You’re at some kid’s birthday party, hanging around the punch, trying to listen to the woman you know only as “Joey’s mom” talk about Joey’s great accomplishments in his short life. Seems the little chap has recently learned how to tie his shoes. Well, good for him, you think, and raise the pitiful excuse for a “cup” to your mouth to take a sip.
It tastes like melted cotton candy. Like if an alien wanted to try to replicate the succulence of fruit, but really only got the sugar part down and forgot to add all the tartness and ripeness to it.
“And what’s going on with you?” Joey’s mom asks, noting your displeased expression.
“Oh…” Your heart immediately drums harder in your ribcage, like it knows that you’re about to start an awkward conversation. “I’m done with the first draft of my novel. I’m really excited about where it’s going, how it’s taking shape, and–”
“Oh, you’re a writer?” Joey’s mom’s eyes light up, growing to the size of the Oreos she has arranged on a foam plate, which teeters precariously in one palm. You suspect the drink that’s in the other hand is not the same kind of punch you’re drinking, judging by the way the little cookies are now briskly sliding toward the crumb- and punch-covered floor.
“Yes,” you say as you cringe involuntarily. You await her answer.
Which one will it be?*
1. “I wish I could write. It’d be such an easy job.”
Writing isn’t really all that easy. You, as a writer, know it isn’t.
Hearing someone say they wish they could write, followed immediately by “because it’s so easy” makes you wonder why the hell they haven’t started already. If it’s something Joey’s mom wants to do so badly, but she can’t make the time to just bang her fingers against a keyboard while drinking her punch without abandon because it’s just so easy, then you can’t help but think that maybe it’s not that easy after all.
2. “You must live such a glamorous life!”
Yeah, sure you do. You’re a regular creative genius, just like Don Draper. (Or “Dan Dapper”, as my mom calls him…) Except you’re more private, of course. You drink your scotch and smoke cigs, while the cool breeze of the English countryside ruffles your hair and massages your brain as you contemplate your next big scene.
Unless you’re one of those rich writers who has happened to stumble upon my lowly blog, you’re probably in the same boat as me: Writing is a lot of work for not a lot of pay, particularly when you start off. No amount of overindulgent scenes can make you become your character.
And writing sure as hell isn’t glamorous. You might write those overly-dramatic and/or glamorous scenes, but your reality is more akin to writing unwashed in front of your laptop while binge-watching Breaking Bad than summoning unending drunken creative genius in a quaint little cottage in the sticks.
Speaking of cottages…
3. “It must be nice to work wherever you want.”
Um, yeah, no.
First, let me say this: Yes, ideally, writing could allow you to travel, if you make enough money from it to do so. It allows you to work remotely, if you write full time from home. This much is true.
But too many people take you “work from home” to mean that you basically sit around in your pajamas all day, and therefore do not actually “work”.
“Well, you can work anywhere!” they might say.
“Why don’t you just bring your laptop on this weekend trip and make up work between brunches and watching old family videos with grandma and the in-laws?” they might gently suggest.
“Oh, hon, can you just do this one thing really quick since you’re at home anyway?” your partner will probably implore.
Writers need privacy and space to do their work. They need to be left alone, and they need to be able to work in an area that’s comfortable. People seem to think that because you can grab your laptop and start typing that you can get the bulk of your day’s work done around everyone else’s schedule. That isn’t the case. Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s a concentration-heavy discipline. Respect writers and let them do their thang without interruption.
4. “All that matters is if you can use big words or understand complex sentences.”
Okay, so Joey’s mom likely wouldn’t say that verbatim. It’d probably come out more like “Who do you write for?” And if you say anything like “women” or “young adults”, they’ll think you can’t write worth a damn anyway. Or perhaps the question would come out as “Which genre?” And if you respond with “romance” or “children’s books” they’re going to think your writing is simplistic.
There are people out there who think that REAL writing means every word is made of liquid gold, every syllable a sumptuous morsel that rolls and stretches and lingers on the tongue. So beautiful, much poetry, very prose.
There are people who think the bigger and more obscure words you use, the better.
Now, I’m not saying to “write down” for your audience, nor am I suggesting that you limit yourself creatively because you might “confuse” people. What I am saying is that being able to use big words and being able to formulate poetic sentences isn’t enough to be a writer. You have to understand a hell of a lot more about the craft before you become good at it. I mean, you wouldn’t tell a professional dancer that you could dance professionally alongside her because you can move your hands and feet around in the air, would you?
