Being a writer is kind of like being a unicorn—no one really knows what it’s like and a lot of people don’t even think you’re real.
On the upside, you are magical, and now and then, you find the select few people—the really amazing ones—who actually believe in you.
But along the way, you do have to deal with the unicorn naysayers. The type of people who either don’t believe in you, or, more commonly, just do. Not. Get you. And because life is life and people are people and we are in fact required to participate in occasional social interactions, you will be asked questions. You will be asked questions that people would not ask any other person with any other type of occupation or passion. You will be asked questions that are so wildly open-ended, you don’t even know where to begin. You will be asked questions that are just begging for a sarcastic response, and you will have to smile through your gritted teeth, swallow your sharp-as-a-unicorn-horn wit, and answer politely.
Let’s take a look at just a few of those questions, shall we?
So, you just sit around and make stuff up?
I get it. Writing seems like a weird job. Most of it goes on inside our heads, whereas a lot of people’s work is something we can actually, physically see happening. If you build houses for a living, as you’re working on that house, we see it going up little by little. Even when it’s just the foundation, we can see that foundation. Sometimes a writer can have a total breakthrough on a project and no one will be able to see it—because it all happened inside our heads.
But there are so few things as infuriating as having someone belittle your occupation and the thing you care most about by saying something like, “Oh, so you just…make things up?” or “Isn’t writing super easy, though? All you have to do is make stuff up!”
Yeah, Karen. We just make stuff up. We’re just playing around in imagination land all day long. Sometimes we even bust out our Barbies just for extra giggles. Because writing is just super-duper playtime, right?
Yes, if you write fiction, it is, by definition, “made up”. Yes, we are imagining it. Yes, a lot of it happens inside our heads. But make no mistake about it, y’all—writing is not all fun and games. Writing is a craft, and you have to work at a craft in order to perfect it. You have to work hard. Writers put their blood, sweat, and tears into what they do—sometimes literally. So, please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t ask writers if they “just make stuff up”.
Respect the craft. I don’t come into your job and say, “Oh, so you just repair car engines? Pffft.”
What do you do? No, I mean like, what do you do for work?
THAT IS WHAT I DO FOR WORK, KAREN.
Some people seem determined to treat writing as if it’s just a hobby or some sort of passing fancy, or something you do only on old-fashioned correspondence. I’ve literally had people say things like, “Oh, I’m a writer, too! Yes, I love writing letters to my friends,” or “Oh, you’re a writer? Me too! Sometimes I write poems in my journal.”
OKAY, KAREN, that’s cool and all. Really, I’m so serious, I have every bit of respect for people who enjoy writing as a pastime or a hobby. It’s a great hobby! Maybe the best! But please, don’t assume that because you do something as a hobby, or you know someone who does it as a hobby, that nobody does that same thing for work. If you ask me what I do, or what I do for a living, I’m obviously not going to tell you my hobby. Yes, I understood the question. No, I don’t write letters to my friends or write in a journal as a career. Yes, writing is hard work. Yes, some people actually do make money off of writing. And no, whether or not I can pay my bills/how much I make/whether I get paid in actual crackerjack is not your business. Okaythankyoubyeeee.
*Quick Disclaimer: I don’t actually know anyone named Karen. She just seems like someone who would really grind my gears. Replace Karen with whatever nosy relative or clueless acquaintance name you prefer!
So, you don’t have a real job?
Society’s apparent parameters for a “real” job: takes place in an office of some sort…doesn’t involve creativity in any capacity…is something they already understand and have a working knowledge of.
Apparently a lot of people don’t consider writing, any kind of freelancing, or anything art-based “real” jobs. It seems for some that the only “real” jobs are doctors, lawyers, and mechanics. I don’t know. I usually don’t even know what to say back to this question, because does a question like this even warrant a “real” response? Yes, Karen, it’s fake work. I made it up in my head, just like I always “make stuff up”. I mean that’s all I do.
What, like, for the newspaper or something?
I don’t know why, but this is one I used to get alllll the time when I first graduated high school and told people of my writing aspirations while fielding all the obligatory post-graduation “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE” type questions. It was as if people couldn’t fathom doing any kind of writing that wasn’t…for the newspaper. And I can’t figure out why. Telling people I wanted to be a writer and getting the question, “Oh, like for the newspaper?” went hand in hand with telling people I was going to college to major in Creative Writing and getting the response, “Oh, journalism?”
