I don’t know about you but, when I meet someone new, I tend to be very reluctant to say that I’m a writer. This is both silly and self-protective. It’s silly because that’s what I am. It’s self-protective because there are certain responses to that admission that can make my jaw clench.
Folks seem to love and loathe writers in equal measure. Some see writing as a form of wizardry that only a special few are capable of (nope). Others see it as an affliction brought on by an abundance of spare time (nope). A few want to introduce you to other writer friends. And there are those who want to yank you down a peg or two by asking, “Have you written anything I’d have heard of?” Because, clearly, you’re not Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. I get it. Admitting that you are a ‘writer’ can sound a little arrogant. No matter what the reaction might be, I’d rather avoid it altogether. There are other things to talk about, right? Yet, even if I keep my trap shut, someone else might mention it, and the conversation will inevitably be dragged to the topic I was hoping to avoid. Writers just can’t win.
There several responses that writers hear again and again. Some of them are kind. Others are cutting. I’ve taken the liberty to make a short list of my personal favorites. Here are 3 things to never, ever say to a writer (or three ways to know you’re not one):
“I wish I had time to write.”
Guess what? So does every writer on the planet. Kids, we don’t have time; we make time. We squeeze it out of the day. We wake up early, stay up late, give up weekends and vacations and holidays to get it on the page. Writers sacrifice. That’s the only way to get it done, because there’s never enough time.
The version of this I most enjoy is when it’s delivered with an emphasis on the second I, making it sound as if writing were a vacation on the Isle of Capri with all expenses paid. If only. Writing is work. Excruciating labor that eats personal time and pleasure for fuel. And I wish I had more time to do it.
“I have a great story idea; I just need someone to write it for me.”
Here’s the thing: I believe everyone has at least one great story in them. Everyone. It’s a gift given at birth by the gods of words. The rub is that you have to get that story from deep within you onto the page. Writers spend years working on that skill. Sometimes it’s shockingly fast and easy. Other times, it takes ages and drives you to the brink of insanity. That’s the thing about the story; you never know how it’s going to come.
Buyer beware: This gem may come with the dreaded hint-drop — the lingering stare given as they wait for you to say, “Sure, I’ll write it for you! I have nothing but spare time!” A fun fact that seems to go overlooked is that writers and typists are two totally different animals. If you need someone to write it for you as in “type”, there’s an app for that (many, in fact). Treat yourself to a Dragon and dictate away! But what is usually implied is, “I have the kernel of an idea that I have no idea how to flesh out and it would be great if you would do that hard work for me…because you have all that spare time.”
There is a myth that should be busted wherein writers are always suffering writer’s block and need a story idea to come to them, thus this offer to serve as typist/ghostwriter is really a blessing. Nope. Writers have an endless supply of story ideas and the “block” is usually a cluster of ideas that have bottlenecked as they vie to get out. Writers don’t have time for all the stories we want to give life to. Write your own!
Another fun fact is that the person who actually writes the story owns the copyright. If you want someone to write for you — ghostwriter or typist — you really need to pay them…and a lawyer to be sure that everything is clear.
“So, anyone could do what you do [self-publish].”
Absoflippinglutely! In theory, anyway. Anyone, who — as Hemingway put it — sits down at a blank page/screen and opens a vein, can. But that brings us back to Things Never to Say to a Writer #1 and #2. Only a few people are willing and able to carve out the time to sit down and write, and pry that story idea from your brain then assemble it onto the page. So, if you’re that brand of “Anyone”, we independent authors will champion you along the way, giving you our advice on what to do and avoid, and wish you the very best/huge success. We know there is plenty of room for everyone at the table. Just be prepared for the toil involved. Because, once you get it onto the page, your real job begins. You have to format it, get it covered, have it proofed, put it up on each and every platform available to reach the widest audience, market it, market yourself, research the market and all of its changes, interact with readers and other writers, make friends with bookstores and do all this while working on your next book because you are a writer and writers write.
No writer thinks they are special (unless they are an arrogant asshat, but those exist in all aspects of life and we just have to deal with them). We are geeks and dweebs and introverted recluses with vitamin D deficiencies. Writers know the only thing that makes us different is the driving urge to get words on a page. When I meet another writer (usually by someone else introducing us as that), I shake their hand and say, “So, you have the curse, too.” This gets me a knowing smile because I can see, like me, there’s a story running in the back of their brain, and they can’t wait to get those words out. We want to go home as soon as possible and start typing. But, instead, we participate in polite conversation all the while wondering how much longer we have to stay, because there’s a story pushing its way out and we need to birth it. That’s why writers can appear arrogant, distant or disinterested. We don’t mean to seem rude; there’s just a bunch of people in our heads talking to us, nagging us to give them our undivided attention. But we want to appear normal, so we get another glass of wine and a bit of nosh and do our best to be sociable because that’s the polite thing to do. More often than not, we are rewarded for that with the opportunity to craft future characters from those we meet. And that’s something to keep in mind when you interact with writers. There’s a saying (or is it a caveat?) that, put in a more decorous manner, goes:
Be kind to writers…or we’ll describe you.