Hypothetical Question Time

by | Jul 9, 2008 | The Writing Life | 199 comments

We’re going hypothetical today. It’s like a thought experiment on steroids, only if the steroids had themselves had been taking steroids in order to become super steroids on steroids. Or not. Here goes.

Question #1: Let’s say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that’s that. Final answer. Would you want to know?

Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don’t have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?


  1. Anonymous

    Yes, I would still write. Even if were only to still the voices telling stories in my head.


  2. Pierre Roustan

    Of course, I would keep writing, because again, based on what a seer is, a predicter of future events, those events are only based on subjectivity. And although a seer would predict the future, that doesn’t mean *I* can’t change it. Like when you roll a ball across a desk and watch it fall off the edge. But you catch it just before it lands on the floor. The future had been foretold that the ball was going to land on the floor. But you stopped it from landing on the floor. It doesn’t mean that the landing-on-the-floor wasn’t going to happen in the first place, as a prediction foretold. It just means you prevented it from happening.

    So I will keep writing, because any seer that tells me I have no talent is just too jealous that they’re stuck in their rundown shack reading palms and stealing money anyway to even try to reach higher heights and take a chance and do what you love :-). We now return you to your regularly shceduled programming.

  3. Nathan Bransford

    Let the record show that it only took two comments for someone to cheat!

  4. Jessica

    1. I wouldn’t want to know. Knowing something beforehand just spoils the fun of it all.

    2. It’d be disheartening at first, but after a few months, I’d pick up writing again. After all, I’d be skeptical of the seer’s prediction. I’m just that kind of optimist.

  5. LitWitch

    Well, this question is very Rick Reynolds.

    I would, actually, want to know if I’d be published. If only to save the world’s paper and myself the postage. However, even if I knew I’d never be published, I’d still write anyway. I couldn’t help it & wouldn’t stop.

    Besides, while the seer might say the word “published” it’s not like there haven’t been new words like “blogged!”

  6. Anonymous

    Aha, Nathan. Pierre got you there.

  7. Christine Carey

    Sure, I’d ask. If the answer is no, I’d still write for myself and foist it on friends and family. =)

  8. Elissa M

    The seer said “no” a long time ago, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.

  9. Scott

    I think I’d want to know, but I’d still write, even if the only people who saw what I wrote were family and other “fans.”

    Of course, being a paranoid writer-type, my first thought when reading this post was, “Why? Is there something you want to tell me?”

  10. Tiffany Kenzie

    I’d tell the seer they needed to find a new day job ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Tiffany Kenzie

    oops, hit enter before finishing that… yes I’d want to know, just ’cause.

    It’s not cheating, it’s being informed ๐Ÿ™‚ of all avenues of possibility.

  12. Heidi

    1. No, I wouldn’t want to know.

    2. No, I wouldn’t stop writing. The journey is part of the fun. And the hope is worth the possible heartache.

    If I could re-do the relationships in my past and not fall in love with those who broke my heart, I wouldn’t do that either. The good is still the good, and I am a stronger, better person for them.

    Passion, even if only for a time, is still better than no passion at all.

  13. Travis Erwin

    No and then yes.

    I’ve already had lots of all knowing seers tell me no, but I’m gonna prove them wrong. Actually I have had a few say yes as well, but I still am motivated by thsoe who say no.

  14. Tabitha

    Yes, I would want to know.

    But no matter what the seer said, I’d still write. If I didn’t, first I’d go crazy, then I’d drive everyone around me crazy. ๐Ÿ™‚ So it’s in everyone’s best interest if I keep writing, even if it’s just for myself. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Andrew

    The seer is confused. Publication and talent aren’t necessarily related. Numerous incompetent writers get books published, because they’re likely to sell.

    Furthermore, writing “talent” doesn’t exist. Writing is something we learn. All your seer can say is whether I can ever learn to write well.

    Of course I’d still write. Otherwise, I’d miss out on the experience of learning to write.

  16. Lisa

    Nathan, I don’t get it…who cheated?

    And in answer to the questions:

    1) No I wouldn’t want to know.

    2) I write all the time…maybe I wouldn’t work so hard perfecting a project for publication but I would still write. But since I don’t want to know either way I guess I have to keep plugging away.

  17. Corked Wine and Cigarettes

    If the seer was a graduate of an accredited seer institute or university and was licensed by the Association of Sectarian Seers, then what choice would I have? They are, after all, the authority.

    So, I probably would stop writing. Being an attorney, my schedule is more than full. The caveat being that he seer also said I didn’t have the capacity to better my writing. Also, can my seer be Simon Cowell? Because that would be awesome.

  18. bunnygirl

    I write for my own enjoyment, first and foremost, so of course I’d keep doing it. But one doesn’t have to be talented at something to become competent. If my primary goal was publication, I’d do whatever it took to improve my competency while trying to get a handle on market trends. That seems to be all that’s required to get published– competent writing and a marketable concept.

    Talent can produce amazing things, but if my talent drew me toward ideas with no market value, publication would elude me.

    And I’d still write anyway because it’s fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Beth

    Yep, I’d want to know, so I wouldn’t waste the energy following that path. But I’d find other outlets for my writing, because it’s too much fun to stop! Even if it was just blogging, or writing the dreaded Christmas letter…

  20. Erik Day

    Q1: Would you want to know?
    A1: Of course. If this guy has a 100% accuracy rate, then obviously he has as great a connection into the minds of editors as he does critical analysis skills. That makes him someone to consider.

    BTW, this is an interesting revision of the current genetic sequencing controversy. If there’s no cure, and you’re predisposed to it, would you want to know? California has barred such tests in the state… so currently, you can’t even answer the question.

    As for a writing version of it… would there be grief counselors at the local Barnes & Noble?

    Q2: If ‘no’, would you still write?
    A2: Yes. F yes.

    True talent, in this case, is the desire to tell stories. Making them paper-worthy just takes discipline. It’s craftwork. If ‘no’… I have a beer, start reading the how-to’s again, maybe go back to a writers’ group. So maybe the writer I am now can’t get published, but that has no bearing on the writer I can be…


  21. Anonymous

    I’d probably stop. You can’t argue with the universe.

  22. Anonymous

    Lisa – It’s hypothetical, and the rule says the seer knows definitely, so you can’t question the outcome, as some have done.

    Yes, I’d want to know and yes, I’d keep writing.

    I heard Simon Cowell say that he is so brutally honest because he wants these people with no singing talent to get on with their lives. He’s seen too many people waste their productive years clinging to a dream that just isn’t going to happen. Ever.

    And these people, after hearing his critique, bash him as not knowing anything. There’s comfort in delusion.

    If I’m deluded, I think I’d want to know, so I can move on.

  23. Lisa

    I would want to know and I would continue to write. I haven’t any control over the ideas/stories that come to me. If I didn’t write I would explode. The urge to write, get it on paper is too big to ignore.

  24. Marva

    Anyone can be a published writer, so the seer isn’t saying much. No, I’m not talking about self-pubbing, but any of a myriad of small presses, ezines, journals, newspapers. All of those count as published.

    The question should be if you’ll be at least a mid-list from a mainstream publisher and be represented by an agent. That’s the mystery.

  25. H. L. Dyer

    I would absolutely want to know…

    because I have great ideas for other stories, but at the moment my manuscript refuses to let me work on anything else.

    Every time I try to work out plot details on my new WIP, there’s The Edge of Memory again, poking me in the elbow and suggesting I revisit my pitch blurb.

    And so the answer to the second question is obviously yes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  26. Wanda B. Ontheshelves

    Question #1: It wouldn’t matter – since the seer wouldn’t say no to me.

    Question #2: See answer to #1.


    Re: “Furthermore, writing “talent” doesn’t exist. Writing is something we learn. All your seer can say is whether I can ever learn to write well.”

    Certainly writing talent does exist – just as there is musical talent, painterly talent, dance talent, singing, etc. You can develop your talent, and everybody has SOME talent – but some people have a whole lotta talent. Where does it come from? Even the unusually talented person doesn’t know. It’s just there.