KAREN. Is that what I just said??? No. I did not say journalism. I said Creative Writing. I’m pretty sure I know what my major is, Karen. I can’t tell if you’re trying to use your questions to clarify or to correct me.
But just for the record, for anyone who is planning on having conversations with people who aspire to be writers, there are tons of kinds of writing. Yes, journalism is one kind of writing. But so are lots of other things. Don’t pigeon hole people. Don’t put them in a box. People could write novels, poetry, short stories, literary nonfiction, history textbooks, films, songs, blogs, television shows, advertisements. Do you have any idea how many things you come in contact with on a day to day basis that had to be written by someone? There’s literally zero reason to assume that everyone wants to write for the newspaper.
But for the record, if you do want to write for the newspaper, that’s great! Go for it, and have the best time doing it!
Why aren’t you published yet? How hard can it be to get published?
People love to follow this one up with “my wife’s cousin’s half-brother’s cat groomer’s babysitter’s dad’s ex-husband published a book on the history of a small town in Texas!” or something along those lines.
You’re right, Karen. Because you know that one person who published a book, that means that every single writer will have the exact same experience with publishing. I mean, there’s only one experience people can have with publishing, right? And I mean, heck, if your second cousin’s dog walker’s uncle’s girlfriend’s sister published a book, then anyone can!
People. Listen. Publishing is a convoluted industry. There are lots of different ways to publish, lots of different routes people can take, lots of different choices people can make. No two people will have the same experience with the publishing journey, or the journey on the way to get there. Don’t belittle someone else’s experience or the steps they take to get there—or how long it takes them. There may be people who would have been published a lot sooner if they had chosen to self-publish, but perhaps that’s not a route they wish to pursue. There may be people who would have made more money if they wanted to publish the traditional route, but that might not interest them! Whatever the case is, publishing isn’t the same for everyone, so get out of their throats and don’t say rude things “Well, how hard can it be?” or “Come on, can it really take this long?” Especially if you know absolutely nothing about the writing process, the drafting process, the editing process, the rewriting process, the querying process, and the publishing process.
Tell you what, Karen, let me come into your job as a nurse and peep over your shoulder why you’re taking blood and go, “Just find a vein, Karen! God, how hard can it be?!”
Or let me come to your job as a hair stylist and hover around behind you going, “Just change this woman’s hair color from black to platinum blonde, Karen! It can’t possibly be that hard!”
It’s annoying, right?
Let’s round out this list with a really good one.
So, how long are you going to try this for?
Uh, UNTIL THE DAY I DIE, KAREN.
People ask this of writers like they’re asking you how long you’re going to try out this bike jump before you give it up in fear of breaking a leg, or a game of Monopoly where you will mortgage Baltic Avenue for four freaking dollars before you give it up and admit you lost. Like it’s just something you do to kill the time or some casual interest you want to dabble in. For whatever reason, there are a lot of people out there who think that writing (or any career in the arts, for that matter) is not a long-term situation. That it’s just something you’re trying out, and one day you’re going to grow out of it and get one of those “real jobs” Karen is always prattling on about. One day you’re going to give it up, put on a sensible skirt, and become a banker or something. Because no one is a writer forever, right?
Wait, what? You’re telling me all those thousands of books lining the shelves in bookstores and libraries were all written by someone? Oh. Well. There goes that theory.
I don’t know why, after all this time, people can’t accept that some people do want to pursue a career in the arts full-time, but here we are. Still answering these questions. So do your best to make Karen understand that it’s not just a silly hobby, or that you’re not just doodling love notes to your imaginary boyfriend in your diary. Maybe one day she’ll be able to accept it.
Writing is hard. And then editing is hard. And then sharing that work with people can be hard. And then on top of all that, answering the somewhat ridiculous questions human beings ask each other…is hard.
Keep your head up. Write your butt off. And to get you through all the inane questions, remember these words to the wise from one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut.
So what about everyone else? What are some ridiculous questions you’ve been asked? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3