It’s a weird experience, telling people you’re a writer. Like a real writer. It’s strange how few people really get it or believe you. This became clear again this last Sunday after church. I was having dinner with a group of people from my church and talking to someone new. She asked me what I did and I told her I was a writer. I don’t think it clicked, but that doesn’t really matter to me. It was only when a friend from across the table spoke up that I remembered just how hard it is to grasp what I do.
He looked at me and laughed. “You know,” he said, both sincere and incapable of keeping a straight face, “When I first met you, you said you were a writer, and I was like ‘oh, like people in garage bands say they’re ‘musicians’. It was only after I heard an ad on the radio for your books that I thought ‘OH! He’s a real writer’’”.
I get that a lot. And it makes sense, I suppose. We all know one of those ‘writers’ or ‘musicians’ or ‘artists’. Typically it’s the people who are most vocal about the fact that they’re writers. The person with a t-shirt that says ‘WRITER AT WORK’, the bumper sticker that says ‘Be nice to me, or I’ll make you a character in my next book’, or even say it to our faces. It’s like having a vegan at a dinner party; you don’t have to ask about it, they’ll be certain to let everyone know.
“So, you’re a writer?” We ask.
“Oh yes, I’m a writer, I just make my living doing (fill in the blank).” We’re sad now, realizing that it isn’t what they do in the same sense of what most of us think when asked that question.
“Really? Do you have anything published?” We’re usually setting the bar low here, thinking magazine or local paper.
“Nothing yet. But I will. You’ll see me on the bestseller’s table at Barnes & Noble soon enough.”
“What do you write?”
“Oh, everything. Mostly poetry and Science Fiction. And I’m working on a romance novel about a person exactly like me who finds true and unconditional love from a significantly more attractive person for no apparent reason.”
With sincere interest, but without any expectation of quality we say something along the lines of: “I’d love to take a look at one of your novels some time.”
“Oh, you can’t. I haven’t finished anything yet. And I’m waaaay too sensitive to let anyone read it now. But you can read it once it’s published!”
“But I do have some free-verse poetry about my feelings you could read right now, if you want.”
We pause for a moment, trying to think of the last time we saw a book of poetry on a shelf that wasn’t written by someone already famous, but remain optimistic and friendly.
Usually these are very nice people with good intentions and a kind heart. But it becomes obvious in about ten seconds that though this person writes, they are not a professional. Some of them may get there eventually, but for the most part they’re hobbyists.
So, when I got published it was hard for me to discern yourself. Some people instantly assume that I’m super rich and famous, and that I summer with Stephen King; though this is the minority. Most just nod politely and assume I’m ‘that person’, who enjoys talking about writing but remains a clear hobbyist. There are some times when I try to clarify, but for the most part I just mention it and move on, remembering the words of Jesus: it’s better to put yourself at the foot of the table and be asked to move to the place of honor, than to place yourself at the head of the table and be asked to move. So, I try not to make it the first thing I tell people about myself. In fact I have friends I didn’t tell about my writing career for months. Usually they find out on their own, so there’s no point in being obnoxious. And besides nobody really wants to be this guy: