Writing is kind of an odd profession.
People have all these preconceived notions about what you do.
Or they don’t believe you do what you do.
Or they don’t know a damn thing about what you do, but they still want to tell you how to do it.
I love talking about writing with other writers. It’s kind of like geeks getting together to talk geeky things – we get all excited about craft, story, theme, works we love – basically word- geekiness.
When someone who’s not a writer asks me what I do, I freeze. My mind somersaults through variations of how to explain it to them. Most of the time, I’d prefer to make something up.
It’s not that I’m embarrassed about being a writer. Being a writer was the goal
I can remember my first paid assignment. I was as incredulous as anyone that someone was willing to pay me for words.
After quite a while in the business of writing, I still love words. But what I do is mostly just a job. I mean, I like it, but it’s not as weird or sparkly as people think it is.
A lot of people ask normal, common sense questions. Or make regular small talk. Other times, I get the reactions that make me wish I’d made up a profession… or was drunk enough to ignore them.
Here are some of the really annoying ones. If you meet a writer out in the wild, try not to say any of these:
They Pay You For That?
You’d be surprised how many times people have asked that question. Let’s forget for a second that it’s insulting. You know what – let’s not forget that it’s insulting.
Yes, they pay me for that. Asshole.
Don’t Forget Us Little People When you’re Famous
Ugh… if anyone’s in the writing game to get rich and famous, you picked the wrong field. Seriously.
According to Publishing Perspectives, only 1.3% of traditionally published authors earn more than $100,000 a year from their writing alone. Most fiction writers continue working their day job while they write.
A very small percentage becomes what the world might consider “famous” or “successful”. Luckily, that’s not the only way to measure success or I’d venture to guess we’d have far fewer stories in the world.
To break that down even further, more than 50% of traditionally published authors earn less than $1,000 dollars a year… It’s not about the fame or money.
There’s a reason I’m talking about fiction writing here – it’s what most people think when they hear I’m a writer. It’s what everyone thinks when they’re asking about fame.
I do write fiction, but I don’t earn my living as a novelist.
Copywriting, web content, journalism, business writing – those are all marketable skills where you can earn a living. They won’t usually garner you fame. Most people won’t even know you wrote the things you sold.
What Have You Written?
This has a few variations. It can be the cocky, “Oh, you’re a writer,” (insert eye roll) “Where have you been published?” or “What would I have read by you?”
I usually want to respond, “I have no idea. I didn’t know you could read.” I think I might’ve said that a few times, actually.
Often, it’s less passive aggressive. Sometimes it’s their way of trying to further polite conversation.
Some writers can answer this pretty simply – they write for a set publication. Or they are novelists. For me, it’s a wide spectrum. I usually just say I write web content because it’s a pretty good general answer and most of my writing falls into that category.
This one’s kind of a caveat annoyance. It depends on the speaker’s attitude and my willingness to delve into the specifics of a profession that bores the bejeezus out of most people.
That’s Not a Real Profession
Okay, this one pisses me off. And yes, I’ve heard it.
You know where you hear it the most? From teachers.
Fuckety, fuck, fuck, man.
These are the people who are supposed to be helping you to choose your path and directing your feet toward the education you need to become a full enough person to achieve it.
I realize that most teachers are awesome. This isn’t directed at all of them.
I also realize that they’re trying to impart some real world practicality. Gotcha.
But I think some of this misconception comes from the fact that many teachers aren’t fully grounded in the real world. They’re grounded in academia, which is fine for them. Not so fine when they’re telling students they can’t accomplish success in a profession where, yes, they probably can.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly rate for writers is almost $30.00 an hour. Not only that, but 35% of today’s workforce is made up of freelancers.
Teachers should be adding the freelance paradigm to their education of the future workforce. Guess which profession represents a healthy portion of the freelance segment. Yep, writers.
Think of all of the content you see in your daily life. There’s also tons of writing you never see, but someone got paid to write it. It’s a real profession.
I Always Wanted to Write a Book. How Do I Do That?
Umn… okay, look, I’m happy to talk to other writers. I’ll even hand out resources and advice to aspiring writers. That’s one of the best parts of this profession – the community of writers who are happy to help with critique, business talk, even a little kick in the ass.
That’s not what I’m talking about here. Most people who say they always wanted to write a book and ask how to do it have never researched a damn thing about writing a book. It looks easy to them. They think a “real writer” can just hand them the mythical keys to the kingdom.
I can’t tell you how to do it. Every path is different. And I don’t really want to spend hours imparting every lesson I learned through hard work to someone who wants to Google a magic solution and be a “famous author”.
Now, if you tell me something that gives the impression you’re actually trying to write, I’ll probably hand you any resource I can think of for what you’re doing.
That still means you have to do the work. No one else is doing it for you. Most of the time, I go through the trouble of compiling resources and they never do anything with it.
I’ve got a Great Idea for a Book. You Should Write It and I’ll Share the Profits.
Yes, please. You tell me your great idea. I’ll do all of the work. Then you can toss me crumbs after I’ve secured a lucrative publishing deal for you.
That was sarcasm. If anyone contacts me asking for that, be prepared for advanced profanity.
The fact is that ideas are plentiful. And I don’t want to hear yours. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
There’s an art form to plotting a novel, developing characters, and the craft of writing. The idea is often just a spark of something that takes shape over the course of outlining and writing… you know… the work part.
If you ask most writers, they have a file full of potential story ideas. I literally have dozens. I’m already excited about one of my ideas. If you’re excited about one of yours, YOU should write it.
There are ghostwriters who write fiction, but they don’t generally do it for a share of the profits with no guaranteed pay. You pay them a set, contracted rate – preferably a professional one.
My Life Would Make a Great Book
Everyone thinks this. EVERYONE thinks this.
Read that again because I know most people believe they’re the exception to the rule.
Okay… you might be the most interesting person on the planet or have some claim to fame, but otherwise your life probably isn’t as interesting to anyone else as it is to you and (maybe) your mom.
I know. That sucks to hear. You’re reading along thinking, “Why am I reading this awful twat’s blog?”
Here’s the thing. I’m not trying to be mean. A lot of fiction is autobiographical to some degree. Not all fiction and I don’t want you out there deciding every author was writing about themselves because it’s kind of invasive and a bit creepy. But I digress.
Even if you based a book on aspects of your life, it’s not as simple as just journaling what happened to you. Your life is still going on. Which story are you centering on? What’s the character arc?
Perhaps you really want to write a memoir. It’s a valid thing but I’m not the person to talk to about it because I don’t write memoir.
My Cousin’s Brother’s Lover Wants to Be a Writer…
Seriously. Cool. Lots of luck to them.
Most of the time, this is a push to get me to do something for them. Hey, if you want to give them my email, I’ll usually try to find time to answer questions or kibitz, depending where they are in their journey.
Networking with other professionals is never a bad thing. But this is also odd because the writer in question doesn’t actually know about it. It’s kind of like being set up on a blind date without telling the other party… except during work hours… possibly on fire.
It’s just awkward. I try not to get annoyed because they usually think the matchmaking will be beneficial to people they like. They’re playing literary Yenta.
So, How Can I Make A Living Doing That?
Like, hey, you make a living as a writer; just tell me how to do it.
This is mostly innocent but at the same time, there are literally thousands of free resources and hundreds of classes you can pay for to help you with this. I spent years of my life doing that leg work, taking the classes, reading everything I could get my hands on, and networking with professionals.
In fact, I still take classes to add to my skills. I read industry news on a regular basis. I work on my craft daily. If you’re interested in being a writer, it’s not a destination. It’s a continual journey.
I think the laziness of this type of question is just off-putting to me. On the one hand, if you’ve never met another writer, I can see wanting to pick their brain. At the same time, if you were really interested in becoming a writer, you should have already researched it. The fact that you haven’t tells me that you’re either not cut out for it or not serious about it.
It’s wearing because it seems like everyone thinks they can become a writer. But a lot of them don’t write at all. Many don’t even read.
Someone put out some snake oil product about how you can become rich being a writer and work from home and *gasp* you don’t even have to know how to write.
Yes, you have to know how to write. It’s so fucking infuriating that people believe this and repeat it.
Writing as a career is possible for most people who want to put in the work to develop their craft and find their best writing assets.
You can find mentors. You can find courses. You can find resources galore. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have to map your own path. You might model it on someone else’s and that’s fine. But you’re going to have to make decisions about how to shape that career.
I’m Writing a Book. Would You Read It for Me?
If you just now found out that I write for a living, you probably don’t know me that well. So, what you’re essentially doing is asking for a great deal of my time, expertise, and effort for free even though we’re strangers… so, there’s that.
You don’t even know what my expertise is. I write in specific genres. Being a writer doesn’t make me an expert at all forms of writing. I know next to nothing about poetry, for example. And, if you’ve never read any of my writing, how do you know I don’t suck?
I think critique groups and writing partnerships can be great. I also think there has to be a level of trust in each other and a good deal of knowledge about what each writer brings to the table to make beta reading a work in progress a worthwhile venture for both parties.
I do read for a number of writers when they ask. But it’s a time commitment and I have to know the writer first.
Essentially, you don’t want to ask strangers for this big of a favor.