Friday, January 16, 2009

There Are No Stupid Questions (guffaw!)

A few days ago, I noticed that Yen Cheong has come up with a list of New Year's resolutions for Other People, which I cannot approve of enough. Other People need severe improvement.

One of the resolutions is "Stop Asking Stupid Questions", in which "stupid" is defined, and which topic can be rephrased, "I Don't Care Whose Email You Have or Who You're Standing in Front of at a Conference; Spend Your Own Time Before You Spend Someone Else's." Yay!

And then I saw that Nicola Morgan has compiled a list of stupid questions, all of which I heartily concur with her about. Go sisterhood of snarky bloggers!

You know as well as anyone that I sympathize about the fact that there's a great deal to know about this industry. And there's plenty of information that isn't readily available in several places on the internet. Both are reasons I have this blog.

But there's plenty of information that is readily available. Information Google is dying to give people, if only those people would spend some time with Google, and maybe buy it dinner first.

I'll spare you my fantasies of beating idiots with a conference schedule when they sabotage the conversational opportunities of others with questions of this ilk, because those people are not generally readers of this blog.

Instead, you are my army. I empower you, my Anonymati, the bearers of information and common sense, to go abroad into the world kindly taking nitwits in hand and attempting to bring them into the fold.

You know the depth of ignorance and knuckleheadery which lurks in slush and which occasionally peeks its head out at conferences and SCBWI meetings. You, my valiant soldiers, hold the sword with which this monster can be killed, or at the very least soundly heckled. You may also be holding the conference schedule with which this monster can be peevishly whapped.

Either way, make me proud.

Oh! And read this, too! Brilliant. Thanks to Sarah for the link.


Anonymous said...

"You may also be holding the conference schedule with which this monster can be peevishly whapped."

Can I use a book dummy? It is much whappier.

Anonymous said...

yay for this post! I'm going to a conference next month and need as much how-to-not-be-THAT-writer info as I can find.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to make you proud, if only I knew who you were.

And, actually, I don't know what MSS means... is it the same as ms, except the Nicola Morgan chick is British and they have to be fancy with an added "s"?

You don't have to answer that, by the way.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Your wish is my command.

Sarah said...


Janet Reid had a link to a post* that included this:

When talking to published writers, talk 80% writing, 20% publishing, at most. Every writer I know that teaches at conferences has said, at one point or another, a variation on “HOLY COW! THAT WOMAN IN THE THIRD ROW! ASKED ME A QUESTION! ABOUT….WRITING!!!! And we say it withy starry eyes and we are impressed with that woman in the third row.

So... do you get stupid questions about writing? (Other than is-grammar-important?) In my limited experience, most stupid questions are about publishing.


Anonymous said...

My new favorite word that I must work into daily conversation: knuckleheadery.

Anonymous said...

"How long does a book need to be?"

Unless it's a children's picture book, where there is a traditional page length. But like she said, that's a fact you can find out in 30 seconds on the inter-webs.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Weapons of all whappinesses are approved.

MSS is the plural of MS.

Great link! Yes, that's my experience, too. But there's no need to talk mostly writing with editors. If you don't want to talk publishing with us, we're happy talking about books we've read and alcohol we've drunk, too.

Word said...

I like knuckleheadery too. Great word.

I got my hackles up a bit over the whole "What is an MSS?" question.

I mean - it is a bit relative isn't it? How was it used in the sentence that prompted the person to ask the question? The use of technical terminology or acronyms is rampant and specific to the business/area. I'd challenge anyone to sit through a meeting in my profession without asking "What is a CAS" or "What is a "PR factor"? I certainly wouldn't think someone was a jerk for asking. Well - at least not someone new to the business. I'd expect it. Now if someone's been around for a while and has been wondering what it means after hearing it a 100 times, well then - shame on them...for not asking...or trying to find out by some other means.
So I did do a search on MSS. It means different things depending on the business you hear it in. In IT (information technology) it means Mass Storage System. Now, to an IT professional, who is delving into the wonderful world of writing, I can imagine the confusion.
Rant over.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Understood, Word.

But the point is that a question is not stupid because of what the question is. Ignorance is completely natural and forgivable.

It's stupid because of the lack of effort to answer it oneself.

Which is why we say: Spend your own time before you spend someone else's.

Anonymous said...

Whappiness is a warm dummy. :}

Anonymous said...

Once at a conference when someone asked that old chestnut, "Where do you get your ideas?" I felt a mad impulse to turn on the poor innocent questioner and say, "You don't have ideas? Then how about you DON'T WRITE and stop cluttering up the slush pile with your idea-less manuscripts?" I didn't do it, but this question always baffles me. If you don't have ideas, why exactly would you want to write? And why SHOULD you enter into a life of constant struggle and rejection? If you don't have ideas, I say, be happy -- be free! You're off the hook! You do not have to be a writer!

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Oh crap.

Word said...

EA -

Yup - I do agree with the general sentiment. It reminds me a bit of my fifth grade teacher.

Kids would go up to her desk and ask "How do I spell (pick a word, any word)."

Her stock answer was always without fail - "Look it up in the dictionary."

