Five By Five: 25 Questions About Writing By Non-Writers

The ultimate question by a non-writer.

The ultimate question by a non-writer.

5 common questions I’m asked by non-writers:

1. Do you have anything published?

Answer: Not yet.

2. What’s your novel about?

A 13th century English lady uses her shrewd political knowledge to help a nobleman succeed his deceased father amidst threats from a rival claimant, and finds that the incompatible tasks of putting him on his throne and winning his heart require equally cunning strategies.

3. How far along are you?

More than halfway.  And more than halfway. (It’s a novel in two volumes.  The first book is completed in draft, and I’m more than halfway through the second.)

4. How do you know what to write?

I think of it as a logical sequence of cause-and-effect, where each subsequent effect is more detrimental than the last.  Plus, I can hear my protagonist speaking in my head (no, really).

5. Can I read your book when it’s finished?

I would love for you to read my book, “when it’s finished” being the operative (and ever elusive) term.


My 5 least favourite questions from non-writers:

1. How many pages do you write each day?

There are no pages; I usually manage only one and a bit.  (Hey – tapping into the psyche and voice of a 13th century noblewoman takes time.)

2. Is your novel a romance?

No, it’s not a historical romance.  I consider it a medieval political thriller, with lots of moral ambiguity and psychological impact.  And a bit of romance.

3. Is there a lot of sex in it?

There’s a bit, though most of it isn’t explicit.  Not every historical fiction novel need be a voyeuristic sexual romp through eons past.

4. What is your novel called?

Neither my mother nor my best friend even knows this.  It feels too unlucky to say until the story’s finished.

5. When will you finish your novel?

I’m aiming for before I die. (Actually, I’m aiming for by my birthday, in late November.)


5 questions I wish non-writers would ask me:

1. What is your protagonist’s theme song?

Oh Father by Madonna.

2. How many other novels do you plan to write?

I have glimmers in my head for at least five more: two more historicals, a two-part historical fantasy, and a contemporary magic realism-romantic adventure.

3. How long did it take you to get to know your protagonist?

Approximately 13 days (I made note of this in a writing journal back in 2005).

4. What are your favourite words to use in writing?

Thus, notwithstanding, likewise, indeed, and wherewithal.

5. How do you come up with character names?

Street names, words I commonly mis-type, and the wives of former Canadian Prime Ministers have all informed the names of characters past and present.


5 questions I’ve never been asked by non-writers (and hope I never am!):

1. How do you know you’re any good as a writer?

Well, isn’t that the $64,000 question. I guess if I’m to be truly honest with myself, I don’t know it, as my feedback at this point (though mostly positive) has been limited.

2. How does it feel to have devoted so much of your life thus far to something that may never bear fruit?

Fan-frickin’-tastic!  But that’s what makes life exciting, right – no money-back guarantees.

3. What will you do if your book doesn’t sell?

Lament the combined eight years I’ve spent thinking about it and writing it, and cry.  Then write another book, and try to beat my current personal best time.

4. What if you’re unable to fully develop those idea glimmers of future novels?

Oh, sure – play on all my insecurities now.

5. Would you ever quit writing?

I almost never say never.  Or always.


5 questions I’ve asked writers [some years ago now] as a non-writer:

1. Is it wise to try to begin your writing career with a trilogy?

It’s definitely harder to sell a trilogy [via traditional publishing] than a standalone novel.

2. Would I be wasting my time or otherwise hindering myself by writing and trying to [traditionally] sell a long first novel?

All you can do is write the best book you possibly can and hope it makes a love connection with the right agent and editor.

3. Do thoughts of your WIP ever disrupt your non-writing life?

Oh, yes.  It’s inescapable!

4. How can I stop thinking about my story when I finish writing for the night so I can get to bed on time?

Create some sort of transition between your writing time and bedtime to signal to your subconscious that story time is over.

5. Does having [traditionally] published short stories increase a writer’s chances of [traditionally] publishing a novel?

The best way to increase your chances is to write a great novel.


This was a bit longer than my current blog posts, but I had fun essentially interviewing myself.

Writers: what questions have you been asked by non-writers?  How would you answer any or all of the above five by five?  Consider doing so on your own blog and sending me the link so I can read all about it.

(Image source #1, #2, #3, and #4)

15 thoughts on “Five By Five: 25 Questions About Writing By Non-Writers

  1. You know what?* No one ever asks me about my writing. For real. I never really thought about it until I read this post. That means one or all of four things:

    1. I’m doing a lousy job of promoting myself (probably true. I don’t understand how to make social media work for me)

    2. I talk about my writing so much that people would rather hear about anything else, including the pinched nerve in my leg (probably not true, but I’m afraid it would be if I went on about my writing)

    3. Nobody likes me or, at least, cares a lick about what I do in my spare time (I’m sure at least a few people like me, or at least they tolerate me, because I don’t eat lunch alone and receive periodic phone calls. However, I suspect the latter point about spare time is pretty true. It’s OK. My friend and songwriting partner Tony says if a person becomes successful in the arts, it’s going to be because of strangers who don’t have preconceived ideas about you)

    4. People think I’m weird because I make lists with parenthetical asides that are longer than the comments (definitely true, except in this particular case. Then again, people probably didn’t know that about me until right now, so it couldn’t have affected their willingness to ask about my writing. Oh darn, I’ve gone and made this parenthetical aside too long again)

    *that doesn’t count as a question


  2. Excellent article (and very funny) and I love Eric’s comment above too! Hmmmm, perhaps we writers overanalyse our writing and think readers are waaaay more interested in our writing motivation and minutiae etc. than they actually are! But no, that could never be! We are not at all an insecure, introspective bunch, are we?


    • You’re right, Marina – we totally want non-writers to ask us about foreshadowing, and levels of penetration with the point of view, and the defining moment of the protagonist, but all they want to know is how long the book is and whether they can read it in print or ebook or both.

      But we can’t help it, can we, for writing isn’t just a thing we do, it’s a lifestyle. And as good as we are at creating different sorts of characters and imaginary situations, it’s really hard to conceive of people not being as fascinated with the writing life as we are.


  3. I was out at the farm yesterday and one the builders asked me how much money I made from my writing (yes – they’re very ‘country’ here!) I told him it was not enough to make a good living. A few hours later he asked, ‘Why do you bother writing if you don’t make a good living out of it?’ Before I could answer one of the other builders chimed in (from the roof) and yelled, ‘BECAUSE IT’S A PASSION, YOU IDIOT!’ LOL! You really had to be there – I laughed about that conversation all day!


  4. Janna
    Do you ever notice how the conversation stops when you slip and phrase a sentence in some long forgotten tongue?
    Fantastic post for us ‘historical types’


    • Absolutely! I make this mistake a lot at work. My protagonist’s voice is so firmly in my head, sometimes I suspect she has designs to fully take me over (which would be very much in character for her). Thanks for the reblog, and welcome back. 🙂


      • I fully believe that I could easily turn into a gentleman from the nineteenth century with very little effort

        I never really went away…I just happen to have some time at the moment.
        I do try to stop by on occasion


  5. Reblogged this on christopherdaviswrites and commented:
    Already a big fan of Janna Noelle’s ‘The rules of Engagement’, I stumbled on to this post while perusing her blog and have to repost this one. Should ring a bell with many of us that pursue that ‘first’ published novel. Enjoy


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