I spend an embarrassing majority of the day trolling the Internet for writing-related reads. A lot of the time this consists of what Allen Wilson calls “productivity porn,” and that doesn’t tend to help me at all. But sometimes you read something you gel with so completely that not only do you have to write a comment, you have to write about it yourself.
Kristin Lamb wrote this spot-on post about how no other profession is so consistently doubted as that of the writer. It’s as if the word ‘writer’ itself seems so broad to the average non-writer, I might as well have said ‘I’m a breather’ or ‘I drink water.’ You tell someone you are a writer and they sit there waiting for the punch line.
When it doesn’t come, they inevitably ask:
“What do you write about?”
I hate this question. I really, deeply loathe it. My mother is a psychologist, and when she tells people what she does for a living, no one ever says “Oh really? How many heads have you shrunk in your career?” My brother is an account executive for an IT company, and no one ever says “Can you explain exactly how your last deal went down and exactly how much you made in commission?” Yet when I say I am a writer, people demand some sort of proof. And it has to be better than a blog and a business card. People expect me to show bylines in the NYT or the Huff Post and a zillion Twitter followers.
“What do you write about?” they ask.
“Everything. I write about everything. One day, I would like to be able to wake up at
nine eleven every morning and drink copious amounts of coffee and type at my computer, penning some sort of self-indulgent ultra-contemporary epic. But you can’t pay the rent with half-baked novels–not even in Berlin. So instead, I wake up at nine eight every day and drink copious amounts of coffee and write blog posts for other people and sometimes for me and emails and pitches and news letters and to do lists and a crap load of notes and if it’s been a rough day and I can’t think of anything to write then I turn the brightness on my screen all the way down and just write and THEN I edit things for other people and for me and I tutor a little bit because I need the money and in between all of this I read a shitload of news and magazines and other blogs about all kinds of stuff and I spend a bit of my time doing invoicing and businessy type things and THEN I write stories and/or poems. After reading this post by Srinivas Rao, I’m on this 1000-words-per-day kick. It’s going okay.”
By the time I finish explaining all this, I’ve usually completely bored whoever asked the initial question. But if they haven’t fallen asleep or found anyone else to talk to, the conversation goes on in one of two ways.
“Gee! That’s great! You know, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” That’s lovely. Because abstractly wanting to be a writer is just what it takes. Then again, if I’m in a good mood, this response makes me feel super cool. Cowboys probably hear the same thing.
OR people ask:
“Will you write about this/me?” Do you hear yourself? How special do you think this interaction is? Then again, I wasn’t kidding when I said I write about everything.
Unless you’re JK Rowling, it does get old having the same conversation over and over, trying to convince people you’re an honest-to-God writer. So if you’re having the same problem I’m having, you could try one or more of the following:
1. Get business cards
Actually, this always makes me think of A Series of Unfortunate Events when Count Olaf has business cards printed up saying he is not Count Olaf, and the Baudelaire children try to explain to Mr. Poe that people can get business cards printed saying whatever they want. But hey, it worked for Count Olaf
2. Write a blog
Four out of five strangers won’t read it anyway.
3. Use obscure words and extremely proper grammar all the time
Try to say “hence” at least twice a day and use the word whom, no matter to whom you are speaking. And correct people for not pronouncing the R in ‘February.’
4. Carry around hard copies of your work
…and hand it to people in lieu of a business card.
5. Ask people to repeat the question
…and stick your phone in their face for a voice recording. To make your dialogues more real.
6. Memorize famous passages of poetry
…and try to pass it off as your own. Bonus points if you can get someone to believe you wrote Hamlet. (Negative points if you try to publish said poetry).
7. Tell people your book is called 50 Shades of Vampires.
You’ll make millions in sales and end the conversation simultaneously.