Awkward Party Conversations with Writers

ezgif-cropAt some point, I took the plunge and told people that I’m a writer — without any unnecessary adjectives like “aspiring” or “terrible.”

Unfortunately, now that people know, they ask me about it during parties and gynecological exams*.

Let’s be honest, the best thing about the upcoming holiday season is the food. The worst thing is the conversation. In general, I avoid parties and gatherings unless I know at least 45% of the people in attendance. I’m not necessarily a curmudgeon**. I’m just genetically conditioned for awkwardness and my awkwardness makes others awkward and then everyone feels a bit like they need to scratch their skin from the inside out.

Writers can avoid blogging and having a Twitter account, but they can’t really avoid social interactions if they want people to remember them and their work — unless they are far more talented than the rest of us. So you can stay home and grumble, or you can go to the party. Think of it this way: there’s no better time to try out some self-promo than on your party host’s unwitting friends and neighbors. It’s like free beta testing. With food!

Inevitable Questions and How to Make Them Work For You

Inevitable party question: What do you do for work?

Option 1: You could bore your questioner with details about your day job or your night job or your part-time job or the job you don’t currently have.

Option 2: Or you could tell them that you’re a writer. This can come after the spiel about the actual job. For example: During the day, I herd cats. But my real passion is writing. For I am [drum roll] a writer.

Option 3: See “If All Else Fails” below.

Inevitable writer question: What’s your book about?

Option 1: You could keep it simple and tell the questioner that you write urban fantasy or literary fiction or young adult novels or horror (be prepared for endless questions about/comparisons to Stephen King). Also, be prepared to know your genre because this answer could lead to a follow-up question about whether or not you read that one book by Whatshisface about some long and detailed plot that involves something you know nothing about and now you have to sit and listen because you’re nice.

Option 2: Or, you could consider this a golden opportunity to practice your pitch. I don’t recommend more than one sentence. Even two sentences of a novel plot can make people twitchy. If their eyes glaze over or shift to other attendees in the room, you’ll know you need to revise. Try it out on the next person after rehearsing while waiting in line for the bathroom.

Option 3: If you’re kind of a mess***, feel free to use a slew of random words that could feasibly represent your book, such as: time travel and LSD and father-son bonds. You know, the usual.

Option 4: Or, you could use the X meets Y approach. “My novel is kind of like Fifty Shades of Grey meets It.” You know you want to hit that.

Option 5: See “If All Else Fails” below.

If All Else Fails

Ah, well. You tried. Or maybe you didn’t because sometimes it’s just too hard. The room is hot. The room is cold. The lights are bright or dim. There are too many people or not enough. I get it. When you’re not in the mood, you’re not in the mood. When someone asks you about your writing, you don’t have to say anything more than: Yes, I’m a writer… I’m not really in a place where I can discuss the details of my novel. It’s still incubating/percolating/not complete/in my head vs. on the page.

Hooray for you! You’ve owned it. But that doesn’t really resolve the whole awkward introvert situation, does it?

One of the things that got me (somewhat) over my fear of people at parties was something I read about Dominick Dunne:

In 1993, Mr. Dunne explained his journalistic approach to The Washington Post: “I’m simply a very good listener. And listening is an underrated skill. If you really listen — if you’re really interested — someone is bound to talk.”

And if that fails? Move on to the next guest, or the food table. There are bound to be others just like you hovering around the cheese and crackers, desperate for the exit. There’s no shame in that. Also, cheese.


* True story.

** But mostly a curmudgeon.

*** Been there. Still there.


  1. So funny and so painfully true. I’d like to add don’t tell your dentist you are a writer. Pitching your novel while having your tooth drilled is even less fun than coming up with a pitch at a party.

  2. If memory serves, I had conversations around the food table with all of you recently. I hope to see you all around the cheese plate again soon.

    Thanks for your fun commentary!

  3. Carol D. Gray

    Oh so true, Kelly! I would add NEVER tell your hairdresser about your novel. Haircut after haircut you’re faced with “So how’s the book?” until she finally stops asking because it’s been so long it’s become embarrassing for both of you!!

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