Top 10 Answers to “What Are You Writing?”

If you’ve been writing for awhile, you probably know that a frequent (perhaps the most frequent) question asked of writers is, “What are you working on?” People seem to be interested in the writing life and the flashes of genius that sometimes visit a person in that line of work.

But it’s a loaded question. It took me awhile, but I eventually learned how dangerous the question is. Early on in my life as a professional writer, I would answer the question honestly, straightforwardly, with a short synopsis of what I was writing. And I would see the questioner’s eyes glaze over and on concluding my description watch him or her shrug and utter a disappointed, “That’s nice.” Worse, I would discover, upon arriving back at my writing desk, I had lost enthusiasm and focus for my project. It was as if I had betrayed my muse. Or as if I had a limited supply of inspiration that didn’t want to be written once I had already talked it out.

I still get the question every so often, but I have learned the value of having a ready answer. Here are my personal top-10 answers to the question, “What are you writing?” Feel free to add your ideas in the comments:

  1. I’m writing a book called The Secret Sins of People I Know. Want to help?
  2. My current project is a Hallmark Channel screenplay about a charming serial killer who meets a small-town girl. And then another. And another.
  3. I’m almost done with a multivolume record of my haircuts, including the who, what, where, when, and why.
  4. It’s a very violent, vulgar, but lighthearted superhero romance.
  5. Thanks for asking; it’s a historical novel set in Shangri-La.
  6. A child’s picture book I’m calling Lies Your Parents Are Telling You.
  7. It’s a new version of the Bible, except instead of being organized from Genesis to Exodus, every word is listed in alphabetical order for easy reference.
  8. It’s sort of a cross between Fifty Shades of Grey and Sophie’s Choice.
  9. It’s a memoir—the story of my previous lives, all the way back to when I was a fish.
  10. I’m working on a nonfiction work titled How I Stopped Punching People Who Asked Me Questions.

Feel free to use any of these. Just keep in mind that the effectiveness of each one differs according to who is asking the question. Feel free also to add your suggested answers in the comments.

P.S. I won’t tell you which of these were suggested by pitches I received as an agent. But some were.

27 Responses to Top 10 Answers to “What Are You Writing?”

  1. Felicia Ferguson February 26, 2020 at 5:10 am #

    I still love the “seven Amish samauri” someone suggested in a previous comments section. Lol. Somehow, someday I want to make that work!

    But seriously, I’ll answer that question with a short description of a magazine article topic. “Right now, I’m finishing up my Lauren Daigle article for VIE.” Now, I need to go do that! See you next month at Blue Lake!

  2. Karen Ingle February 26, 2020 at 5:25 am #

    That certainly got the Good Humor truck rolling this morning! You’ve pegged it—the reason I react to the question (from near-strangers, at least) with raised hackles and a fiery you’ve-threatened-my-newborn-child-I’m-calling-911 glare. I’ve learned to keep a margin of privacy around my WIP. Keeps out the looky-loos. Those who show true interest by navigating my labyrinthine response win a seat on my email list.

    • Megan February 26, 2020 at 6:55 am #

      I’m going to have to use a few of these! These are fantastic.

  3. Richard Hartzer February 26, 2020 at 5:26 am #

    Book 3 sounds amazing. You can call it “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow”, “Shave Haven”, or “The Follicle Chronicles”. Feel free to use those as long as I get a percentage of the royalties.

    Does it have a chapter called “The 70’s: What Were We Thinking”?

    Will your friends want to read it, or will you make them read it out of shear obligation?

    • Julia Archer February 26, 2020 at 4:56 pm #

      The Follicle Chronicles takes this morning’s prize. I tell people I’m writing the draft of the apocalyptic destruction of our city, deciding which buildings to burn down, and then ask where they work.

  4. Dineen February 26, 2020 at 6:11 am #


    Number two made me laugh out loud.

    • Ann L Coker February 26, 2020 at 9:23 am #

      Yes, that got a smile, but a laugh with number seven.

