The Most Common Questions Writers Get: There Are Three

The top most common question I get: What is the most common question you’re asked as a writer? That’s the number ONE grand-prize winner of the most common question. But not much more to talk about on this one, so I’ll move on to the next two most common.

The Most Common Questions Writers Get: There Are Three, guest post by Shannon Kirk
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Numero dos: How long did it take to write Method 15/33? I don’t know why, but I always stumble on this question. I’ve rehearsed the answer in my head. I’ve even said it to my mirror, mirror, on the wall, forcing myself to say a straight and short answer. Here’s what I’ve practiced: “Oh, about three years.” And then I coach my brain with a verbal tirade of demands Just say that answer, just say “about three years” and move on. Three words. Say them! But no matter how many times I berate myself, I can’t do it when the live moment comes. I stumble. I “ummm” and I “welllllllll” and I stand there looking at the sky, contemplating the math of the Heavens, wondering when this concept of time even started.

The reason for my inarticulate mumbling to the air is that the real answer is this: Ummmm, welllll, this book took about three years, plus or minus forty years. Maybe I’m overthinking. Perhaps. The thing is, anything I write, while yes, is 1,000% fictional in plot and character, holds an incalculable amount of real-life things I’ve seen, experienced, felt, saw, heard, or sensed over the course of my life. To not include the years in which those items happened and to say that I wrote something in three years is patently false. How could I have included the scene where a nanny rolls an egg on the main character of Method 15/33 (in order to ward of evil) if I hadn’t seen a babysitter do that to my child—blowing my mind, as I’d never heard of such a thing? This happened several years before I even thought of the plot. Or what about the quarry, which plays a central role in the book? The only way I came up with scenes involving the quarry was by being scared out of my 1980’s terry-cloth girl shorts tromping to a quarry on our property in New Hampshire. I just simply have to include all the years leading up to when I started the literal writing of the book.

On the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t write for three years straight either, so to say a book took me three years is disingenuous.  In other words, I technically started writing the book three years before finishing, but I absolutely did not write every day—sometimes not even once in one week. A, I have a full time job. B, I was working on two other manuscripts (although not doing well by them) at the same time.

And while I’m already deep down in this hole, let me overthink a little more. When the question is asked, “How long did it take you to write this book,” is the questioner including the part where I murder myself editing, over and over and over—reading passages so much I memorize them and therefore miss glaring errors? Does the question include that zone of insanity?

Maybe I need to carry a visual graph to answer what should be a simple and fair question. For Method 15/33:

(All images licensed off of

And the third most common question: What is your writing process? Based on the above answer to the simple number two question, should I even start an answer for this one? Probably not.

I will say this. There are many processes out there for writing and every single one of them is the correct process. I know some writers use detailed outlines before they begin a book. They might use flash cards pinned to a wall or write companion pieces (that never see the light of day) detailing character back-stories. I can see the benefit in all of this.

I do not follow any patterns. No schedule. Nothing. I don’t know what the rules are or if there are any when it comes to process. I just know that all that is important to me is that I enjoy the process. And I enjoy it best when there’s no structure, no expectations, and I can surprise myself with what lands on the page in any given day. I start with an idea and the first sentence. And then I write whatever I want to on the days I sit down to write. Could be a middle chapter, could be the ending. Could be something I never use in the book. I keep going until a picture starts to form, like blocking a painting. Then I get more refined by adding necessary scenes. Then I get even more refined. Add necessary details, tweak dialog. Then I read it, move things around, cut, paste. Then I edit, over and over and over.

In conclusion, by the time I’m done answering the three most common questions, I feel I’m like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, untethered to my spaceship and tumbling in space, which fits pretty well with describing the life of writing.

Shannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son. Method 15/33 is her first novel.

The Most Common Questions Writers Get: There Are Three, guest post by Shannon Kirk
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  1. What an entertaining guest post! Thanks so much for introducing us to this author and her new thriller.


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