Is This Annoying You Yet?

June 11, 2010 at 5:20 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Lua Fowles on Bowl of Oranges wrote a post about how to annoy a rookie writer which was an excellent read. I particularly like her second point where someone suggests to her that she should write about their friend who is cool. I love her response to that.

A couple of days ago I was ‘offered’ a kind story suggestion from someone. They’d made a comment about time travel, or gaps in time, or something that I hadn’t particularly listened to. Anyway, the next thing I know they are telling me I can use this for an idea in my next story.


They thought they were being helpful but I considered it this way. If I go to a restaurant with a mixed bag of groceries, march into the kitchen and drop them on the work bench before announcing, “You can use these to make a meal”, am I being helpful or annoying?

At the time I simply pointed out that time travel wasn’t really my thing because it leant itself far more to science fiction than to fantasy (though it is used in fantasy and quite well but I don’t really want to deal with overcoming paradoxes and the like so I’ll leave time travel to others for now). I additionally pointed out that I’m in the middle of a project at the moment and won’t be thinking about a next story for several months at least with the project I’m working on and projects I already have written but need to do some serious editing work on.

I didn’t get annoyed by this. They thought it was a great idea and maybe it had been a great idea (I probably should listen better to people). They weren’t being condescending or rude or anything like that. They just weren’t very helpful.

I’m the cook and I already went out and found my ingredients after pouring through all the recipes I might have considered. I’ve already done the prep work and cut up all the ingredients and half of them are in the pot cooking. And having gone through the bag that I was delivered I don’t even know a recipe I can cook with that particular combination of food stuffs so I’m really unlikely to use them.

The problem here was that as a non-writer this person didn’t really get the time and dedication required to work on an idea. To them, here is an idea, write the story, done. The thought that I wasn’t looking for new ideas and didn’t really want that idea hadn’t really occurred to him.

Do people do this to you? How do you deal with ‘helpful’ suggestions?



  1. Arlee Bird said,

    I’m not usually around many people–at least not many who speak English or know that I write. When I do get suggestions, if I am in a mentally altered state I’ll probably start engaging them about the idea and come up with a great story and talk about it at some length and then forget about it the next day. If I’m not mentally altered then I usually just forget what they said without talking about it.

    Tossing It Out

  2. Alex Willging said,

    First, I have to say, that blog post by Lua Fowles is brilliant. Hit it right on the nose.

    I haven’t had too many suggestions from people. My mother or one of my aunts might say, “You should do a novel/short story/short film about that.” (“that” being whatever really great joke we’ve come up with at the moment). Half the time it’s not serious, but I get what they’re pushing at. I usually just go, “Oh, sure” and never bring it up again.

    Heck, half the time I have to tell my own subconscious to stop coming up with ideas that don’t need to be in the stories I’m working on. Still, they’re usually worth writing down, possibly for some future use…

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I thought Lua’s post was well worth the read.
      I tend to jot down all of my random ideas but one line – you should use time travel – isn’t overly helpful as far as developing a plot.

  3. David Cranmer said,

    Usually, when someone tells me they have a good idea, I smile and tell them go ahead and write it up and we’ll go from there.

    I never hear back from them..

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Yes, but you asked them to work. That is actually not a bad idea.

  4. James Needer said,

    Writing is a love – hate relationship. I wish I could stop, as a teacher I’m just too busy, but there’s a story which needs to be told, no matter how experimental … and it won’t leave me be.

  5. AlexJ said,

    You’re right – non-writers think it’s so simple.
    I’ve not received any suggestions that weren’t requested by me – at least not yet.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I don’t know that they think it is simple, I think they just haven’t really thought through the process. They know you write but they don’t realise just how long it takes to fully realise an idea.

  6. Diane said,

    Thank goodness not too many people know I am a wannabe writer yet. Great post and links. :O)

  7. Helen Ginger said,

    I haven’t received too many, but the ones that have been offered, I tell them I’m in the middle of writing something and encourage them to write their own story. After all, only I can write the story I’m writing, so it follows that only they could write the story they envision.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Hart said,

    This is a great post, and so true! I think the one I hear most is “I really like (famous author) you should write a book like that!

    Erm… right. Do I launch into a VOICE lecture? Or explain what I DO write? I suppose the topic suggestions you get with fantasy are a lot more vast… I think I’d be my typical smartass self and say, “No, YOU should write a book with time travel.”

  9. Tsuchigari said,

    Fantastic post, as usual. Love the grocery analogy, fits perfectly.

    You might get a kick out of this – my dad, who is forever seeking ways to be immortalized by others, started telling me how I needed to put him as a character in my manuscript. He had it all planned out with how the character should look and act, and was pontificating if the character should live or not. The person he described was nothing like him in looks or personality. My dad is best described as a Polonious.

    I have a small army of secondary characters, chances are one of them will fit the bill. At least this means that my dad will read the book, if only to find himself in it.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Mostly my friends and family request that I leave them out of my stories and I try so hard to make sure my characters are not recognisable as anyone, even if that means changing a perfectly good character because they might inadvertantly seem like someone I know.
      It is interesting how some people see themselves.

  10. catwoods said,

    I usually say, “Thanks, I’ll consider it.”

    The one that grated the most was my non-writing SIL asking me to ghost her “neighborhood story”. “It’s so awesome. We are so interesting. Eveyone would love it. It’d be the next best seller. Better than Desperate Housewives.”

    Uhm. If I’m going to write the next best seller, you can be damn sure I’ll write my own story, not some neighborhood cat fight.

