or at least we should. I know we always try to tell kids to stop asking at one point because we dont know the answer anymore or we get annoyed. But asking questions is something we should encourage, but not only in children, in ourselves too. How can we get information without asking? I know today we can get a whole lot of info without communication, just “ask” google…But as I said, its not only for getting info, its also to interact with other people.

    Also I think there are no stupid questions, because the person wouldnt ask if he knew it…And just because we know something doesnt mean everybody else does. As I said, nobody can know everything! We might know how to start a story and find it easy to see stories in every conversation we pick up in the day, but who knows why the sky is blue and why the waves always roll parrallel onto the beach…Somebody does and finds it probably easy to understand.

    I think the funny question a lot of people ask a lot to be polite or not embarressed is “Can I ask you a question?”…
    Oh and one of the most asked one would probaly be “How are you?”
    My favourite question is “What do you think?”



    • Pearls of wisdom here, Jenni. We ask to understand our world. You’re so right. That ‘how are you’ question gets annoying because no one wants to hear an answer. It’s a habit question, a chore of being polite. Few people want an honest answer. Which is why I always try to answer honestly when asked that, just to watch the shock in their eyes. Sort of like, ‘what do I do now? She’s stopped and is talking, not just saying ‘fine’ and moving on!’


  2. I like what you said here about about answering with empathy, because it’s the not so nice answers I’ve gotten to a few of my own questions that have confused me the most about this whole writing thing. Because writing is so solitary a thing and it comes completely out of our own heads, it’s easy for it to show us the different ways that people learn. I think that’s why you see so many writers who seem to be better at one aspect of it or the other. I kind of think that’s why some of us have trouble with titles 🙂 , and others find that we tend to write our sentences in an unfortunate order, etc.

    Writing, for me, still often feels like I’m trying to stand on the point of a pin, so I like it when a newbie asks me a question. It makes me feel like I’m being useful, like I’m giving back. I can’t remember my most embarrassing question, but that may be because I’ve blocked it out. 🙂


    • I have always found in writing that the not-nice responses do nothing but cause us to stumble over them and struggle to figure out what just happened and how to get back up. Where a thoughtful response, with wisdom to learn from, are instead like a helping hand around that obstacle. And like you said, I learn from the questions I answer, as much as from the ones I ask.


  3. Hi Lisa. I am grateful that the authors and writers that I’ve interviewed on my blog have all been so polite and nice to me and they all answered my questions. When I read them all again now that I’ve learned a lot, the questions sound so funny. No, not embarrassing, just funny. I think that no matter how stupid or childish the questions may sound, I learn from them. I agree with Jenny that it’s creating a conversation. Like you, I also hope that no matter how many questions I ask, there will always be someone there willing to take a moment and answer with respect.

    I’ve enjoyed reading this post. I can totally relate to it! 🙂


  4. Len, I’ve always found your questions to be thoughtful, never shallow, and never a cliche. Since I posted this I’ve been paying attention to the questions I ask in my daily conversations, not specifically associated with writing. And they pop up a lot; more than I thought.


  5. I tend not to ask questions at all because I’m afraid of looking dumb. This habit goes back a long, long way, probably back to early elementary school when everyone praised me as super-smart, and so I never wanted to alter that impression by confessing I didn’t know something. I still feel it would be almost easier for me to hit people than to ask them questions face-to-face… and I’m the least violent person I know!


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