Eleven Questions from a Fan

A fan wrote me today with a bunch of excellent questions, and posting my answers here is easier than, you know, actually blogging.

Hi, Mr. Westerfeld/Scott (whichever you prefer). I really like your Midnighters books. I plan to be an author someday, so could you answer me a few questions?

Yes, I can. And I prefer Scott, except when people are trying to sell me something. (Then, “Mr. Westerfeld” will do.)

1. What is the hardest part of being a writer?

The vast emptiness of the blank page. You start to think about a story, “So there’s this girl with a dog . . . ” And a voice pops up and says, “Wait! What’s her name? Age? What year is this? What country? Is she poor? Rich? Middle class? Does she like monkeys, or just dogs? What about cheese? Is there magic in this world? What kind? Can the dog smell the magic? Hey, what kind of dog is it, anyway?”

See what I mean? There are so many different things you can write about. It gives me a headache sometimes.

Also, writing is kind of lonely profession. You’re all alone with that computer screen all day, unless you’re very clever and marry another writer.

2. What is the easiest part of being a writer?

The all-important writing uniform. Pajamas are comfortable and easy to put on. Socks, optional.

3. Do ideas come to you easily?

Yes. Ideas are easy, words are hard.

4. Is it hard to be published?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, there are millions (no really, millions) of people out there who want to be published. Every publishing house in the world has mighty stacks of manuscripts waiting sadly to be read. Every literary agent gets dozens (at least) of query letters a day, all begging for their attention. Everywhere you go, you’ll meet lots of people wanting to be writers.

On the other hand, a lot of those people are totally hopeless. Half of them don’t ever write anything. And half of them that do never send their stuff anywhere. Then subtract all the ones who can’t spell, can’t type, or who just can’t tell a story. And suddenly . . . there’s a lot more breathing room.

But persistence is required. (Imagine if you asked someone for a date, and they didn’t get back to you for six months, and then said no. And then imagining asking them again for a date. That’s publishing.)

5. How long did it take you to write your first book?

I started it on Mother’s Day, 1992. I spent more than a year on it, put it away for a few more years, then worked on it some more. It was first sent to an agent in 1996. (But after that, it all went pretty fast, and the book, Polymorph, was published in 1997.)

6. Do you receive a lot of fan mail?

Two today, which seems about average. (Not all of them are as complicated as yours, though. Not that I’m complaining.)

7. When did you decide that author was the right job for you?

Before I was one.

For me, there’s nothing more fascinating than novels. Most are created by only one person, even though they’re one of the most complicated things that humans do. Authors have to be the architect who draws the overall plan, the foreman who makes sure the work gets done, and the welder who puts in every bolt and rivet. (And then you have to research whether welders actually put in rivets or not, or some piss-ant will write you a letter about it.)

And as a science fiction writer, it’s even crazier. In the same day, I’ve had to decide the fate of humanity’s future and then had to check if “scumbag” has a hyphen or not. (It doesn’t.)

8. What book was the funnest to write?

Probably So Yesterday. I wrote it after living in Sydney for a year and a half. I had just come back to New York City, so it was a sort of love letter to a place I’d lived in for 16 years but was seeing anew. The story just flowed out of me. It’s also the most comedic of my novels, and it occasionally slew me.

9. Do you know other famous authors, being one yourself?

Ahem, you are too sweet. But I’m not sure if I’m exactly “famous” at this stage in my career . . . I will leave that for my biographers to decide.

But I do know many wonderful writers, and seem to be meeting more all the time. Hanging out at publisher’s parties at conventions and book expos is an excellent way to meet your childhood idols, which is quite a fringe benefit.

10. Do you have any children?

Nope. (They might tell me my kid-slang is wrong, after all.)

11. Does writing ever get in the way of family?

Fortunately, I’m married to an author, so writing is the family business. We talk about our books all the time, go to visit publishers and to conventions together, and read our work to each other at night.

“The family that writes together, smites together.”

12 thoughts on “Eleven Questions from a Fan

  1. Hey scott just dropping by to ask you something. Are any of your books going to be printed in german? Im working on my german and french, but if I could read one of YOUR books it would be great determination for me to hone my foreign language skills. keep up the good work scott. later

  2. Sorry, Onyx. But the Germans don’t seem to want me. Of course, they’ve got Cornelia Funke, so maybe they’re not looking for as much YA from the outside. But it looks like I’ll have a new French-language announcement soon . . .

  3. Well thx thats awesome. French was my second choice but bulocks, ill deal. And uhh i doubt you do this but do you ever go to any of the Buffy parties held every year in NY? Ill be looking forward to your next blog. Later genious

  4. Scott, I want to say thank you for answering those “Eleven Questions”. Those were sent in by my 11 year old daughter. She is a wonderful writer (no I am NOT biased) and has become totally enthralled in the Midnighters. I read it as well and I too am impressed. She rented the book from the library but is determined to own them all. I myself look forward to reading them and checking out some of your other books. Thank you again for taking the time to answer your fans. I am impressed.


  5. I started my own blog called Confessions of a Teenage Writer (The title sucks i know) But my writing mentor told me to keep a journal and i got very bored with it, So i thought starting a blog would be better (I hope that makes sense). I’m bascically just talking about my life and how my novel is going. I’m telling you this because you are one of my favarite writers and you blog inspired me to start one. (And I hated writing the journal)

  6. Lora: Megan had some great questions, and it was fun answering them.

    Tevans: Polymorph just got lucky. It found the right agent and the right editor, without too many detours. (So, where’s your blog? Sounds interesting.)

    Jesse: Good luck to you, then. And to Tevans and Megan and all of us who write! (Like I said, it isn’t easy.)

  7. Hi, um…Scott, I was wondering if you could possible give me a suggestion for my problem. I want to be a writer and I TRY to write stories, but its hard organizing all my words onto paper (or computer screen) like the way they sound in my head. Plus I have this weird thing where one day I’ll have an idea for a story and am completely consumed by it and type up some of it, but by the next day I’ll have lost the “inspiration” and the idea feels weird so I don’t finish the story. I have a whole pile of unfinished stories and don’t know what to do with them. Any possible suggestions?
    by the way I LUV Midnighters and can’t wait 4 Peeps to come out.

  8. Tevans: The writing puzzles on your blog are fabulously complicated. Sounds like me trying to sort out a plot. (Never easy. If it was, more movies would make sense.)

    Nori: Not finishing is a real problem. Right now, you’re getting practice beginning stories, but not ending them. This happens to lots of writers, which is why lots of books have endings that . . . suck. So you have to finish a few to get better and more comfortable with it.

    One trick is to write every day at the same time, in the same place, playing the same music–whatever–which will bring your brain back to the space you started the story in. The first few times may be hard, but it’s okay to make yourself keep going, even if you’re not inspired that day. Eventually, your mind will get into the habit of slipping back into the story, and continuity will become an ingrained part of your writing technique.

    It just takes practice. (Dull, endless practice–sort of like serving in tennis. Not as much fun as playing the game, but necessary.)

Comments are closed.