    Okay, that was catty…

  11. Carol Kilgore said,

    Yes. I usually say “thanks” or “that IS a good idea” and move on. They don’t know that writers usually have more ideas of their own and not enough time. Now if they’d offer to sweep my floor and clean my tub and do my shopping, I’d be much more inclined to listen to their helpful intentions 🙂

  12. Carol J. Garvin said,

    Rather than suggest ideas for me, people like to tell me what they would write about if only they had the time. The inference is that I must have all the time in the world now that I’m retired. Don’t I wish?! When I say that my writing is a high priority for me so I *make* time, they still think I mean that I have “nothing better to do”. They don’t share the passion so it’s impossible to explain.

  13. Levi Montgomery said,

    I usually get the “theme/setting/character presented as story” suggestions:

    “You should write a book about horse racing!”
    “You should write a book about a girls’ boarding school!”
    “You should write a book about a bind baseball pitcher!”

    I just smile and nod. But I recently had an experience of a slightly different nature. As you may or may not know, I just completed a 17-day, 20-state, 7,321-mile roadtrip with my grown daughter. One of the places we visited was Badlands National Park in South Dakota, and one of the first places we stopped there was an overlook that gave a panoramic view of some of the most impressive terrain on Earth.

    So here I am, my pro-quality Nikon DSLR on a pro-quality Bogen tripod slung over one shoulder, one eye on the terrain and one eye on the bad lighting, trying to find a picture worth taking, when we come across a group of excited tourists, cell phones and point-and-shoots in hand, shooting over the railing at the ground not ten feet away. So I look. A rabbit. A youngish rabbit.

    “You should take a picture of the rabbit!” a man in his fifties tells me. “Right there! The rabbit! Take a picture of the rabbit!” I smiled and nodded and went back to the terrain, but he got quite miffed that I had “all that camera stuff, and that tripod, and everything” and wasn’t shooting his poor rabbit. I was all for ignoring him, but my daughter, always nicer than me, snapped off a shot with her cell phone, whereupon the poor man, somewhat mollified but not really happy, went on his way.

    Now, it’s quite easy to simply laugh and dismiss this, but maybe there’s another way to look at it. Here’s this man, his little discount store point-and-shoot in hand, seeing me with a few thousand dollars’ worth of “all that camera stuff, and that tripod, and everything” and I’m not shooting what he’d shoot if only he had all that stuff. Set up a little analogy in which the gear stands for talent, and it’s pretty simple to see a situation where a person with small talent (a cheap camera) sees a person with large talent (Nikon/Bogen), AND THAT PERSON IS NOT SHOOTING WHAT HE SHOULD!

    I think, in some sense, the “here’s my idea/I wish I had time to write/oh I write too” response may be a small attempt to rationalize the misbalance of talent in the world around us, a misbalance better approached by simply claiming the talents we do have, and not wishing we had others’. No one wants to hear me sing. I’m not empathic or sympathetic. I have no intent to ever begin making my own clothes. I can’t make a pie, and I don’t care how fool-proof your recipe is — I can fool it. But when I see someone slide a perfect pie from the oven, I have no desire to say “I can cook, too, you know!” Because I can’t. But I can write about it.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Levi – that was a comment worthy of its own blog post and I love the rabbit story – mostly because I’m the person usually telling my better half what to take pictures of because my pictures are usually blurred, cut off or just ugly. Maybe I should cease doing this as it probably annoys him as much as it was bothering you given he is all for landscapes and I’m all for ‘that’s a pretty flower!’.
      Thanks so much for the comment.

  14. Lua said,

    “To them, here is an idea, write the story, done” I have no idea how people can believe something so absurd but I’ve heard it with my own ears, over and over again about the “how hard could it be to write a book?!” argument, I’m kind of used to it… I wonder if they think Tolstoy, Austen or Hemingway just “sat down with an idea and write the story”… 🙂

  15. Stephen Tremp said,

    I smile and listen. If someone can be succinct then great. However, if they start rambling then I am annoyed and will excuse myself. Usually ramblers will shift the conversation and start talking about themselves.

    Stephen Tremp

  16. Jemi Fraser said,

    I haven’t told too many people I write – and probably won’t until I’m farther along the road with it. So many people say “I should write a book” or “that would make a great idea for a story” – maybe most people harbour a desire to write 🙂

  17. Margot Kinberg said,

    Cassandra – I’ve actually gotten several suggestions from people about what to write and how to write it. My reaction often depends on who gives me the suggestion. If it’s a truly trusted friend or family member, I listen to the idea, even if I don’t adopt it. When it’s someone else, I politely thank the person and do what I sense is right for my writing. I try not to over-react. As you say, most people really do want to be helpful. Sometimes, too, they want to be a part of writing. That’s exciting to a lot of folks.

  18. lbdiamond said,

    Smile and nod. Simple, quick, and entirely non-committal! Great post!! 😀 (I’m loving the comments too!)

  19. brownpaperbaggirl said,

    As, Ibdiamond said, “Smile and nod.” I thank them for the idea, and happily continue on my way 🙂

    I enjoyed this post!

  20. Writer Links – Characters, Characters, and More Characters « Leith Literary said,

    […] of character mannerisms, ♥ the five reasons she will read your writer blog, ♥ another look at Bowl of Oranges’ hilarious ways to annoy a rookie writer, ♥ what makes even a […]

  21. Miss Rosemary said,

    People don’t give me suggestions because I don’t let them. If they start to I cut them off. They know not to mess with an annoyed me!!

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