18 October, 2013


Odd title, no? Or perhaps you've come across this acronym before. QTWTAIN - questions to which the answer is no - was started a few years ago by The Independent columnist John Rentoul. He started gathering headlines, mostly from tabloid newspapers, that... well... asked questions to which the answer was really only ever going to be 'No'. It's childish and entertains me greatly.

Some of his examples are include this question about a holocaust-denying bishop: "Are Bishop Williamson's repugnant views the result of a festering grudge against Marks and Spencer?" (Daily Mail) Also, "Should you bring Mom and Dad to your job interview?" (Wall Street Journal) and "Do lobsters hold the key to eternal life?" (Daily Mail).

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of writing QTWTAIN for any new writers out there wondering about the world of writing - but perhaps with more understandable questions. Here are some of mine. Please feel free to add you own about writing in the comments!

  • Writing's pretty hard, isn't it? Nope. I can only speak for English, but 26 letters in various combinations aren't that hard to make into coherent sentences.
  • So writing is easy then? Not if you want anyone else to read it. It takes hours and thousands of words of practice to make anything worth reading. In fact, even when you are proficient at it, it doesn't really get any easier - your standards just get higher.
  • You need to have loads of spare time, don't you? It helps, but most writers get up early, go to bed late or write through their lunch hours or commutes to get a novel on paper.
  • I've written the next Harry Potter - bound to be a hit right? Afraid not. You really needed to have written Harry Potter before JK Rowling did. Understanding the market is one thing, copying the market is another. 
  • But I had the whole wizard school idea first! Surely that counts for something? No. It doesn't. Move on.
  • Is it true that everyone's "got a book in them"? Wouldn't have thought so. Pretty sure I don't have a classical concerto or stone sculpture in me. Everyone might have stories to tell; not everyone can write a book.
  • All these agents who are rejecting me - is it true they don't actually read the manuscripts anyway? No. I think I speak for most writers when I say, we feel your pain, but still no. Your manuscript will have been read either by an agent or a skilled reader employed by the agent. It wasn't for them. Plenty more fish and all that.
  •  It's not what you write, it's who you know, right? Wrong. A foot in the door can do wonders, but plenty of writers are discovered from the slush pile. The most important thing you can do is write a stunning book or short story.
  • So it's not all about luck? Nope. A little luck is needed with everything in life - and writing is very subjective - but you need to write brilliantly first and foremost. And if you write brilliantly, you will get a break. I'm not saying you will get published or win prestigious awards, but there will be some sign. If you enter tonnes of competitions and submit to hundreds of agents and never get a full manuscript request or a shortlisting, it's not luck. Don't hide behind luck. Believe me, I've tried to hide behind it with many stories in the past and it's a transparent hiding place.
  • If I keep going for long enough and never give up, my time will come, yes? I will "find a way"? No. There isn't an orderly queue you can join. This isn't Disney. Some people will get an agent in a week and a publishing deal in a fortnight, others will write for 50 years and do neither. But you know what, if you don't keep going and do give up, I can guarantee your time will never come. You need perseverence no doubt, but it's not a magic ticket.

What QTWTAIN would you add to this list?


  1. Ha, great post. Reminds me of the selfsame Betteridge's law of headlines - "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.""

    I like your first two QTWTAINs.

    I would add - 'Haven't ebooks basically made paper book redundant?' and, alas, 'You have a book deal? So you're rich now?'

    1. That does indeed seem to be the case - especially in tabloids.

      But Simon, you've got a book deal - I thought you were rich! Disillusioned.

  2. While ruminating on another agent 'no thank-you' received this week, I smiled at the last bullet point.

    My contribution to the QTWTAINs are:

    Will you do a talk on writing, which is only 30 miles away, at a free event and paying for your own petrol?

    I've got a great idea for a book - will you write it for me and we can share the profits when it's published?

    1. Those questions sound like painful first-hand experience!

      The last point was in response to the Disney attitude I see a lot of "If you want something badly enough and are prepared to work, you WILL find a way." While I think this is a good attitude to go for any dream with, and I think teaching kids to be ambitious is so important, it's also not true AND is demeaning to people who have fought all their lives for something and "fallen short". We need to learn to follow a dream for the journey, not for the pot of gold.


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