  27. Margay

    I would still write even if I was told I was a total hack. Ultimately, I write for me first, the possibility of publication second. I write because it brings me joy. I write because it’s therapeutic. I write because I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t write. It is just a part of who I am – a big part.

    As for the first question, I’m a little ambiguous about it. On the one hand, who wouldn’t want to know with a 100% accuracy whether or not they have the talent to be published? But on the other hand, why kill the dream? Sometimes, that’s all that gets us through the day.

  28. annathepiper

    #1: Yes. Because querying is a time consuming process both for the author and for any agent and editor who receives the query. Assuming that the seer is correct and my answer would be “no”, I’d like to save both my time and the time of any agents and editors I might otherwise have contacted. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    #2: Yes. Because I enjoy the process of creating a story regardless, and would be quite happy sharing them with a much smaller circle of readers if that’s the way my fate would go.

  29. Adaora A.

    It’s like a thought experiment on steroids, only if the steroids had themselves had been taking steroids in order to become super steroids on steroids. Or not. Here goes.

    That made me laugh for fully five minutes. Just because I’ve been watching a lot of AMERICAN GLADIATORS. I.E. 6’8 294 poing men on steriod regimens which surely have been weaned since before most of us were born.

    Question #1: Wow, good question. I think I probably would want to know, just because I’m such a curious person by nature. I’m such a sticky beak (as the Aussie’s say), when it comes to almost everything. Whether I’d regret the answer would be another thing.

    Question #2: I definetly still would. There are so many people out there who want to be the next Brad Pitt or Dijimon Honsou and they are busing tables and taking acting classes. They keep going for auditions, they get turned down (for whateve reason), and they keep going because they love it. I think the problem with a lot of people is they forget the original reason why they picked up the pen, the basket-ball, or the reason their foot hit the soccer ball to begin with. And it’s making me cringe to sound so sentimental and all that, but it’s true.

  30. Anonymous

    Yes and yes.

  31. JKB

    1. Yes
    2. Yes (After picking myself up off the ground either way)

    I am an insatiably curious sort.

  32. Dan

    1.) Yes, I would want to know.

    2.) For a brief period I would stop writing, and instead pursue business. I would become wildly successful and BUY a publishing house. Then I’d start writing again, probably a memoir about my climb to success.

    Though I wouldn’t necessarily have the “talent” to be published, I’d have the money and power to make people publish me!

    Is that cheating?

  33. JES

    Wow. What a trap of a puzzle…

    Short answer: Yes, I’d want to hear it. Yes, I’d keep writing.

    Which isn’t to say I’d keep writing right away, with the same sense of purpose. Like a lot of writers, I think I’m a tuning fork when it comes to criticism: vibrating with at least a smidgen of doubt at just the slightest of bumps. But I’d get over it (again, I think, like a lot of writers).

  34. ilyakogan

    1. Yes, I would want to know.
    2. Yes, I would stop writing.

    The writing experience has been always a painful one. I ‘had’ to do it. This is the only way I know to get the stories that are torturing my imagination to leave me alone.

    While writing the first draft I usually sleep poorly, daydream, cannot concentrate on the job that pays the bills…

    Just the other day I was on the train, a grown man, crying, trying to hide my face from the others because I was ‘living thought one of the scenes’ I know I’ll be writing in a month or so…

    I hope that knowing that I’m no good will stop me before I get in too much into the lives of my characters…

    I didn’t intent to, but it came out with a lot of ellipses…

    Does it make sense?

  35. James

    There’s no point writing without the hope of getting published.

    Stories are meant to be told. They’re not stories unless you have an audience. They’re more like daydreams.

    So yeah, I wouldn’t want to know, but if I did, and the answer was ‘Never in a million years’, then I’d go and find some other way to express myself.

    Interpretive dance, maybe.

  36. Richard Mabry



    Suppose the seer could tell you whether you’d ever have a mega-star client (think Tom Clancy or J K Rowling…on steroids, since we’re using that analogy). Would you want to know, Nathan? And if the answer is “no,” would you keep agenting?

  37. ilyakogan

    I just realized after reading the original post that my answers should have been Yes, No. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a good thing I used full sentences.

  38. Yat-Yee

    Hmm. Just as I was wondering about my sanity trying to get published when the odds are so ridiculously high, you post this question.

    1. I would want to know.

    2. I’d still write, but the way I think about it will not be the same. Writing and writing to get published, I find, require two different mindsets.

    I realized in my early twenties that I wasn’t going to be a world class pianist. I was heartbroken. But I pursued music anyway. I got my degrees and continued to make music, not by touring the world with a fabulous repertoire, but by playing for myself and people who know me. I learned to teach and found out how much I loved that. I still compose and listen and continue to have music in my life even though my original dream didn’t pan out. Writing is the same for me.

  39. Gwen

    I wouldn’t want to know. I would keep writing regardless. I don’t write so that I can make money off people. I write because I feel compelled to, because I feel fortunate enough to be able to express myself that way. The rest of the world doesn’t have to welcome me with open arms in order for me to enjoy myself. ๐Ÿ™‚

  40. Anonymous

    Off the subject…but this morning I heard the case with Barbara Bauer was dismissed in a NJ court.

  41. Vieva

    Would I want to know? That’s really hard.

    Part of me says yes, because if I knew it was a yes, I could be a lot more confident with the rejections that it’s only temporary. And if I got a no, I could just say screw it and stop TRYING to submit stuff, and go get a day job.

    But a no would still crush me. And a yes would add pressure.

    I’d probably ask, but I’d do it with my eyes shut and my hands squeezed into fists so tight my fingernails would draw blood.

    Would I still write if I got a no? Of course I would. Can’t help it. But I wouldn’t work as hard at it, as often. And it would take me a while to find the same joy in it.

  42. Michelle Moran

    I wouldn’t want to know. I’d rather live with the dream!

  43. Ulysses

    1) Yes, I’d want to know.

    2) I probably wouldn’t stop writing. I’d probably write less and obsess less about getting it right. I’d probably just keep a journal (wait, I do that now).

    If you know of such a seer, I’d appreciate a referral. I think it would save me, and a lot of other people, considerable time and effort.

  44. Dennis Cass

    I can’t help but think of the Oracle in The Matrix:

    Kid . . . I’m sorry . . . but you’re not The One.

    [Translation: Only your contemporary fantasy YA series can save us, Neo!]

  45. Anonymous

    #1 I wouldn’t ask.

    #2 This is like one of those old riddles. Perhaps the seer would only say “Not enough talent” to those who could not imagine writing after being told they have no talent.

  46. Sam Hranac

    This is my quest, to follow that star. No matter how hopeless. No matter how far.

    Or maybe just to write about that star.

    Yes, I would like to know. Do I tilt at windmills? You bet! I love writing and would keep at it, no matter the “final answer.” Being published will be one big kick in the pattoot, but until then I write because I like to.

  47. Heather Wardell

    1. Yes, I would ask.
    2. I’d ask, because I’d absolutely keep writing but I’d write precisely what I love. No more worries about whether this story might be the one that sells, no having my enjoyment of my new MS tainted by having the one on offer rejected.

    I’d be terribly disappointed to be told I didn’t have the talent to be published, but it would frankly just take away all the parts of writing I hate and leave me with what I love.

    Hmm. Do you know where I can find this seer? ๐Ÿ™‚

  48. David Bridger

    #1 Yes, I would want to know.

    #2 Yes. It’s what I am.

  49. Nikki Hootman

    Well, first of all, “having the talent to be a published author” is very subjective. Lots of people are published who have very little talent in the opinion of many.

    But to answer the question:

    1) Yes, I’d want to know.

    2) Even if he told me I didn’t have the talent, I’d keep writing. First of all because not everyone has ‘natural’ talent. Some people get there simply by plain old hard work. And some people get there even without talent. But, say, if he told me I’d never be published? I doubt I’d STOP writing, but I probably wouldn’t spend as much time on it as I do now.