  5. Debby Kratovil February 26, 2020 at 6:43 am #

    I knew this was a Bob Hostetler post even before I saw your byline. You have the funniest “voice” of all the contributors here, Bob. (I love you all, btw). #6, 7 & 9 are the BEST! I’m stealing those. This way I can stop telling people about my book: Everybody Wants a Piece of Debby (mom, wife, employee rants). The second is: Confessions of a Dangerous Mom.

  6. February 26, 2020 at 6:57 am #

    Hysterical! Thank you so much for giving me permission to use these! hahaha

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 26, 2020 at 7:23 am #

    My book’s ’bout a Tyrannosaur
    who moves into an Amish town
    to open up a music store
    because he loves to boogie down.
    But, alas, the venture fails;
    Amish don’t go for die musik,
    and without any sales,
    our scaly friend is up a creek,
    but his neighbours rally ’round
    and tell the dude he is not beaten,
    a course of action that is sound,
    preventing them from being eaten.
    The librarian’s job’s what he can do,
    and ensures no books are overdue.

  8. Bryan Mitchell February 26, 2020 at 7:31 am #

    Maybe all you have so far is: Milk, bread, bananas, eggs, diapers, balloons, helium tank, a pair of tweezers, diced tomatoes in a can, paprika, salmon, cucumbers, an orange peeler, crackers (either Ritz or Saltines?), crab cakes, hot dogs (not the greasy ones from last time), miracle whip, Get Well Soon Card for the next person who asks what I’m working on.

  9. Nancy Lohr February 26, 2020 at 7:45 am #

    I’d be glad to help write the author’s bio for response number 1.

  10. February 26, 2020 at 8:37 am #

    This list is terrific! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels demotivated by betraying my muse. Nothing kills a conversation like telling someone I’m close to finishing a book.

  11. Carol Ashby February 26, 2020 at 9:12 am #

    Funny! How about a non-fiction title? “To Die For: Daily Life of Gladiators When Not in Mortal Combat.” Actually, this isn’t fake. At the back of all my novels, I include a historical note on something key to the story. I wrote this for Faithful and posted it at my Roman history site.

    But the subtitle is catchy enough to keep it on page one of a Google search, so maybe the eyes would widen instead of roll back into the questioner’s eye sockets.

  12. C.L. Burger February 26, 2020 at 9:38 am #

    Hilarious. 🙂

  13. Liberty Bell February 26, 2020 at 9:40 am #

    Whoo! This was hilarious. =D

  14. Shulamit February 26, 2020 at 9:46 am #

    Several made me laugh.

    But what I want to know, Bob, is how someone reacted when you actually said one of these.

  15. Roberta Sarver February 26, 2020 at 11:31 am #

    Brilliant, Bob! Love your sense of humor. It’s nice to know YOUR friends’ eyes glaze over, too, when you talk about your WIP.

  16. Jane Ellen Reid February 26, 2020 at 12:46 pm #

    Wisdom hidden in humor. Thanks!

  17. Mary Williams February 26, 2020 at 1:14 pm #

    Thanks! I needed a good laugh.

  18. Joanne Reese February 27, 2020 at 12:49 pm #

    These are hilarious! The trick would be to deliver them with a straight face. Thanks for the laugh, Bob.

  19. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. February 27, 2020 at 4:52 pm #

    Bob, you left out the Christian novel about the prostitute with a heart of gold…..or maybe platinum, depending on the current market. (I actually went to a book signing once, where the author was wearing a United Methodist name tag – he claimed that his novel’s prostitute was really a sweet gal….)

  20. Josie Siler February 27, 2020 at 5:52 pm #

    It’s a memoir entitled, “Flex sigs, EMGs, and Other Disturbing Medical Procedures Performed on Non-sedated Patients.”

  21. Paula Geister February 29, 2020 at 10:17 am #

    Other writers’ advice is often “Write what you know.”
    So I’m writing a book filled with blank pages. Working title: “What My College Econ Class Taught me.”
    So far, I’m not set on a word count. Any ideas?

    (Bob, you are a nut and that’s only One reason we love you.)

  22. sara March 12, 2020 at 2:47 pm #

    I like number eight. I can already see the questioning look my mum’s gonna give me…
    Quite amusing from my point of view.

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