I Don’t Want to Talk to My Coworker About Their Stupid Writing: Am I the Literary Asshole?

Hello again! We’re back with another installment of Am I the Literary Asshole, an advice column that’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery and dunked inside a vodka tonic, much like a slice of fresh lime. Delightful!

Today I’m coming to you live from the airport bar. Nothing says enjoy yourself to the fullest like sipping from a tall glass of cold beer at 9am EST. The airport is a place where you can truly live out your wildest fantasies. Loaded hot dog for breakfast? Absolutely. Memory foam pillow purchased from a vending machine? Why not! Forming a lifelong friendship with the airport bartender? You better, if you know what’s good for you.

This is the attitude (and latitude) that I am bringing to this column today. So don’t forget to tip your server and grab your spicy bloody to-go, this is gonna be a jet set.


1) I work fulltime as a teacher (public middle school), but I spend my evenings writing. I’m halfway through a draft of a memoir and I’m really proud of myself. I don’t talk about my writing with my co-workers, because it feels too personal and people have a lot of opinions. However, at a recent after work happy hour, I had a few too many and spoke about my current in-progress project. Now one of my co-workers won’t stop bothering me about it. She claims that she’s a writer, too, even though I’ve never seen her read or write anything and she’s never mentioned a single book to me. I don’t want to talk to her anymore about writing, especially my own work, but I feel like the only way to get her to stop is to tell her this directly, which might come off as rude. AITLA?

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you for working on a book while simultaneously teaching MIDDLE SCHOOLERS. Holy shit! The fact that you’re able to process anything outside of reality television after a day of shaping impressionable minds is wildly impressive. I applaud you on your work ethic. Sincerely, that is a real achievement.

Now, to dig into your question. I don’t necessarily think you’re an asshole for wanting to keep your writing life private—many of us do, especially when it comes to work that’s mid-project, like yours—but I think it’s possible the needle could swing in the asshole-adjacent direction if you tell your co-worker to shut up about anything and everything writing related. It’s one thing to be hush-hush about a book that’s still in its infancy, mid-draft; it’s quite another to tell a person that they don’t get to talk about writing with you because you’ve never seen them holding a book or typing away inside a Word document.

Don’t get me wrong, boundaries here are important. Day jobs and passion projects get to be separate. It’s completely fine that you want to keep your work to yourself. In the past, you’ve made it a point to keep your writing life separate from your teaching gig, and one slip up after a couple of drinks with your co-workers is simply an honest mistake. You can get your space back here, I promise.

If she brings it up again, which she might, I think you can tell your co-worker that you’re not ready to talk about your project because it’s still in-progress. The book’s not done and you don’t want to talk about it until it’s finished. That’s a reasonable excuse, certainly, and one that’s absolutely true. You don’t need to say it’s because you don’t want to talk to her about drafting and the writing world. It’s possible she’ll move on to other topics. Maybe one of those topics will be the book that she’s writing! Hey, you never know.

A Bloody Mary definitely counts as a serving of vegetables, right? So healthy! Let’s have another while I wait for my flight and check out the next question:

2) I REALLY want to write novellas and would love to get them traditionally published someday. I think something that’s not too short or not too long would be perfect for the stories I want to tell. I don’t want to pad them to hit an arbitrary word count. Is it presumptuous of me to put quality over quantity, when so much of what I see is an emphasis on market and cost of production?

I think you’ve got your answer right here in your own question. The first sentence says it all: you REALLY (emphasis yours) want to write novellas. That’s the form you like, that’s what suits your writing best. You’ve described it as “perfect.” There you have it! You write novellas!

But because I’m a librarian and I’ve worked my fair share of reference desk hours, I’m going to dig into this a little further and unpack what I call The Question Under the Question; the thing you’re really wondering, but (maybe) don’t know how to ask. You wonder if it’s “presumptuous” to put “quality over quantity” here, and I am struck by how you’ve worded your question. I find this striking because you immediately follow it up by discussing markets and cost of production.

Friend, these are essentially two different animals. Wanting to utilize a form that you prefer is one thing, wanting to know if these forms will eventually be publishable (or saleable, for that matter) is another. I might be wrong here—I mean, let’s face it, I’m about to ask the bartender for another Bloody Mary and I’ve already had a few—but “so much of what I see” means that you’re paying attention to what is getting traditionally published, what traditional publishers want, and that’s where your focus lies. You’d rather write novellas, but you’re worried that “traditional” publishers (ie big publishing houses) won’t go for them.

There are plenty of great presses that publish just this kind of work! You don’t need to try and stretch your writing into shapes that aren’t the right fit. Cinderella your novella to an editor and a publishing house that’s right for you, even if that means it’s non-traditional. If you’re a person that enjoys writing novellas, then odds are that you also enjoy reading that type of work. Seek out the publishers that put those books into the world.

Create in the form that feels right for your art. Life’s too short to make something you don’t care about. Good luck, friend. And happy (novella) writing!

3) Is it rude at book events to get your copy signed but not personalized? I’d rather be able to gift it to a friend who loved it if the book wasn’t my cup of tea.

As an author who signs books, I will say that this practice doesn’t bother me at all. If someone doesn’t want a book personalized, that’s entirely their business! Maybe they want to gift it to a friend, like you’ve mentioned here. Maybe they want to donate it to a library. Maybe they aren’t sure they’ll like the book and don’t want to be stuck with something just because it has their name scrawled inside the front cover. Maybe they want to sell it! Any of these reasons are perfectly fine. If someone buys a book of mine, that book essentially becomes their property.

You’re not being rude at all! Thank you for grabbing a copy in the first place. You’re wonderful.

Well, it looks like my flight is finally slated for departure. Time to pay my check and stumble onto my plane. Join me next time when we answer more of your questions and I try to convince my wife that having a beer is actually the same thing as having a sandwich.

And remember—send me your anonymous questions!!!

Four pours and seven beers ago,



Are you worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at AskKristen@lithub.com, or anonymously here.


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