  50. Elyssa Papa

    1. Yes, I’d want to know. But then again, I went to a seer five years ago and the seer told me I’d be pregnant with twins and married. And that I’d move to California.

    Not one of those things happened…so I don’t believe in them.

    2. Yes, because seers don’t get it right all the time.

  51. k

    1-I would cover my ears and say lalalalala I cannot hear you. Why the @#!$* would I want to know that? The point is not the ultimate publication, it’s the journey. Do you know all the experiences I wouldn’t have had, the people I wouldn’t have met had I listened? blpphh.

    2-I’ll quit when I have given it my all and finally decide I suck too badly and am taking time and energy away from pursuing what I should be doing. Because obviously writing is not it. Not a second before. And not on anyone’s word. Smart people know within themselves when to try. Smarter people know within themselves when to quit.

  52. Heather Harper

    1. I would not want to know.

    2. I would tell said seer to stick it and I’d write anyway.

  53. Anonymous

    1. Yes. If the answer was ‘no’, I could stop wasting time on submissions and spend it writing instead.

    2. Yes. I’d probably write at different (currently “unmarketable”) lengths and not worry about plot or resolution. Other than that, it wouldn’t make any difference to me.

    (Cheating slightly. I do have stories published, so I already know the seer would answer ‘yes’.)


  54. Shauna

    I would want to know, and I would still write. I haven’t submitted because I don’t want the pressure (yet) of continuing to write and continuing to write well enough for *other* people, but it would be nice to know if I should ever try and spend time submitting. It might be a big relief if the answer was “no.” Then it wouldn’t matter how crappy my stuff is, as long as it entertains *me* XD

  55. Jared X

    There’s a lot of cheating going on in these responses. Facing your *hypothetically confirmed* lack of talent can only make you stronger!

    When a certain “seer” with a clipboard and a whistle told me years ago I would never play pro soccer (curse you, “lack of speed relative to midfielder peers”!), it was a deep bruise to the ego but I was ultimately glad to know. The lack of pressure to get to the next level made the game more fun than it had been in years. I still haven’t stopped playing.

    I suspect writing would be a similar experience (without the repeatedly broken ankles).

  56. 150

    1. I’d probably ask. If it was free.

    (With the caveat that “the talent to be published” is not “the skill to be published” or even “being published” which we can all agree doesn’t always require talent or skill. I’d have the seer tell me yes or no, WILL you be published.)

    2. Of course I’d still write. Sharing a book with just one person is enough to make it worth having written it. Heck, I follow Toni Morrison’s advice and write things I want to read–so writing it for myself is worth the trouble too.

  57. Keri Ford

    Yes, I would want to know.

    Yes I would keep writing and seeking publication if I was told no way no how. In the words of my husband, I’m a stubborn A and would do whatever it took to prove the seer wrong.

  58. LeeAnn Flowers

    1. Yes, I would like to know.
    2. Yes, I would continue writing. It’s a case of letting the voices in my head out versus actually making money with it.

    Just think of the shrink bills I’m saving on by writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  59. Joel Sparks

    I assume we’re talking about publishing a novel, here. So:

    1. Hell yes I’d want to know! I do want to know. All the time and pains spent polishing manuscript, query, synopsis, agent list… every hour could be spent doing something else.

    2. No, I don’t think I’d write more novels. Plenty of other modes of self-expression out there.

  60. Kathleen

    Yes, I’d want to know, because it would affect how I write. If I WASN’T going to get published, I still would write… but I wouldn’t follow all this industry-related stuff, and I’d ignore the whole issue of deadlines and learning to write one novel a year. I’d just do them for fun, and for my SIL who is VERY impatient for another story.

  61. auria cortes

    Yes. I’d want to know.

    No. I wouldn’t write.

  62. Anonymous

    The seer has already said yes to me. That makes it harder when I know I do have it but don’t know how to get it out yet.

  63. Pierre Roustan

    AHA! It has become clear to me…..

    I’ve read through everyone’s comments, and it just hit me like a hammer right on my gargantuan planetoid of a head, making perfect sense–it’s simple–

    Some have said that there’s no such thing as “writing talent”. Others have said that there very much is “writing talent”, just as much as any other “talent” (music, art etc etc.).

    I think the concept is right on both ends of the spectrum. Talent exists specifically because of one’s DESIRE to cultivate it. Without desire, there is no talent.

    I strongly believe anyone can be a good writer; but you have to have a desire to reach as far as you can possibly reach. Your desire has to overcome any type of failure life throws at you. ANY type. Your desire has to boil over every second of every day of your life for the rest of your life till the day you die. That desire absolutely has to be quenched. No matter what. And you won’t stop until its quenched.

    So when I hear the seer say that I will not get published because I have no talent, not in a million years blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda, what I hear is exactly what one poster said: the Oracle from “The Matrix.”


    If you have enough desire. ENOUGH desire. That single sentence will do exactly what it was intended to do–push you into achieving what your heart wants to achieve. If–and only IF–the seer says to me that it won’t happen, it’ll propel me into making it happen. No matter what. I think the seer would say that for all of us, to be honest.

    No talent is for real without the desire to follow it. Follow it all costs.

  64. Angela

    I would thank the seer and with all my newfound extra time I would go be a professional windsurfer or build a log cabin.

    Life is way too short to sit cloistered in front of my computer writing words no one will ever see.

  65. Anonymous

    This reminds me of the hypothetical question: Would you want to know when you are going to die?

    Answer: no.no.no.

  66. Betty Atkins Dominguez

    After reading some of the responses, I feel the need to add to my two yeses-yes’s(huh?). (mind is befuddled — I’m in Sacramento — for people who follow the news, you know why.)

    1. I’d want to hear the seer’s prediction, because I like to know what others think. That’s all. Wouldn’t make a difference.

    2. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember… why would I stop just because I would never get published? I write for me.

  67. Kim Stagliano

    No. Which is why I never entered into the Crapometer. Yes. Half the fun would be proving him wrong. Especially that part of the book where a “random” seer gets run over by a bus.

  68. Kristin Laughtin

    #1–Yes, I’d want to know. If the answer was “no”, I might immediately regret asking, but in the long run it’d probably save me a lot of grief associated with never-ending rejections.
    (Not even going to address some people’s claims about how much talent is necessary to get published here. We’ll assume, for this thought experiment, that talent and publishability are directly related.)

    #2–I’d still write, but maybe not as vigorously and probably not right away. I wouldn’t push myself so hard to write the parts I don’t want to write, or to get things done on a schedule. I’d spend that energy trying to figure out what I am good enough at.

  69. Anonymous

    yes and yes….

    Because let’s face it (look at some of the books that are currently published), talent isn’t everything. There’s the marketing aspect and there’s having a literary agent/publisher that believe in your book behind you. I’m not saying that bad books get published. Wait, am I?
    ๐Ÿ™‚ Just having some fun with my answers.

    Great questions Nathan.

  70. Chro

    I wrote long before I expected to get published, and I’ll write long after I decide to stop chasing publication, whether I’ve sold a book or not. I’d ask, but only because a positive answer would give me motivation to push myself harder, and a negative answer would save me money on stamps.

  71. Bernita

    Talent is like brains. If you don’t use it you might as well not have it.

  72. Emily

    Interesting question. Of course I would want to know, that would save me so much career angst. If I knew I couldn’t be published, I’d invest myself in much more lucrative endeavors.

    Would I still write? Yeah. Even if I never get published, there’s always the joy of online fanfiction. ๐Ÿ™‚

  73. Courtney

    hmmm. I don’t think I would write, at least, not my novel or my essays. I would probably still blog and play, but there is so much I don’t do in order to write…I no longer act, my yoga practice is spotty, I don’t know french or spanish…I basically exercise, eat, work and write. I think if I knew with absolute certainy the ends would never justify the means, I’d spend a lot more time at the movies and in museums and at long brunches with girlfriends.
    But I don’t think I’d find out if I had the opportunity.