No. Being able to move around and twirl isn’t enough to be a dancer. You have to understand the control of the breath and body, the sequence of movements, and how to use space on the stage to really give a beautiful performance.
Writing’s the same. You have to understand story structure, character development, genre, pacing, and a whole lot of other things besides “cool words” or “poetic prose” before you can write well.
5. “Ugh, I should just write the next 50 Shades of Grey. If dreck like that can get published, I can, too.”
Really? Then why don’t you just go do it already? I mean, since obviously you know the secrets of the publishing industry (or self-publishing scene).
I have been guilty of thinking about stuff in this manner myself.
But THAT sold millions of copies. Surely my stuff could sell a few thousand! It’s not fair otherwise!
Yeah, I am working on selling copies of my books. But if I had expected to be a bestseller overnight simply by virtue of “my books are of better quality than Fifty Shades of Grey“, I’d be deluding myself. Sometimes crappy books sell well, and sometimes really good books bomb. It’s not fair. Deal with it.
6. “A book that’s easy to read means the author isn’t talented.”
Joey’s mom just said something a lot of people seem to think is true: That if you can read a book easily, that means it’s not very good.
Actually, when a book is easy to read, it’s usually well written. When your mind takes in the words and processes them as if it’s there in the scene and living the characters’ experiences, that’s a good thing. When you have to really work to understand something, you get pulled out of the story.
Now, if you want to slog through something like War and Peace, go right ahead. There are multiple levels of enjoyment when it comes to reading–reading for fun, for learning, for critique, etc. I’m not saying that you should never stretch your mind or try to read challenging pieces because you have to “work” at it. It’s just that for contemporary genre fiction, readers aren’t looking for that experience. There are so many novels out there for readers today, and people are busy. If your work strains them too much, they’ll pass it up for another, even if it’s well done.
So, Joey’s mom, that’s not true. Books written to slip through a reader’s mind like a snake dipped in motor oil (I’m sorry, that was horrible) tend to sell well. And they’re good books, too!
7. “If I wrote, I wouldn’t bother with editing. Raw is better; editing stifles creativity.”
Okay, there is such a thing as stream-of-consciousness writing. There is experimental, weird stuff like flarf poetry that you can do if you really want to.
But, with those outliers excluded, you are left with the vast majority of authors who are writing genre pieces, all of whom are actively trying to break into the market. So if you want the best shot at getting published, you will need an editor.
If you get an editor, you will not stifle your creativity. You will not be “giving in” to someone else’s demands. You are not selling your soul to the corporate overlords who will eat your words and spit out vapid YA tripe that you will be too ashamed to put your name on.
Noooope. What you’re doing is giving yourself a shot at making a living. At being taken seriously. At learning what your weaknesses are and how to improve your writing so that you can grow as an author and as an artist.
If you want to know more of my thoughts on editing, then read the “Share-a-mony”. I do not think that editing is something anyone can forego. Not the best of writers; not even the most prolific of writers.
8. “I’ve heard you should only write what you know.”
I get where people are coming from when they say this. They’re saying that, for many authors, in order to get the creative juices flowing and the mind excited about the task of writing, you should write about things you know and understand. This of course also lends credibility to your work–you’re not totally making things up as you go along (except you kinda are, because that’s what writers do).
This can also be great advice for first-time writers who have no idea where to start. It is an easy jumping-off point.
But that isn’t necessarily true for all writers. How else could you come up with fantasy and sci-fi? Sure, you can base it on something that you know, but you need to stretch your mind to grow as a writer. You can take experiences in your life and stretch the truth–come up with new, fantastic things and really learn a thing or two about writing fiction.
You can also branch out into different genres. But you have to take the time to become familiar with them.
So yeah. While there’s a grain of truth to that, I still think that it boxes too many people in. I say get out there and learn some new things!
9. “You have to write when creativity strikes!”
Yeah, of course you do. But you’re also a person with a real life. You don’t get smacked alongside of the head by your muse at convenient moments. You’re not a quirky character on a TV show who dreams of becoming a writer in the big city, and suddenly she is struck with inspiration because, I don’t know, deus ex machina, and then she lands the big job! Woo hoo!
