Someone (almost everyone on the planet it seems to me these days) asks me this at least once a day. They’re making conversation, showing interest in what I do, taking time to care about my work. . . but honestly, every time someone asks I wince just a little in the center of my chest. (I just realized that I might wince with my face, too. Apologies if I’ve done that to you.) It’s not that the question is a bad one, but whether it’s intended that way or not, what I hear is – How much have you written? How much longer will you be working on this project? What’s taking you so long? It feels like people want quantitative measures for this process.
I don’t really have those kind of measures. Sure, I keep telling people I have over “half a draft,” and while that seems to satisfy most folks, what does that really tell them? Not much. I could have half a draft of a one-page poem or half a draft of a tome that will make War and Peace look light. And besides, it’s just a draft. This says nothing of the revision and editing that will have to take place.
These questions, at least the ones I hear in my head, also don’t take into account the amount of work I have really done – the hours and hours of research, the pages I’ve written, the ways I’ve come to understand the people I’m writing about in a more complex and personal way, the various structural options I’ve considered just to find one that works. Measures don’t really capture these things.
So while I will try to not actually groan when the next person asks and while I will try to not lay onto the questioner a bunch of my own guilt and wavering self-confidence, I’m going to ask you guys to do me and every other writer (painter, musician, entrepreneur or other sort of creative type) a favor. Instead of asking “How’s the book coming?” can you say, “Tell me about your book.” That statement feels so much more open and inviting, like “Would you like to like to sit on my deck and sip hot cider while we watch the leaves glow in the sunlight?” Now, doesn’t that sound better?
Just be forewarned – such a well-phrased inquiry may actually get you a real answer. If you just want a brief response – “about half a draft” – then stick with the original query.