  74. Ken

    You know, this very thing happened to me. So I thanked the seer, beat the snot out of him just for spite, and wrote under a pseudonym for years. My writing is still real crap but perhaps you’ve heard of me: Danielle Steele. Yeah, that’s right, D.S. is a guy. So I have a softer side, what of it?

  75. Anonymous

    Tarzan no understand. Rhetorical question bad – hypothetical question okay?

    Tarzan think hypothetical question based on specious syllogism. Seers tell many artist (including ink-stained wretches – you have no talent – and marketplace reflect that. Melville, Poe, Van Gogh come to mind.

    These cats couldn’t get arrested with their product and yet…

    When young people ask older artists and writers “Do I have what it takes? Should I devote my life to this?” The only fair answer is “Who the hell knows? Probably not.”

    So don’t do it unless you can’t not, and if you can’t not then all the seers in the world couldn’t dissuade you. You will never know if and when when you will have an “It’s Alive! It’s Aliiive!” moment and suddenly produce something vital and original that generates and exists within its own unique context.

    But don’t ever count on anyone giving a damn when you drag yourself down from the laboratory, bloodied and heart-broken, but bearing your monster masterpiece.

    You likely to find out that the marketplace isn’t interested in monster masterpieces anymore. Especially if you lead with a pitiful query.

    Would the Beatles get a recording contract or any airplay in the Age of Rap and Clearchannel? They were turned down by seers at every record company in London before their demo made it to an aging producer bored out of his gourd producing comedy albums and such.

    I guess I’ve strayed a bit.

  76. benwah

    Lotta bending the rules goin’ on round here. “But the seer’s WRONG!” screams the crowd, thereby missing the point of the thought experiment.

    1. Sure, why not? Just because we’re taught we call all grow up to be whatever we want, reality isn’t quite so kind. Meritocracy demands skills and talents, and those are not distributed equally. If I’m not cut out to be a published writer, I’ll seek my form of expression elsewhere.

    2. Not with the same degree of discipline, more hacking around. Besides, think of all the extra time I’d have freed up for drinking.

  77. writeidea

    Question one: No.

    Question two: Yes. Someone has to prove the seer wrong. Shouldn’t we write for our own pleasure first and foremost anyway?

  78. Kimberly Lynn

    If we are talking โ€œhypotheticalโ€ in this instance, then the seer is uncertain so therefore his or her prediction would be dubious.


  79. Anonymous

    I already have a “seer.” It’s the voices of published authors telling the stories of how they perservered before they were published, about all the rejections they got…That tells me all I need to know.

  80. Morgan Dempsey

    Yes and yes.

    Good to know where your limits are. But I liked writing even before I understood what publishing was.

  81. Kim

    I have a question — off of today’s topic.
    Could you find a weensy bit time to answer this at some point in the future? :

    What percentage of manuscripts require
    extensive revisions to get them to market?

    What percentage of manuscripts require little or no revision to get them to market?

    Thank you

  82. Nathan Bransford


    I nearly always have changes before they go out. It varies a great deal, and “extensive” is kind of a moving target, but I want to make sure they’re as polished as possible before they go out.

  83. Anonymous


    A. I don’t want to know.

    B. I’d still write anyway. This is a “have to” thing.


  84. sex scenes at starbucks

    I made a deal with the devil that I always want to know, so yeah.

    Um. I would write. I wrote long before I had aspirations to publication. But I would not write with the drive and discipline that I now possess. And (knowing myself) actual paying deadlines make me work even harder.

  85. Maureen

    I think another question is, do you write to be published, or do you write because you have to?

    White it matters to me that others enjoy my writing, it matters more to me that I write. What a seer or anyone else might try to tell me wouldn’t keep me from my heart’s desire. I love creating characters, telling stories and putting them to paper. So I don’t want to know the future. I just want to know what’s going to happen next in the story I’m writing.

  86. Shell I

    Wow – great question! And wow again – some great answers.

    I would absolutely want to find out. I would hate to hear a ‘no’ but I would love to know. I would definately still write. I just wouldn’t risk my day job for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Whenever I (tentatively) hand my ms over for someone to review for me the first thing I always say is ‘It’s OK to tell me that it sucks.’ But I think I am just a bit self-degrading like that.

  87. beckylevine

    1. No.

    2. Yes.

    That’s pretty clear–and if someone forced me to say “yes” to #1, I’d just decide the seer was blind.

    Maybe there should be a #3. If the seer said no, would you still write with plans to submit. Me, yes.

    Maybe I’m the blind one. ๐Ÿ™‚

  88. Katie Alender

    I don’t know if I’d want to know. But if I did know, I’d stop spending quite so much time writing–or at least feel a lot less guilty about taking time off for doing other things.

  89. Jennifer

    Yes and yes. I just wouldn’t knock myself out so hard with regards to #2.

  90. Anonymous

    1. Yes
    2. Yes, but only to add to the slush pile

  91. peacey

    1. Yes.
    2. Let me answer that by asking this: if you went to sleep each night not knowing for sure if you’d wake up the following morning, would you still go to sleep?

  92. Janet

    Yes, I think I would want to know. And I’m not sure I would continue writing. At least I would not try to write novels anymore. I’d really rather put that effort into something that would have more of an impact on the world. I’ve expressed my creativity in other ways in the past; I can survive without writing.

  93. Hope Clark

    No, wouldn’t want to know. I prefer to think I can keep chipping away at my own destiny.

  94. ICQB

    Question #1: Yes. I would want to know. That’s what I’ve been trying to find out!! It’s like American Idol – everyone honestly thinks they can sing, but only a few actually can. I need a Simon to tell me what he thinks of my writing!! I’ve had rejections on requested fulls that compliment my writing, but reject the story for other reasons. But look – I’m not published, so are they just being like Paula and being nice about how much talent I don’t have?

    Question #2: I’d only write a little, for myself. I know that people can improve their writing, but enough to be published?

    I’m waiting to hear back on a requested partial. If it’s a rejection then I’m thinking of posting the whole story on my short story blog, just so that someone might read it and maybe enjoy it, and then I’ll find something else to do with my life.

  95. susandc

    Yes, I would want to know.

    And yes, either way I would write. But if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t spend all the time revising and I would write exclusively for the pleasure I derive from the experience. But I wouldn’t continue to turn down social obligations, hole up in front of my computer on weekends or spend all night working on something when I was on a roll like I often do now.

  96. Shauna Roberts

    I don’t care whether the seer says I have talent or not. I would keep writing, and eventually I’ll get published. Talent is useful, but not necessary. Learned skills and hard work are far more important.

  97. Linda

    Yes. I like oracles.

    Yes, but I’d stop writing synopses and queries and wasting postage on the ‘real’ seers – agents and editors.

    I think freeing myself from the possibility of commercial publication, from constantly imagining how to ‘fit’ my ‘too literary’ stories into an increasingly flaky and dismal market might actually improve my writing. And then, I’d self-publish and promote like hell, and feel fine with it, integrity intact. Peace, Linda

  98. heather simmons

    To answer your first question, I would have to say I’d want to know. It would give me an opportunity to adjust my perception and perhaps, nurture other parts of me that will flourish more. It would be a harsh truth but one that would make me realize that maybe PA is a great opportunity after all! If I think I’m too good for them right now only to find out later that I was wrong, that would feel like more of a loss. And to answer your second question of whether or not I would stop writing? Never. I may stop sharing it with others and I may evern stop seeing it as a future career. But, I would never stop putting my crazy thoughts and feelings into safe little words that serve as my only confirmatin of reality. Ever.

  99. susandc

    Oh and one more addendum to that. I believe anyone who wants to succeed can do it. Swimmer Dara Torres (41 years old and going to the Beijing Olympics) is proof enough for me that if you really believe in yourself and are willing to back it up with hard work, you can make it!

  100. Anonymous

    Yes, I would. My writing is for me. It is something I could not live without.

