Those were my ballet teacher's words before class started on Monday night. We'd recently connected on LinkedIn, so it was a moment of my-student-has-a-life-outside-of-class.
And my response was, "Yes."
You might be cringing in anticipation of what might come next--the inevitable, "So, what books have you written?" Which really means, of course, "Which books are in book stores that are actually for sale that you've written?"
But she didn't ask. She just exclaimed how "neat" it was, commented on how it was hard to tell who I was on the photo (because, yeah, I'm not wearing my dance duds and my hair's not up and I'm not sweating).
I could have hugged her.
Because when you're a not-yet-published author, that's the question you dread.
Sure, I could say, "Well, I self-pubbed a non-fiction book about a decade ago."
I could also say, "I've got a short story published in X Anthology."
But I can't say what I really want to say, which is, "I'm the author of *enter novel title here*
I didn't have to worry about it, though. She didn't ask. I didn't have to explain.
Because, to the Non-writing (which is like our own brand of Muggle), the whole journey is completely alien. They really don't know what it means to be querying agents or to have an agent or to be on submission or whatever the heck it is you're trying to tell them.
There's no universal translator. If we try to explain, we get blank stares. And sometimes polite nods.
Not that we owe anyone an explanation--especially if they're only trying to make us justify why we're working so hard (and so long) on something that doesn't bring in a single dollar. People tend to measure us by what we do, by what we are "worth". So if I say, "I've been writing seriously for 10 years," of course the initial reaction, whether expressed or not, is going to be, "Good grief! Have you made any money?"
And if the answer is "no", the next response will be, "Why the heck are you spending time on that instead of making money?"
So it goes.
Sometimes the hard-working writer is relegated to "hobbyist" by those who don't understand. Honey, if writing were my hobby, I wouldn't spend the ridiculous amount of time on it that I do. Hobbies are for your FREE TIME. Hobbies are for relaxing and doing something fun without any monetary value attached.
Ballet is my hobby. It makes my heart sing. (Just ask Mr. A how I glow when I arrive home from ballet class. He sees how life-giving it is for me.) I'm not trying to be a professional ballerina; I don't intend to ever make money dancing; I have no aspiration of performing on stage (with the possible exception of being in the party scene of Nutcracker--but you don't have to be an especially good dancer to do that).
Writing? Different story. I do aspire to be a professional writer, and therefore conduct myself that way at all times (except when I'm having a private hissy fit). I do intend to make money, and I do aspire to "perform" -- a.k.a. "be on bookshelves for the masses to read".
And that's what's so hard for the Non-writing to understand. To them, the work of the unpublished author seems like a hobby. No money is coming in. And for those who work full-time (or even part-time) while also writing novels, the writing stands in stark contrast to that work, which does bring in money. So, yeah, it makes the writing look like a hobby.
It sure as heck doesn't feel like one, though. Even after all these years. Even after so many frustrations and near-misses and not-so-near-misses and long, black stretches of silence and exhausting revisions and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO SHOW FOR ANY OF IT.
Even then. Because writing is NOT my hobby. Writing is my lifeblood. It is the mark I intend to make upon the world. It is my means of inspiring others, of drawing them into my worlds and touching them in deep places. Of making them laugh. Of making them sigh. Of making them think hard about the real world, and how each of us can make a mark upon it.
That is not a hobby.
There's a steep learning curve, too, which makes it challenging to explain the early years. You really are in the "learning phase" when you first start out, and the stuff you come up with is certainly not publishable. It's especially important to press though those times, working as hard as you can to better your craft. Because you won't be a neophyte forever, and your writing will mature, so long as you continue to work and to grow.
And you don't have to explain that to anyone. All you have to say is, "I'm a writer."
So there. Keep writing. Don't apologize for it. Don't try to explain yourself.