Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So, You're a Writer...

“So, you’re a writer?” Few things bring a greater mix of reactions than those four words...

Image © marfis75 CC BY-SA 2.0
You’re in the grocery store, ogling the rotisserie chickens, when you feel it. It’s a tingle up your spine—a nervous flutter in your stomach. Someone‘s staring at you.  There’s no doubt about it. 

Curious, you flick a casual glance over your shoulder and immediately regret it. Oops. Caught. Eye contact has already been established and it’s too late to feign ignorance.

You plaster on a weak smile and lift a hand in greeting, scrambling to remember who this guy is and how you know him. Years of these awkward exchanges have taught you it's best to just play it off.  If you probe for information, you’ll be stuck standing there for God-only-knows-how-long, trying to make small ta—

“Hey!” he calls, quickly crossing the distance between you. “How’ve you been?”

Not nearly as disappointed as you are right now.

“Oh, uh, good, good…” You reluctantly turn, nodding like a bobble-head. “How about you?”

He shifts his weight and crosses his arms, gearing up for a long spiel. “Well, you know, I’ve been really busy at wor—”

Ugh. You stop listening, eyeing possible escape routes.The guy smells like equal parts ass and cologne. Does anyone else notice? Is it infecting the chicken?

Your eyes glaze over and you reach back, gripping the shopping cart for balance. Miraculously, your body has gone on autopilot. You’re laughing at all the right moments, mirroring his expressions as he goes on and on about— 

Wait. What did he say about a cat?

“—because she has to have organic food! She eats better than I do.” He waves it off and looks around the store. “Oh, hey, we’re having a barbeque this weekend. You have any plans?”

You straighten, ready to offer your immediate (but polite) refusal. “Ah, sorry. I actually need to devote some time to my manuscript this weekend. Thanks, though. I think you’ll have nice weather for it.”

“Manuscript?” For a moment, the only sounds you hear are the register beeps in the distance. “So, you’re a writer?” 

You nod, not trusting yourself to refrain from sarcasm.

“What are you writing?”

Dilemmas, dilemmas. You could go into your own spiel about the genres you’ve been dabbling in, but that would only prolong the conversation. “A romance novel.”

There’s a long pause. “Really? Have you ever thought about getting it published?”

“…That’s the plan.” 

“You know, I wrote a novel once.” He shifts his gaze toward the ceiling, already deep in thought. “Actually, I think it was more like a long essay, but it was really good. I got an ‘A’ on it.”

“Awesome.” Your left eye begins to twitch.

“Yeah, I don’t have time for stuff like that anymore, but I’ve always been good with ideas.” He leans in, lowering his voice. “I thought up this one story in the car the other day. It’s like Lord of the Rings mixed with Lord of the Flies, only better.”

It’s better than two, completely unrelated things? Score. 

“If you want, I can tell you about it,” he offers, pausing for a moment. “If you promise not to steal it.”

There go all of your plans for debauchery.  “Maybe another time. I actually need to be goi—“

“Hey, you know, I just had an idea. What if I tell you the story and you just write it down? I’d split the money with you. It's called Lord of the Flying Rings. It's about a gymnast.”

Stare at the rotating chickens. Take a deep breath. Mmm…

You force a smile, shaking your head. “Thanks, but I’m really not looking to start anything else right now. I better get going, but have fun at your barbeq—“

“My sister writes fanfiction.”

You blink. “Oh?”

“Yeah, on the internet.”

“That’s… cool.”

“Maybe you can read it sometime and let her know what you think.”

And it goes on from there...

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve had that conversation a thousand times!” Okay, maybe not that exact conversation, per se, but I’d venture to say that you’ve experienced something similar.

I like to call these people “associates.” They’re the ones who have to connect and associate whatever you say with something they can relate to. Sure, it might irk you when they pepper you with delusional questions and ideas, but it’s rarely malicious on their part. They just want to relate to your interests. Can you blame them?

Often times, they’re just as ignorant about your industry as you (probably) are about theirs. The best thing to do in this situation—and I know it takes herculean effort sometimes—is use their ignorance as an opportunity for education. Calmly explain your standpoint and if they continue to harass you… well, fake an illness and bolt. ;)

Don’t worry. Associates are the least of your problems.

You're at your family reunion, unfolding lawn chairs, when your great-aunt seems to materialize out of nowhere.“So, tell me. What're you doing with your life now?”

You barely stifle a flinch as you turn to face her. “I’m working on a science fiction manuscript that I’m really excited about.”

She gives you a long, appraising look as her features scrunch in obvious disdain. “So, you’re a writer?” 


Her beady eyes turn critical. “I thought you graduated college.”

Please, not again. “I did.”

“So, why can’t you find a job? Have you tried fast food places? McDonald’s is always hiring.”

You blow out a heavy sigh. “…Well, I’ve put my application in several places, but the job market isn’t exactly accommodating right now. Until the right thing comes along, I’m going to keep working on my book full-time.”

She pinches her lips together in a thin, disapproving line. “What are you going to do when that doesn’t work?”

“I’d prefer to stay positive, for the time being.” Now shoo, old woman, shoo!

“Being positive doesn’t pay the bills. What about a man? Do you have a man to support you?”

You fight the urge to slam your head against one of the tables. “No.”