But on the other hand (playing devils advocate) I think there are still a heck of a lot of people out there who haven't fully embraced the power of google. I mean - it's not really even second nature to me yet. I have to remind myself that the answers are usually only a few key strokes away. I blame it on my age. We didn't grow up with the internet. Research involved a trip to the library and looking through the encyclopedia (yuck and double yuck) - hated it. Would much rather ask a knowledgeable professional (i.e. teacher, librarian) and most of us did just that - at least to get us going in the right direction.

I think people just need reminders - "Did you try looking it up?"

Anyway - don't want to be a curmudgeon - I think there are some great points made here about doing a little homework before immediately asking for help.


Anonymous said...

Word: But on the other hand (playing devils advocate) I think there are still a heck of a lot of people out there who haven't fully embraced the power of google. I mean - it's not really even second nature to me yet. I have to remind myself that the answers are usually only a few key strokes away.

I think another reason some would rather ask a known expert rather than google the answer is because googling the answer doesn't always give you the right answer. Depending on the question you're asking, there's an awful lot of wrong answers out there.

Anonymous said...


You crack me up!

I get that question too... Where do you get ideas?

From innocent non-writers it's annoying enough, but from someone that is a writer, it leaves me dumb-struck. It's like saying, "How do you breathe?" Or, "Why is a duck?"

Christine Tripp said...

You know the depth of ignorance and knuckleheadery which lurks in slush and which occasionally peeks its head out at conferences and SCBWI meetings.

ARG!!! There is always one of these at every conference I have been to. One author who is sure she (so far it's never been a he) has THE MANUSCRIPT (and it's usually already self published, in hand, with really awful illustrations done by her nephew or some such) and in every session she is the first one to pipe up during the Q&A and it's never a question that we can all benifit from, it's always more an accusation... "why can't I get my book published?", "Can I show you my book now?" etc, etc....ARG!!! (did I already say that?)
At a Fall SCBWI conference, an Agent that had just finished speaking was chased after by one of these "authors", to the point the agent looked frightened for her life.

I think I'll take the "stupid questions" any day over these characters.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Anon-- Part of learning to use the 'Magic of Google" is learning how to tell a credible source from a worthless one.

Libraries are nice because someone else (the librarian) has already taken the trouble of finding reputable sources.

Though if you ask nicely, I bet your local reference librarian would LOVE to point you to some good resources on how to do internet searches...

Anonymous said...

So many editors will not take submissions from people unless they have met them at a conference. I think this just encourages the most aggressive, knuckleheaded writers to attend conferences and accost editors. The writers who would like to spend 80% of their time talking about writers are not as likely to take a few days off from their writing and their family to accost hapless editors who go to conferences and grant special submission privileges to those who accost them.

I myself do not go to conferences. I live in the real world, with a real family and a real job, and I do not have the time or the patience to go off to conferences trying to suck up to editors and ask pretty-please won't you read my masterpiece.

But I find it odd that editors complain about such behavior when the whole system, and the rules the editors themselves make, rewards the aggressive networking writer.

Editorial Anonymous said...

It's certainly true that it's not a perfect system.

We just haven't been able to think of anything workable to do about the flaws.

Sarah Laurenson said...

That's why I go to a certain smaller retreat where the editor to author ratio is quite small and the authors are much more professional in their demeanor. I still get that invitation to submit, plus serious face time with the editors/agents who attend.

I also chose this retreat because it helped me grow as a writer, find some really good writer friends and start a critique group. Lots of benefits all the way around.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Which retreat, Sarah?

Anonymous said...

Yes, not a perfect system. But one thing we can do is not place all the blame for the imperfect system on the authors who are forced to try to make do within that system. They are certainly less responsible for the system than the editors who mock them for trying to function in a system they had absolutely nothing to do with designing.

The fact is, most writers can find plenty of people to talk writing with. They have critique groups, they can pay for critiques, they can read books, they may have a wide circle of literate friends, and they may, in fact, already be quite accomplished and as intelligent about writing as the editors who offer "intensives" at the conferences. So if they show up at conferences more interested in learning about the business, networking, making connections, and trying to get their work read by someone who can publish it, it doesn't mean they are less dedicated to the art of writing than anyone else. They have many opportunities to talk writing, but few opportunities to pursue publishing leads.

OK, maybe many of the nudniks are also bad writers and so the editors will have their time wasted. But good writers also need to be aggressive to be noticed sometimes. Despite what the children's writing advice sites say, a perfect and professional cover letter alone is no guarantee of making it past some harried, junior manuscript screener.

Sarah Laurenson said...

The Working Writer's Retreat put on by SCBWI-LA. It's in September. Usually held at Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, but this year it'll be in Palos Verdes. I see I have to update our website event calendar with that info. Anyway, here's last year's info.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

That was generous of you. Thanks for the link about the conference. It sounds like the sort of conference I dream of.

Oh, how I wish I could go! I'm afraid my time and finances probably won't allow me to travel clear across the country, though.

Okay, I'm off a on google hunt now to see if there is a similar conference nearer to my neck of the woods.

Thank you again. Even if I can't make it this year, it's comforting to know there is such a conference.