10 things you SHOULD say to a writer.

thA trending Twitter hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter really got my attention today. You can imagine why.

Some well-known writers (Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, S.E. Hinton, John Scalzi, et al.) dove in along with the rest of us lesser-known and unknown scribes. Collectively we whirled and howled about stuff like:

  • Low pay and no pay
  • Folks who question why we have to use so many cuss words
  • The assumption that we’ll never get published, i.e., be “real” writers
  • People who treat what we do as a hobby
  • Those who swear they could do this too, if only they had the time

Were we being thin-skinned? Check out a few of the tweets and let me know:

“It’s pretty impressive that you spend so much time on something that has so little chance of success.”

“I downloaded your book for free online. Could you please sign this printout of it?”


“It must be so nice to have time to write. I’d love to give up work too.”

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist. Get on with it.”

“It must be lovely working from home. You can combine your writing with housework and childcare.”

“What’s your backup career plan? I hear your industry is dying.”

Nice, huh?


Tell me something good

I put a few of my own out there, including:

  • “You have a blog? How nice. My nephew’s 10. He blogs about Minecraft.”
  • “Want to write for us?” (What’s the pay?) “No pay. But think of the EXPOSURE!” (People *die* of exposure.)
  • “I want to write for (company that employs you). What’s your editor’s name and e-mail address?”
  • “Can you read my stuff & tell me if it’s any good?” (Here’s my coach/edit rate.) “THAT much? Just for READING?”

Now I’ve decided to go the other way: a list of 10 things you should say to writers. Why not? We regularly hear the most bizarre and sometimes even insulting things about what we do for a living.

And yes, I am projecting. I would love to have at least some of these 10 things spoken directly to my face.

  1. You write for a living? Cool! What’s your genre?
  2. Where can I buy your stuff?
  3. A friend of mine is a writer. I have some idea of how hard you guys work.
  4. I wish I could do what you do, but I can barely write a Christmas newsletter.
  5. How do you stay motivated?
  6. Can I put an ad on your website?
  7. Next round’s on me!
  8. Trolls. Screw ’em, right?
  9. I need writers. Could you do 500 words for $1,000? Great!
  10. Wait…You’re THAT Donna Freedman?!? OMG!

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  1. ro in Sd


  2. Cathy in NJ

    I love number 10!!! OMG!

  3. Wait…You’re THAT Donna Freedman?!? OMG!
    I keep watching you schedule to see when you might be in the Bay Area for coffee.

    • Donna Freedman

      If/when I get to the Bay Area I’ll definitely publicize it. I’d like to visit and also do some business-y things. Not today, though, and tomorrow’s not looking good either. 🙁

  4. Ha! I love it. When I saw your post title, #2 was the first thing that came to mind…

    On the downside, how about:

    “Since you have a disability and can’t *really* work, it’s nice that you have a hobby that lets you feel productive.”

    I remember reading an anecdote by a bestselling woman writer, many years ago. It seems she and her husband were taking a flight, and purchased flight insurance. Under occupation, she wrote, “Writer”. The clerk crossed it off and put “Housewife”. “Great! She said. Does that mean I don’t have to pay income taxes on what I earn?” Darn, I wish I could remember who the writer was. Erma Bombeck?

    • Donna Freedman

      Sure sounds like Erma….And if anyone said that to you about having a hobby since you can’t work, well, want me to beat ’em up???

      • Well, no one’s actually said that in so many words. A few people have commented on how nice it is that I’ve found something I enjoy, and I get the feeling they don’t think of blogging as real writing, or maybe they don’t think of writing as real work. But it could be I’m being sensitive.

        But, boy, howdy, *would* it be out of line for someone to say that!

        Thanks, Donna–it’s good to know folks have my back!

  5. People who can’t write don’t like to admit it. I have heard some relatives shamefacedly admit that they have a hard time writing letters. My mom, a composition professor, used to say that people who can’t write can’t think clearly. Maybe you should remind yourself of that when the foolish assume they could do what you do, easily. Obviously they aren’t thinking clearly.

  6. Tina in NJ

    #10, definitely. Always happy to see your byline.

  7. #10 was a riot! In fact, this whole article was a total scream. Thanks for the laughs, I needed them today!!

  8. You wrote:
    “I want to write for (company that employs you). What’s your editor’s name and e-mail address?”

    This actually happened to me. Some of my work I published on FaceBook. This person hunted me down. I refused to answer but he found out the info anyway. In a matter of weeks, he had my paying job!!!! He made false statements about me to my editor and pushed me right out of a job I loved.
    Be very careful and trust no one.

  9. I liked #4. I find responding with an intelligent comment difficult enough. I couldn’t write a whole article and especially one as intellectual and witty as the ones you produce. I do enjoy reading them though. Long may they continue!!

  10. Great responses, Donna!

    An acquaintance who heard that I recently published a book told me she wants to write one. “Oh, that’s great!” I said, with great encouragement and support. “What’s it about?” She replied, “I don’t know yet. But I just know I want to write a book.”

  11. I just stumbled upon your blog and I absolutely LOVE this post! I’ve recently accepted that I’m a writer and that it IS a real job. So, this post really hit home. Also, when I read number ten I actually laughed out loud in front of my computer. 🙂

  12. jestjack

    What a nice post! Though I respect you choice to move to Alaska, I truly miss your frugal travels…The accounting of your stays in the hostels and “cheap bus rides” along with character descriptions was award winning IMHO….

    • Donna Freedman

      I still do them — just not as often. Whereas in Seattle I was footloose and fancy-free (and able to find cheap flights), now I don’t want to spend as much time away from home because home is where my partner is.
      In September, though, I’ll be going to the Financial Blogger Conference and then to New Jersey and New York City. Who knows what adventures await?

  13. Holy mackerel. I remember it well. When I was freelancing full-time, I once went into a bookstore where three of MY books were on the shelves and a half-dozen regional and national magazines were carrying my byline in issues that also were on the shelves, that very day.

    But as far as others were concerned, I was a housewife with a hobby.

    One of my friends, who was stringing for the NY Times (in those days it wasn’t all that easy to get on as a stringer if you lived in a large US city) and who was also cranking copy for regional business newspapers and magazines, told me her mother asked her, “When are you going to get a job”?

    Only real editors understand that freelance writers have a job. Thank you very much.


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