No, you’re a person who has a deadline. Your creativity is the driving force behind this career choice, but you write because you have to write. You’re not writing while cherubs play harps as they ~*inspire*~ you.
Now, I know I tweet motivating and “inspiring” things regularly. I do think that these quotes and pictures and such can be helpful. They can sometimes be the kick in the ass that you need to get going again–I know they’ve worked for me before. But you can’t rely on pure ol’ inspiration to kick in on a daily basis. Writing is work.
10. “So what’s your vice?”
I’ve actually gotten this a few times. It’s like people don’t want to accept that you do something other than type numbers into a spreadsheet, so they assume you’re crazy or addicted to drugs or living off someone else’s money.
It’s not a common thing (in my experience), but it has happened.
Yeah, a lot of creatives suffer from mental illness or addiction. But 1) that’s a rude question to ask ANYONE, and 2) no, you don’t have to be medicating yourself to be creative. Creativity can flow in a number of ways. And if you are an author or artist who is mentally ill, everyone will judge you based on that. You can’t win with this one. Just walk away.
11. “You’ll never go anywhere with that. There’s too much competition.”
There’s competition when you graduate with a college degree. There’s competition in the freelance market. There’s competition when you are a stay-at-home parent being judged by other parents.
There’s competition no matter what you do. If you try to weasel your way into some job you don’t want, simply because TODAY there might not be a lot of competition (who knows about five, ten years down the road), then you’re not going to be happy.
Lots of writers flounder. Lots of them give up, or have dreams too big and get frustrated when they don’t fulfill them immediately.
But many make a living just by writing–and they’re probably authors you haven’t even heard of. You don’t have to be the #1-selling author in the world to make a living. You have to be moderately successful. The best part, though, is that you get to love your job.
12. “But what’s your real job?”
Um, this is my real job.
I write or work on writing-related things for about 15 hours every day. This is my job. This is how I pay my bills.
For some reason, there’s a misconception that, if you’re a writer, you must really be “something else” during the day or whatever, and a writer on the side. Because you couldn’t possibly be supporting yourself by writing. Nope.
You’re right. The only jobs that are stable are office jobs that offer minimal benefits and maximum headaches and backaches alongside a dwindling sense of empathy for the human race.
Just kidding, go away. I have nothing else to say on this one.
13. “I’ve never heard of you, though.”
So YOU have to have heard of ME for ME to be a real writer?
There seems to be a misconception that if you write, you must be really famous–or else you’re just a wannabe. I’m not sure why. I hadn’t heard of half the authors my friends had been reading the last time we spoke. We all have different tastes and find our books in different places.
Yes, I get that there’s obviously credibility in being a widely-read author. But you have to start somewhere, and when you’re just starting… yeah, of course no one’s heard of you. Doesn’t mean that you can’t change that in the future, though, right? 😉
14. “If you self-publish, you’re not a real writer.”
Oh that shitty, enraging argument: All self-published books are awful, and the authors who wrote them clearly were completely ignored by traditional publishers. Because of that, when the poor souls couldn’t get anyone to buy their crap smeared on paper, they went to the internet and forced horrible things upon unsuspecting readers everywhere.
Listen. I know there’s a lot of poorly-written self-published stuff. I know that there are so many authors trying to break into the market that they just immediately head to self-publishing to avoid the trouble with manuscript submission. I get it.
But I think it’s disingenuous to automatically shove all self-published work into a “don’t bother”category. There is always talent to be found out there. People with real skills are writing–thousands of them–and they are playing around with the option of self publishing because it’s available to them. That’s it. I did it because I wanted to avoid submitting to a bunch of places, but I also did it because I just wanted to put my work out there and see what would happen. Does that mean that I have no talent? Does that mean that I’ve given up on being a “real” writer? No. I’m just using tools that are available, and I’m exploring what’s right for me.
Who cares how you approach it? It’s a learning experience, and times are changing. We get the choice to play around with this now. It doesn’t make your work “fake”.
So, Joey’s mom, thanks for the punch. It was lovely.
Now excuse me while I go write down this brilliant idea for a character I just thought of–a mom who just can’t seem to mind her own business, let alone balance a tray of Oreos.
*Takes a cookie for the road.*