A social event. A meet and greet. A date with some fine young thing.
You’re gonna get asked what you do for a living, no doubt about it.
You could make an off-kilter joke about being a professional hitman for a national crime organization while awkwardly half-laughing/half-cringing at your own idiocy and pretending not to notice the sympathetic looks on everyone’s faces as they wonder whether or not they should report you as a suspicious person. (Not that that’s…uh…happened to me, or anything.)
Or you could just tell the truth. You’re a writer.
Why Are We Embarrassed?
Why are we embarrassed, fellow wordsmiths? Why do we say embarrassing things like “fellow wordsmiths”? So many questions, so little confidence.
Is it just me or have we writers (and those who work with writers) unconsciously created some sort of hierarchy that places business writers, copywriters, and journalists at the highest level of the writing profession and leaves creative writers at the bottom of the totem pole?
Is it because there’s a sort of stigma around creative writing that says poets and novelists aren’t capable of making money? Is it because we all know business-related writing is the most reliable and best-paying career choice?
While I can’t deny the riskiness involved in pursuing a fiction writing career or the stability that comes with writing for business, these are still pretty sad excuses for hiding our creative writing aspirations.
A Word to Novelists and Other Creative Writers
We’re the worst of ‘em, chaps. You, me–no one’s innocent here, pal. We’ve made this mess and it’s high time we undid it.
Kelly James-Enger’s excellent book Six-Figure Freelancing talks about the importance of confidence for all types of writers, but I do declare, fellow novelists, we’ve got a special brand of shamefulness about us.
When I’m asked what I do for a living, I tell people I write copy for digital marketing companies, relieved that I have that (true) job description to fall back on when I don’t want to mention I’m writing a book.
But because I spend equal amounts of time on client work and on the novel, it almost feels like I’m cheating myself not to bring up the latter. Like I’m some sort of hack who’s unworthy of calling herself a creative writer.
Fine–you don’t have to mention your creative writing endeavors every time someone asks what you do for a living. You don’t owe it to a stranger to share your personal writing projects in casual conversation. I get that.
But when the topic comes up–when someone worthy enough asks us what we’re doing with our free time, when someone important enough asks us what exactly our line of work involves–shouldn’t we be honest about our hopes and ambitions?
Aren’t we kind of betraying ourselves and our goals when we’re not willing to share them proudly with others? What kind of message does that send to God, to the Universe, to the quantum field, or to whatever’s in charge of orchestrating success and happiness with these types of things?
Change Your Answer
Let’s get one thing straight, first-time novelists and seasoned authors alike: you’re not “trying to write a novel,” you’re “you bet your ass I’m writing a goddamn novel.”
The first one is depressing, pitiful, and just plain gross. Yoda would be disgusted with you. The second one shows you’re confident, determined, and maybe even ready to throw down if anyone tries pick a fight with you about it. I’m not sure where you’d be for someone to want to fight you simply because you’re a novelist, but if this is ever the case, you should probably leave that place.
Now’s the time to change our answers and practice some self-respect. It’s time to own what we do. And it’s high time we spread good vibes throughout the writing profession by not judging our fellow artists based on the type of writing they’ve chosen to do.
Let’s Proudly Wave Those Job Descriptions Around Like Undies at a Panty Raid
And if you’re a freelance writer or aspiring novelist and don’t have business cards yet, then kindly wake up from the half-assed dream-chasing sleepwalk you’ve got going on.
If you’re a writer and someone asks you what you do for a living, you wear that shit like a badge. Be proud. Not too proud–let’s not come off a douche.
Just regular proud, like you realize you’re signing yourself up for something that’s super hard–something that not everyone can do. Something that puts you at the mercy of the opinions and judgment of others. Something that forces you to confront your own soul and often leaves you front and center with your innermost demons.
Doesn’t that warrant at least a small level of pride? Even if you never finish, even if you never get published, even if you don’t end up proving the doubters wrong–you better believe you’re going to learn something about yourself along the way.
And taking on a journey like that? It’s a noble thing, indeed.