  101. Sunrisen Traveler

    I’m not sure if I would want to know or not. I don’t think so. I don’t write to get published, I write because it’s a part of who I am.

    Getting published – at this point – would be a nice perk, and would, in all honesty, give me a nice sense of validation. Knowing I could never get published would just be needlessly depressing and discouraging.

    In short:
    Q #1: No
    Q #2: Yes

    Interesting questions ๐Ÿ™‚

  102. AmyB

    1. Yes, I’d want to know.

    2. If the seer told me definitively and with 100% accuracy that I’d never have the talent to be a published writer, yes, I’d stop writing with the intent to be published. I’d probably write fanfic instead. Or take up a non-writing hobby.

  103. jellybean

    Yes, I’d want to know, but yes, I’d keep writing anyway.

  104. Kara

    Q1: Hell yes I would want to know! If only to prove the seer wrong. That’s just how I am. Plus, the seer never said I couldn’t self publish. ๐Ÿ™‚ If that’s the last resort, it has to be done I guess.

    Q2: Hell yes I would still write. If for nothing else than to relieve stress and have a creative outlet.

  105. Lynne

    Let’s see, return to Sunday School. Saul in the Old Testament got into major trouble visiting a ‘seer.’ Can’t quite figure out how Joseph, of the technicolor dream coat, ended up with a ‘divining cup.’ [Stayed too long with the pagans in Egypt is my best guess.] So…I would not go there, Sam I am. I’d rather eat green eggs and ham.

  106. Tarot By Arwen

    Ok, accepting the hypothetical situation even though I am a professional Tarot consultant, I’d say no I wouldn’t ask.

    The answer wouldn’t matter. I’d still write even if it were drivel only I gained enjoyment from. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. If I did ask and he did say no, I’d sitll write. See Drivel=Enjoyment above.

  107. Redzilla

    This answer should cheer you up, Nathan. I’d keep writing, but I’d stop pestering long-suffering agents like you. ;o)

  108. Katherine

    All hypotheticals aside – the seer knows with 100% accuracy and if the answer is no the seer is always right.

    So, deep breath, yes I will ask. Fingers crossed, eyes squeezed shut, breath held … and the answer is no.

    I would pick myself off the floor, drink a lot of whisky, and then get back to writing. But I’d do it differently. I don’t have the talent to do this one thing I have been doing, so how else can I express myself? Interpretive dance? I don’t think so. Maybe a blog, maybe a stage play, maybe poetry. I love words and there will be another way I can use them. And I’ll be glad to have saved the time barking up the wrong tree and using words the wrong way.

  109. Michelle

    Yes, I would want to know. Yes, I would keep writing. Because my stories bring joy to myself and the few other people who read them right now, and if that’s the most people that will ever read them, well, that’s okay.

  110. Anonymous

    I would love to know so I could stop spending the enormous amount of time and effort that goes into trying to get an agent and a publisher. I’d still write; in fact I’d have lots more time to write!

  111. Lisa

    Yes and yes.

  112. philologia

    1. No. I don’t need the discouragement, and I don’t need the inflation.
    If I don’t have the talent, I’d rather not know and get by on pure perseverance, working and working until whatever I do have is an acceptable substitute. A naturally uncoordinated person could become a tennis champ if they dedicated themselves to it and never gave up; hence each sports team honors both the Most Valuable and the Most Improved.
    And if I do have the talent, I’d rather not find out in advance, or I’m likely to get complacent and lazy. :p

    2. Yes. Because if nothing else, I can make a child smile as he falls asleep after his bedtime story. I can create a new parable to tell a friend why her decisions are putting her in danger. I can let my imagination fly and savor that moment when my pretend wings lift me high above the wind.

  113. dernjg

    1. In a heartbeat.

    2. I’ll never stop writing. But what I would do is stop submitting my queries to agents and trying to sumarize my stories into one page abominations. Instead, I’d keep writing what I was writing and enjoy telling the stories I’m telling.

  114. midnight oil

    I would have to say no, I do not want to know. I enjoy the spontaneity of life. I wouldnโ€™t want some โ€œSeerโ€ destroying possibilities. People live up to other peopleโ€™s expectations, even when they are wrong.
    Sorry itโ€™s been so long since I de-lurked, but good question Nathan.

  115. Miss E. D. Thor

    Yes, I’d want to know. In fact, I think I’d find it liberating to know that no matter how hard I try, nothing of mine will ever be good enough for publication.

    It sounds a little odd, I know, but then, I think that little nagging voice in my head that says “don’t write that, no one wants to read that” would shut up and I could write what I really want to write.

    I would clearly still write, I didn’t start writing with the decision to be published. I just did. That same impulse would keep me going. I’ll write for myself, for my friends… I’ll be sad that that’s as far as it will go but life goes on. There would be other ways for me to feel accomplished and successful.

  116. jwhit

    I’m going to answer this without reading the other responses in hope that there will be a summary.

    Q1 – would I want to know. Yes. Definitely. Information is power and shapes our behaviour.

    Q2 – would you keep writing if the answer was no publishing. Yes. Even seers can be wrong. Greek gods are notorious liars. I’d just want to prove the seer was a fraud.

  117. Anonymous

    My fortune cookie last week said that my success would astonish everyone. Does that count? If it does, then I knew there was a reason why I didnโ€™t throw it out besides basic slovenliness.

    Would I want to know? Sure. Why not? Itโ€™s not like I was going to give up my day job either way.

    If the seer says I donโ€™t have any talent, do I still write? Hell yes. I get to play God in a universe of my making, where everybody does what I say, it all works out how I want it to, and I have the last word. You canโ€™t pay a therapist to give you all that.

    As weโ€™re asking hypothetical questions, Nathan, why agent to writers and not writer? Got any soothsayers in your closet you want to tell us about?

  118. Deborah Blake

    It’s interesting to see how many people responded to this question–looks like you hit a nerve.

    And I love that it only took two responses for someone to cheat. My biggest laugh of the day!

    Yes, I would want to know.

    And no, I wouldn’t write. Don’t get me wrong…I love to write. At the moment it is my number one obsession. (If you don’t count chocolate.) But I’m not a big fan of banging my head against a wall if there is no chance that the wall will ever give up and go home. And I have so many other things that I might do and succeed at, I would give one of them a try.

    Of course, I am already published…so I guess that’s cheating a bit too… (Although only in NF, so if we’re talking about my novel, well…)

    And my seer said I’d have an agent before the year was out. Please let the seer be right…please let the seer be right…please let the seer be right…

  119. R. Daley

    Heck, that’s a no brainer.

    Q1- Yes, I would want to know. I would also shoot for a couple winning lottery number combinations to test the seer’s abilities. Not much to lose there, and it would really make a negative response on the “talent to be published” question more palatable if I did win the lottery.

    Q2- Lack of published works has not stopped me from writing so far, so I see no reason that perpetual publishing peril should suppress the flow of words.

    Now my rhetorical question back to you, if I may:

    If the seer did provide a winning lottery number, and did say I do not have the talent to be a published writer, should I be obligated to pay a commission from my winnings?

  120. Speak Coffee

    Yes. I would want to know.

    If the seer said ‘NO’ I would then write just for myself and become a trophy-wife as that and writing are the only two professions I’m really suited for.

  121. DeadlyAccurate

    1) No, I wouldn’t want to know.

    2) Probably, but I wouldn’t treat it like a job and write even when I don’t feel like it.

    And the unasked bonus question:

    3) Yes, they *would* find out how far a booted foot would reach in there.

  122. gingersea

    1. Yes, of course. But then, I also wanted to know the results of the amniocentesis when I was pregnant. Including the sex of my son. I like information.

    2. Yes, of course. The stories want to be told. And someone will want to read them whether or not they are published. But (the honest, painful part) perhaps I would work harder than I have till now to perfect my writing skill. I think I write well, but if the seer said no, I’d have to up the ante, wouldn’t I? Definitive or not, why should I take no for an answer? (Damn you, seer! Damn you, I say!)