“Well, how are you going to meet one if you’re holed up in your room all day, writing stories?“ She clutches her necklace and shakes her head, looking heavenward for guidance. “Are you any good at it? Has anyone even read these stories of yours?”


“I have a few critique partners.”

“Do they know anything?”

No, you specifically sought people who you felt weren’t up for the task. Ugh.

You force yourself to nod. “Yes, they’re talented, objective writers and I really value their opinions.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t get too excited. I heard they aren’t going to publish books in a few years, anyway. Too many of those electronic things.”

By this point, your face is burning and you’re choking on words that you can never let surface. “Actually, the…” You trail off. Is it really worth it? This conversation was a lost cause from the start. “Actually, uh, will you excuse me for a moment? I’m going to go help set up for lunch.”

“Sure, sure.” She waves her hand dismissively. “Good luck with the next Great American Novel.”

…Maybe that’s where you inherited the sarcasm.

Honestly, I love these types of reactions. 

The harsh words are always the perfect fuel to my fire. When I’m feeling unsure about my work, the discouragement is there to burn into motivation. Suddenly, I’m ready to tear through my manuscript like a meat-deprived lion—working and re-working it until I have something to be proud of.

I mean, there will always be naysayers and, to some of them, we’ll always be slovenly hermits with a hobby, toiling our days away. It’s a stigma. So, what can we do about it?

Well, I can’t change their reactions, but I can change mine. I smile (sometimes maniacally), taking their comments in stride because I know that someday I’ll prove them wrong. When that happens, spite won't have a hand in it, and I'll wish them nothing but the best. (Kill 'em with kindness!)

Writing might be your full time gig or just a side venture right now, but people will always have something to say about it. It's up to you, whether you take it offensively or not. Besides, let's not forget the awesome people who are actually supportive of your work. Concentrate on them. <3

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “My God. Why did it take her so long to make one, simple point?” Well, what can I say? I tend to ramble and, if it’s any comfort, I’m much worse in person. ;) Oh, and please overlook the scatterbrained writing quality of this post. I’m knee-deep in editing my manuscript watching Glee & The Voice tonight, so I'm having a hard time dividing my attention. <3 I promise to make my next post more concise!


Tiburon said...

Once I started reading this blog I didn't want to stop. It has provoked so many thoughts that I am not sure where to begin, but here it goes.

In my life I have seen so many people succumb to what the naysayers have to say and lose sight of their own goals.

What I really enjoyed about these scenarios are how stead fast and focused you are on your goal. This could have easily been a rant about how narrow minded people can be, but you didn't do that. You took these experiences and turned it into something positive. You feed off that energy and it only makes you want to work harder. That speaks volumes on your character, because not many people can look past criticism.

I hope others who read this blog take away something from it like I have.

I guess this might come across cheesy, but oh well, it's how I feel. I am amazed and proud of how you stuck with this goal and have stuck to your plan. It's like that saying in order to take a journey, one must take the first step. I believe I have already seen you take that first step where it will go, I can't wait to find out. Because I want to be there, reading.

Dave said...

Scenario B... I would probably have knocked her out. Female or not, nosey fucking bitch.

Regardless, was a good read, twin. (Y)

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, guys! I really appreciate it. <3

Radhika said...

Scenario B has actually never happened to me.
I'm guessing I'm too young to run into any of these situations.
My sister has thrown me something extremely similar to Scenario A.

The quote (or paraphrase, in my lazy case) would be "To be a writer, you have to write."
She thought she was better than me and wanted to write a novel and sell it, thinking she was better than me, thinking it was that easy.
I don't think it's possible to show her how hard it is to write a novel, unless she does it herself.

She never will though, she never will. ;)

P.S. Do you have any way to follow you? Your RSS links link to some HTML page. Could you link feedburner with those?

Also, do you mind if I put your blog on my "Writing Blogs I Love" list (after I get this article done and stop exploring the writing blogs online)?

Carrie Butler said...

Welcome, Radhika! I'm glad to hear that you haven't had any experiences like Scenario B. It's a little ego-bruising, you know? Oh, well. All for the better. :)

Ah, yes. There will always be people like that. Don't worry. Once she tries it, or even researches it, she'll gain a new appreciation for the art of writing. As for you, I think it's wonderful that you're starting so early! I wish you the best of luck and, if there's anything specific you'd like to see posts on, let me know. :)

Thanks for the heads up about the RSS links. I've added a "Feedburner" button and a "Subscribe by Email" box. Let me know if you have any problems. :D Oh, and absolutely. I'd love for you to add this to your blog list.


Sally said...

Haha I loved this! I have been through so many Bs...Except, since I'm in college for writing, the question is "So, what are you going to write?"

...Turtles, I am going to write about turtles damn it >.>

But I love your reaction: taking all those negative responses and turning them into action. If nothing else, to prove these people wrong xD

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Sally! Oh, I can definitely imagine that question coming up a lot for you. Turtles, hm? ;) Thank you!

Lisa Regan said...

I don't know why it took me so long to go back and read this post since it is the title of your blog but it's freaking awesome and I can relate to both scenarios. Also, having read your work, you are most definitely DEFINITELY going to prove the naysayers wrong. DEFINITELY.

Carrie Butler said...

Thank you! You have no idea how much I appreciate your support, Lisa! :D