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What Are You Writing?

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When someone says “What are you writing?” it sounds in my ears like they’re saying: I’m going to set fire to your hair. Or I’m going to kill your children. And I don’t even have any children. It’s like asking a man: Are you still beating your wife? He is condemned by the question before he has a chance to answer.

by GAB, Leipzig

by GAB, Leipzig

Asking a writer “What are you writing?” is like asking a philosopher “What are you thinking?” or a firefighter, “What fires have you been fighting?” But, then, you wouldn’t ask a firefighter that. You’d ask: Put out any interesting fires lately? To which he might reply: Yes, I just carried a little girl and her puppy out of a blazing apartment building. That’s heroic. That’s awesome. You ask the writer what he or she is writing, and it’s like asking a fish in which direction he’s swimming.

Writers don’t immediately know what they are writing. The meaning evolves in the writing. They sense more than see that there’s a crack in the universe and feel a need to fill the vacuum. Rightly or naively, writers see themselves as society’s conscience; a safety valve.

From this perspective, all writing is political: a mother murdering a child abuser; a mean boss sacking a pregnant employee; a group of wheelchair vets occupying a recruitment office. The drama will be layered in social comment. We laugh our heads off at the antics of Peter Griffin in Family Guy, but underpinning the humour is an intricate substructure of ideas, opinions: of politics.

Newspapers and broadcasters dip their bowls into the great soup of concepts put into the public arena by writers through surveys, reviews, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts. Writers are worker ants, always labouring, often without pay, for the good of the nest: the planet we all share.

From now on, when friends ask what I’m writing, I’ll tell them I’m creating a story about how the people woke up one morning and discovered that when they came together to save the last of the orang-utans, the last Indian tigers, they lost their feelings of apathy and boredom. They looked into each others’ eyes and began to see a way to bring about a fairer, better, more equitable future for the entire planet.

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When someone says "What are you writing?" it sounds in my ears like they’re saying: I’m going to set fire to your hair. Or I’m going to kill your children. And I don’t even have any children. It’s like asking a man: Are you still beating your wife? He is condemned by the question before he has a chance to answer. Asking a writer "What are you writing?" is like asking a philosopher "What are you thinking?" or a firefighter, "What fires have you been fighting?" But, then, you wouldn’t ask a firefighter…

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About Chloe Thurlow

I am the girl at the bar at 2.00 in the morning who looks like she should have gone home and maybe has no home to go to. In case you see me, I'm the one with the notebook. I write in the dead hours as the night planes follow the Thames into London, where I was born and where I moved from west to east like a migrating swallow. Each of my five novels has taken a year from conception to birth. I love them. They are my children. I never sleep. I have no time to sleep. A candle is always burning at http://chloethurlow.com
  • Bruce_K

    I’m a freelance writer. When people ask me what I am writing, I say “a company safety policy”, “a publicity blurb for a building firm” or “an application to prequalify to tender for a large construction project in East Anglia”. Any/all of these things would be true; this is what I do to pay the bills. The reaction is always the same; people’s eyes glaze over, and they quickly move on to something else.

    I also write erotic fiction. I never tell anyone that, however, not even my family and friends. *Especially* not my family and friends!

    • Chloe Thurlow

      “A company safety policy” I shall plagiarise. Naturally, Mother knows that I write erotica (I started to annoy her) and the relationship, always fraught, turned fragile.

  • Alison

    I wrote a travel book many years ago. I was thrilled when it was published. The sales were minimal and I decided not to write another book. Still, donkey’s years later, people are asking me: what are you writing? I sympathise with the author and suggest she takes the advice of foto2021.

  • Julie

    Really enjoyed this piece and shared it with other writers. I will be watching for more from you (stalker).

    • Chloe Thurlow

      I’ve always dreamed of having a stalker. You’d better follow me before I follow you.