  123. AstonWest

    If I knew with 100% certainty (and I’d definitely love to know) there would never be any chance of publication, I’d definitely sink my efforts into something else. Why waste your time on it if there’s no chance of success?

    But being as how there can never be 100% certainty, I guess I’ll keep on trucking.

    The entire gambling industry banks on that sliver of impossible hope as well…interesting.

  124. austexgrl

    ld write, but I quit worrying about query letters. I would want to know the truth!!

  125. Lapillus

    I would want to know. It would allow me to take a step back and breathe.

    “Okay, so I won’t get published. That throws a ton of work and stress out the door. Nice.”

    And then I’d keep writing. It’s part of who I am. A seer would just make the path that much easier.

    I’d probably still try to get published, too, just to see if I could prove her wrong.

  126. abc

    Yes, I would want to know.

    Yes. I’d still blog. But I’d give up novel writing and read more. There is just so much to read. Plus I’d find more time for reality television.

  127. Moose

    1) Yes.

    2) Only to irritate others (for instance, my blogs).

  128. Polly Kahl

    With absolutely no cheating by finding ways around your direct questions:

    Yes, I’d want to know. It would keep me from making a total ass of myself.

    Yes. I’d keep honing my craft until, upon some future visit, the seer changed his mind. Just because I sucked then doesn’t mean I’d always suck. Most people are not born writers. They have to learn how.

  129. Beth Terrell

    1) Yes, I would want to know, because if I didn’t have the talent, I would work until I developed it. (And I don’t see this as cheating, because you said the seer knows if you have the talent, not if you will EVER have the talent.) But if the seer is telling me whether or not I ever WILL have the talent to be published…well, that I wouldn’t want to know.

    2) When Isaac Asimov was asked what he’d do if he had only a few days left to live, he said, “Type faster.” Me too. I refuse to allow some mystic to take writing away from me.

  130. Charlotte

    Yes, I would want to know, and yes, I would still write. I would probably give up writing novels, though, go back to my writing day job.

  131. Jen

    Oh, Nathan!

    If the same Seer told you a specific author who queried you would become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling…but you didn’t fall in love with the manuscript they sent you…would you offer representation??

    You didn’t think you could get out of this completely unscathed, did you? ๐Ÿ™‚

  132. JDuncan

    Someone has likely said it already, as I’m not perusing all 138 posts to see, but this begs the question, “Since when was talent an accurate predictor for getting published?” Had to throw that out there. If this is, as I’m assuming it was meant, to indicate if you could know whether your writing could be published at all, then my answer would definitely be ‘no.’ I like having the hope out there that I can indeed see my writing published. It’s part, though certainly not all, of my motivation to keep writing. Would I quit writing? Unlikely. I enjoy it too much, and I have a deep seated need to be creative. Of course, the Seer is making a prediction based on a current point in time. I get better as a writer every year, so I could easily enough outgrow any prediction the seer would be making. Now, if the seer was saying they could tell me if I would ‘ever’ be talented enough to publish, I might be more tempted to know.


  133. sally apokedak

    Absolutely and absolutely.

    Why chase a contract when you are not talented enough to be published? And why quit writing just because you are not talented enough to be published? There are many things to write besides published books.

  134. Dana

    Well… here’s my thoughts on ‘roids answer, though they may only be sugar pills…
    Would I want to know? Yes… I’m totally that person. I knew all my Christmas presents as a kid and I had surprises.

    Would I keep writing? Yes, of course. Like Andrew, I think, said, talent doesn’t necessarily equal publication. I suppose I would rather view myself as a quite talented writer and not be published than give up on it.

  135. mkcbunny

    Question A: Yes.

    Question A: Yes. But on a more leisurely pace, without the stress of trying to work around every spare moment I have between jobs to get it finished. ๐Ÿ™‚

  136. pjd

    Wow, 142 comments. Holy smokes.

    I would want to know. And if I had no talent for writing, I would no longer write. There are too many other things I enjoy doing, and life is too short to waste my time on guaranteed failure.

  137. Anonymous

    The seer says yes, I quit writing.

    Says no, chapter one involves a seer getting run over by an ice cream truck.

  138. The Disgruntled Bear

    I would ABSOLUTELY want to know! My novel is on submission to a publisher now, and the suspense is killing me! If they say “yes” then I’ll have the seer’s answer! For real!

    (Wow – look at all those exclamation points. I need to cut back on the caffeine).

    A “no” from the publisher is like a “try again later” from the seer. If the seer said “no,” I would still write, but I would spend the bulk of my writing time on things like my family journal and other, non-marketable projects that I am doing for my kids.

  139. Ruth

    Wow, a lot of commenters are completely sure they’ll get published. I can’t imagine me having that kind of… conceit? I can’t think of a better word. Being so pot-sure of myself.

    1. I would always want to know, although I suspect it would have to be “published novel” rather than “published writing” in general, since I’ve already had a short story published and it wasn’t particularly hard to do.

    Alternatively, the seer could say “There’s no chance you’ll ever be published again,” which makes more sense in my case. I don’t have the arrogance to say there’s no doubt I’ll be published; I’d like to, but writing’s such a subjective art I don’t think anyone can ever be sure.

    2. I would keep writing. I wouldn’t explode or anything like a few other commenters have said, but I enjoy writing. I like playing with words, and worst comes to worst my friends can read them and I can post them on my blog. I like writing: it’s fun.

    So I would want to know, but I would never quit. I guess publication is the major prize for writing; but if you don’t get the major prize, you can still get little runner-up prizes like happiness.

  140. Simon Haynes

    Yes, in that situation I’d still write and I’d still send subs to agents. Why? Because I don’t believe in fate. Make your own way and bugger what everyone else says.

    Also, your hypothetical doesn’t cover publication post-mortem ๐Ÿ˜‰

  141. April Hollands

    1. Yes I would want to know.

    2. Yes, I would stop writing and spend my time trying to find an area where I do possess some talent. Anyway, I know I can write :O)

  142. Usman


    If said seer told me that I had a great deal in store, my published novel would sell a gazillion copies and stay on the NYT for a 100weeks. And he says in his big, booming voice: GO SEE NATHAN.

    After all that, I bring the said seer to you and my MS, which in your opinion stinks.
    Would you sign me up based on what the Seer said?
    Sort of curious based on your question.

  143. Vanessa

    No, I wouldn’t want to hear it, but Yes, I would continue writing regardless.
    Not writing would be like not breathing.

  144. Alex Fayle

    Funny you should ask this question… I’m going to see a psychic with a really good track record this weekend. I’ll let you know what she says…

  145. Stephen D. Covey

    1) Yes, I’d want to know.
    2) Yes, I’d keep writing.
    I find that I enjoy writing science fiction as much as I enjoy reading it. However, what I write would change. My natural length seems to be 9,000-15,000 words, with longer works reaching 40,000-60,000 words. For publication purposes, however, I must struggle to write short stories (under 7,500 words) or novels (over 80,000 words).

    Knowing that I would not be published would give me more freedom. On the downside, when I hit a block, I’d likely go on to the next story in me, rather than push through and finish this one.

  146. Lafreya

    No I wouldn’t want to know because as the poet Langston Hughes wrote

    Hold fast to dreams
    For if dreams die
    Life is a broken-winged bird
    That cannot fly…

    However if I did know the answer is no I would still write If only to keep from going crazy.

  147. Lazy Trainer

    I would keep writing because, for me, writing is a vice in the same way smoking or drinking is for other people.

  148. maris

    Move over, Seer: the number and variety of comments here suggest that, if writers listened to seers, there would be no publishing industry!

    There are no perfect writers. Everybody needs an editor. Writing is the craft of making a (plot) point–or a series of points designed to lead to an end. With the proper guidance–not to mention focus and practice–anybody can learn how to grab and maintain a reader’s attention.

  149. magolla

    1) Who needs a damn ‘seer’ to tell me something I doubt daily?
    2)I’d still write, but I’d probably try different genres just for the hell of it. Who knows? I might be better at writing children’s stories than romance, or horror, or mystery.
    It’s a crapshoot anyway!

