Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?
by Laurie Kuna
Our recent time management workshop made me think not only about the time I waste, but how much of other people's time I waste and vice-versa. I mean this, not in the social sense, but in the professional sense. Are my thoughts so profound that my writing colleagues MUST hear every one by giving out information people don't really want?
As writers we of course use words. Lots of them. This penchant for words makes it easy to give too much information to someone marginally interested in our wisdom. Consider your answer to the question, "How's the writing going?" Usually, the question is sincere, but to be safe--in case the questioner is in "polite mode"-- keep the response short! "I'm writing ten chapters a day" would be appropriately concise, albeit a flat-out lie. "I'm having trouble with my hero," would also be concise (and true, since heroes tend to give authors trouble).
DO NOT reply thus: "Well, my hero Studly Hungwell, was traumatized as a boy when his parents disappeared in the South American jungle, and now as a 35-year-old who's never had a date, he finds he's incapable of commitment. But he can't see a counselor because the paternal aunt who raised him after his parents died always told him the Hungwells solved their own problems and would never, ever seek outside help."
My brain short-circuited at the guy's name and I have no way to follow up if I truly want to. A simple "hero trouble," leaves the option of offering help: "Really? what's the problem?" Then answer more fully. If I don't want to hear more, then I can answer, "Boys will be boys," and move on. If I want to invest time in your problem--if indeed I have time---I'll be able to decide for myself whether or not to do so.
Think one-sentence pitch. Editors and agents want to avoid every gory detail of your work's birth. Assume your friends feel the same way.
How to detect disinterest in others? Study the hands. If you catch me doodling, you'll know what I'm hearing isn't of interest. Pencil tapping and feet shuffling. Eye contact says volumes. If her eyes roll back until all you see are the whites and it looks like her head's about to spin 360 degrees, that's an excellent indicator that you've taken up too much of her time. The direct approach works best. If you ask me to read something of yours, I'll tell you up front whether I have the time depending on what you're looking for--I may not have time to do justice to your work. It never hurts to ask, though.
There are many other indicators of a person's interest in your current writing project. So I'll stop wasting your time and let you come up with more ideas on your own.