  150. Dave F.

    #1 – I’d ask. (How do you know that you haven’t met the seer?)
    #2 – I write because I enjoy it and not to get published or to feed myself. So yes, I’d still write.

  151. MH

    This is a trick question. Writers have to believe in free will. A character’s actions are meaningless without it.

    Still, I would visit the seer. If the answer was “yes, you will get published,” I would grab the seer’s crystal ball and hit him in the head with it. If the answer was “no,” I would do the same. Either way, I would be guaranteed publication, because everyone would want to buy my memoir, HE DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING, chronicling my descent into madness and subsequent homicide.

    MH ๐Ÿ™‚

  152. Katzie

    I would want to know because it takes away so much of the guess work.

    I do think I would still write, but the pressure would be off to make it perfect, which could take away some of the fun. (Some stress too, though…so that wouldn’t be so bad!)

    A lot about my writing is getting the story out of my head and onto paper where it grow and take form. That’s a fun, creative process whether anyone gets to see it or not. ^_^

  153. Kat

    Would I want to know? Of course. That way I wouldn’t waste my time trying to perfect a query letter/synopsis that would only be rejected anyway.

    Would I still write? Of course. I still have to make a living somehow. (Oh, wait, I guess writing for a newspaper is being published. Isn’t it? Maybe this is a pointless question for me.)

    Regardless, writing is a good, healthy form of escapism.

  154. Lisa

    1. Yes. I would definately want to know. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to know!

    2. I would still write, but not as much. There’s so many other things I’m interested in, so I would spend more time on those. I might still write in a journal, but I certainly wouldn’t be attempting a novel, not because it would never be published, but because it would suck and like I need a crappy story I wrote sitting in my drawer. I’d rather go dancing.

  155. Magee

    So you don’t have the “talent” to be a published author – even with luck, contacts, marketable idea or life experiences. Means your bad, very bad.
    1. Yes.
    2. No.

  156. Sam Taylor

    I’m pretty sure I have the writing talent, so I probably wouldn’t bother asking the seer.

    What I’m not sure about is if I have the strength-of-will and bloody-minded-determination to eek out that “one last rewrite” that makes the novel work. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sure someone’s said it before, but sometimes it feels very similar to banging your head into a wall.

    I think I’d ask her instead, “What can do to make the process less painful?”

  157. Christa

    Absolutely I’d keep writing!

    So, if someone who loves to play the piano or guitar, knew – 100%, without a doubt – that they would never be a record selling musician, would they still play? Of course.

    The same goes for the man who loves to paint or the woman who sculpts. Even athletes who will never play professionally still love to play the sports: basketball, hockey, etc.

    Not being among the elite who can make a living doing what they love doesn’t mean you stop doing it. If it makes you feel good, gives you a creative outlet, why would discontinue just because you couldn’t make money off of it.

    If money is the only reason to write, then you were never a writer to start with.

  158. Christa

    Oops forgot to add: No I wouldn’t want to know.

  159. Just_Me

    Q1: Yes, I’d be curious. And I probably wouldn’t spend as much time editing if I knew I would never have to meet an editor.

    Q2: Of course! I started writing for fun when I was young. Regardless of whether or not I publish I will countinue to write. Getting published is an added bonus. I write daily, I have friends who critique my work, I have people who follow the accounts of my characters, I’m not published but I know other people are interested. And I’m amused, and that’s why I write.

    And pinning a story down on paper is the only way to get it out of my head!

  160. Susan

    I would want to know. No matter the outcome. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. So no matter if the seer said I should never touch a keyboard again, I still would. Even if no one else ever read my work, I’d keep doing it because writing is what I love.

  161. Robena Grant


    Being published isn’t what writing is about. There’s a greater need to get the words on paper and explore ideas. Publishing is the cherry on top of the sundae. But it’s the icecream and the fudge that I enjoy more.

    Years ago I visited a seer who asked what I did for a living. I said I was taking a course in writing for children. He said, “Write sex. Sex sells. Think Anne Rice.”

    I scoffed, I wasn’t a big fan. “Me, write sex? Hah.” Five years later I joined RWA and am now writing “nice” sex scenes.
    I still haven’t sold, but hey, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. Next year I might even move on up to erotica, ha ha ha ha.

  162. Lesli Richardson

    I wouldn’t want to know, and I’d still write.

    It’s not what I do – it’s who I am. I’m a writer, and I always will be a writer. So even if I did ask and they said no, yes, I’d still write. I wrote for twenty years before I tried to get published – and now I’m being published. Because I’m a writer, I write.

  163. beth

    Let the hag make her prediction–even if she said no, that’d just make me more stubborn to prove her wrong. Heck, I’d just become Emily Dickinson and stuff my writing in the floorboards with a string of hope that a hundred years from now, someone would like my stories.

    Yes, of course, I write for other people. I *want* to be published. I want to be loved for writing. I want small children to clap at me when I enter the bookstore. But even if I knew none of that would happen, I’d still want to *try*.

  164. Kate H

    1) Yes. I want to know. (Of course, I believe way down the seer would say “yes,” and that would boost my determination significantly.)

    2) Probably not–for now–but only because my life is so full of other things. When my kids are grown and gone, or if I ever get to retire, then I think I would write just for the love of it.

  165. Ciar Cullen

    Yes, I’d want to know. And–gasp–I would probably stop. If somehow I were convinced the all-knowing-seeker had their shit together.

    That’s the bad answer for a writer, I know, but it’s my honest answer.

    I remember a ballet teacher when I was small telling my grandmom that if I wanted to keep going, fine, but I didn’t have the right stuff. Sure, she could have been wrong. Not. I still take dance classes once in a while, but I found I was much better at martial arts.

    There are so many wonderful ways to spend your time. I write because I enjoy it, but this is my life, and according to some, the only one I’ll have. Time is precious. Delusions aren’t. Well, not often.

  166. Pete


  167. Jeff

    What if the writer is the seer?

    Crouched over his scrying bowl, he peers into his own future and sees – nothing. A life of mediocrity, obscurity and frustration ending in a forgotten urn on a dusty shelf. Writing was his life and now he sees it wasted. What will he do?

    Why, he calls up his friends and invites them over to play the new D&D adventure he just wrote.

    Roll for initiative, monkey boy.

  168. Lauren Fobbs

    I began writing for myself in the first place, so I would keep writing for myself no matter what!

  169. pari noskin taichert

    Yes, I would.

    However, I’m not sure I’d write novels. These take such an incredible investment of time — writing, rewriting, editing etc — that if I knew I wouldn’t have an audience, I might not want to commit to the big story.

    But, I’ve always written creatively and can’t imagine stopping.

  170. Rose Pressey

    No. I wouldn’t want to know.

    Yes, I would still write. It’s impossible for me to stop.

  171. Tiger

    Nothing is ever 100% sure, so no matter what the good old oracle says, I’m still writing!

  172. Anonymous



  173. Min

    I would want to know.

    And if the answer was “no,” I would start looking for something else to do with my life. I’m not saying I wouldn’t come back to writing, but I would have to change my focus.

  174. Maripat

    I’d like to say I’m a big enough person not to ask…but I would. I know I would.

    For question 2, I would keep writing. Right now I’ve written six novels–soon to start number seven–and honestly I know I don’t query enough. Which is something I’m working on.

    But yeah, without a doubt I’d keep writing.

  175. Sharon

    To have someone tell me the future of my writing would take a big part of the excitement out of it. The joy is always there because I love setting up the scenes, creating the characters, etc. Waiting to find out if they’re accepted or rejected is a pain, but it’s also like the start of Christmas season when you’re a child, lol. If I *did* get a no from the seer, I’d just have to assume they meant that at that point I wasn’t ready to be published. I’d need more experience, more education, etc. in order to change the future. I don’t believe the future is set in stone ๐Ÿ™‚

  176. Arwen

    In my city there’s this street guy, plays Harmonica. He’s the “Hey, howzit going” guy. He wheezes out a couple of notes, stops and waves, and greets you. He’s a part of the city, part of Vancouver: probably 400,000 people know him, and look for him when they’re in the area. He is famous.


    Q1) Of course I’d want to know. So that

    Q2) I could keep writing but stop doing the (pardon my language) shitwork of getting paid.

    And I’d go about being as famous as the hey-howzit-going harmonica guy. A part of my city, making my voice known and heard, contributing a grin here and there and a sense of continuity. I’d stop the business, and focus on the art.

  177. VertigoVirgo

    I’d still write. I think people today are too much into creativity for a payoff, that shouldn’t be the case. You write because that is the medium of choice that best suits you, the medium which gives you the best platform to articulate want you are feeling, seeing, hearing…some people (like myself) find this to be much easier than actually speaking. If the seer said “you writing is nothing that can be sold” then I’d give it away for free. Someone out there will identify.

  178. vaqqb

    You know, Nathan, this is a more relevant question that it looks, because so much irrational author behavior springs from it. Agonizing over rejection-letter comments, begging for any kind of personalized rejection, putting things through one crit group after another, going into pitch sessions with half-finished novels–all of that because we want someone to tell us straight-up, yes or no, are we any good? Are we ever going to be any good?

    Look how many people would stop writing if they couldn’t sell it; or better, look how many people would change the way they spent their time, efforts and presumably money if they knew they couldn’t sell what they wrote.

    From our perspective any agent COULD be our seer, with better accuracy than our unpublished crit partners, longsuffering spouses, or moms. Instead they send us fortune-cookie platitudes in a form letter. Where’s our Delphi? Where’s our Simon Cowell? What do we have to do to get an honest “no”?

  179. ICQB

    Hear, hear! To what vaqqb said.

    Please tell me if my writing is not fit for publication! I really want to know, honestly! For me that would be infinitely more helpful than, “not quite right for me,” or, “I wish you best of luck elsewhere.”

    Perhaps there could be a checkbox reply for agents:

    1.) My honest feeling is that you don’t have what it takes, but good for you for having the courage to put your work out there.

    2.) Your writing needs work, but has promise.

    3.) You write well, but this project honestly is not a fit with my agency. Please do submit elsewhere, as I think it will resonate with another agent.

    3.) Please send me sample chapters.

  180. tinhutlady

    Sure! Even if the answer was no, I’d still write, if only for my own enjoyment (and maybe my kids’, down the road).

  181. Anonymous

    the question itself shows the totalitarian aspect of agents.

    Just like with human resources departments, it’s easier to get a job if you go directly to the manager of the department and not through the “middle” person

  182. Ruth

    Ahh, Anonymous. Your comment about the “middle” person warms my heart. May I recommend this blog post.

  183. Anonymous

    1) I would not want to know. 100% of a bad thing doesn’t fit with an optimist outlook

    2) If I had to know (“listen to the seer” or we shoot your kid”) I would still make up stories but I doubt I would spend the same amount of time I do now on editing and polishing. I would just get one story out of my system and start another

  184. Josephine Damian

    Sam Hranac: I’ve seen enough of your writing to say: Yes! By jove! You’ve got it! Keep writing and you’ll make it.

    Everyone else: the way the biz works these days all you need is the right “platform” – the abililty to get a huge amount of non-readers to read your book, (for example: write a sprawling, disjointed novel and include a lot of dogs, and dog lovers everywhere will automatically buy your book in spite of the fact that it’s badly written) and you will be published. These days, you don’t need talent, you don’t need craft, you need platform.

  185. eli.civilunrest

    Yes. I would want to know.

    Yes. I would still write.

    What I wouldn’t do is bother with any more queries.

  186. RMS

    I wouldn’t want to know and if they insisted on telling me, I’d “kill” the seer. I write horror so I can get away with that!

    And I’d keep writing because I really don’t have any other choice. Besides, I’ve already sold 24 short stories and counting. Novels, on the other hand, zero. Hmmm, maybe I should string all those short stories together. Now that would be horrific!

  187. daybydaywriter

    As a person, I’m very curious, but as much as I’d be curious, I wouldn’t want to know.

    But, if an alien came down and said I must know or else everyone in the world would be forced to wear only spandex, I would listen, and if I was told no, I would still write. Being published is the ultimate goal, but the writing itself is the fun part.

  188. Samantha

    1.No. I wouldn’t want to know.
    2.I might keep writing, but if I did, I know that my stories would be absolutely ridiculous. Zombie llamas who eat literary agents? Yep!

  189. slcard

    I was so taken aback by these questions I began a treatise on this post, but this is the essence of my reply.

    Writing is a mission, a mystery, a madness, an addiction. Once you have stumbled into the maze it is most difficult to find your way out. It appears perhaps, Mr. Bransford, you know this. You have seen the brilliant colors of our tangled garden, you have inhaled the perfume, but you remain wisely at the gate, unwilling to cross over to the crooked, devastating paths. Alas therefore, you cannot fully understand. I am sad for you, and yet as I look back through the hedge at the gray pallor of your existence, mine cloy with sensation and emotion, choking me, closing my throat, making me blind with an infinity of images, deaf with eternity’s Song, I am envious too. Do you see the pearls of dew upon the leaves? Those are our tears, and I do not know if they are of joy or of sorrow. Please, do not judge too harshly those of us lost here; there is great suffering in the sweet paradise of our minds.

  190. JP

    answer #1…yes…I would like to know if my work has value beyond keeping me sane…

    answer #2…yes…see answer #1…

  191. Sun Singer

    I wish a seer had told me that a long time ago so I can stop all this nonsense and become a lineman for the county.


  192. Anonymous

    #1 Yes. I’m the curious type.

    #2 Absolutely. All that time I waste struggling with queries and synopses — now I’d spend it writing fanfic… ๐Ÿ˜€

  193. Zoe Winters

    No I wouldn’t want to know. I can’t answer number 2 because I wouldn’t be privy to that knowledge. It does me no good to have it. Being told I would make it might cause me to slack off and not make it (and I don’t believe in luck.) And being told I wouldn’t make it, well who is the authority that knows for absolute sure this dude is right? How could I put so much stock and my entire life on this one dude’s prediction?

    Though I can respect the “hypothetical” aspect here, I think it’s silly to say someone’s “cheating” on a hypothetical question that’s designed to produce that response.

    I think it’s clear no one really believes a seer could know something like that. And I question whether “talent” is really the magically elusive thing we need to be concerned about.

    This feels like a koan to me. I think if one wanted to know and the seer said no, and they quit, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. But I don’t think that talent can possibly be the only deciding factor for success. it’s too simplistic, and that IMO is why people rail against “following the rules” of this hypothetical.

    I don’t think it’s “denial” as some have suggested elsewhere.

    Talent is also about “innate ability” not learned skill. One may never be mozart, but they can still be in a band.

  194. Zoe Winters

    oops, i just reread the question. You said “didn’t have the talent to become a published writer” you didn’t say…didn’t become a published author.

    Talent is entirely subjective and often has little bearing on the end result.

    I forget who it was, but some famous author said something about figuring out he didn’t have the talent for it, but by that time, he was already famous. too late to quit then. ๐Ÿ˜›

  195. Lady Heidi, Duchess of Kneale

    Answer #1: Yes. It would be nice to know where the future lies for writing. It would affect my goals and the steps I’m taking to reach them.

    If I learned that I would never, ever get published, then I could arrange my priorities and focus my career development on something else instead, like my music.

    Answer #2: Yes, I would still write, because I enjoy creating stories. I just wouldn’t devote any time to the professional development side, ie researching agents, publishers, subbing to paying magazines, etc. I’d probably go back to the hobbyists’ fields like fan-fic or making my own little online archive.

    Writing makes me happy.


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Hi, Iโ€™m Nathan.ย Iโ€™m the author ofย How to Write a Novelย and theย Jacob Wonderbarย series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and Iโ€™m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams.ย Let me help you with your book!

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