Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Fricassee

"I didn't know you were an author!"

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.

Just write.


  1. The funny thing, it seems we all dread that question, because we all dread those sorts of follow ups. But the more I answer it, the more I admit to people that, yes, I am writing, I've completed two novels and have an agent who is shopping my manuscript around, the more I find most people seem satisfied with that. I don't get a lot of prying questions about money and why I'm not published (I'll usually get asked, "have you thought about self-publishing?"); I get a lot of "That's really cool!" and then we move on. And that's okay with me.

  2. "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)."

    Hey, now. If being a professional writer means no more private hissy fits, then I'm not sure I want to be professional anymore.

  3. JeffO -- Sounds like you're in a REALLY good place!

    Adam -- Hey, now. My implication is that the private hissy fits are PART of being a professional writer. That's why the "private" has been added. :)

    And hey, now. YOU'VE SEEN SOME OF MY PRIVATE HISSY FITS. And I'm absolutely certain you find me quite professional. BATHED in professional, even.

    Oops. I just lost my ability to keep my face straight...


  4. This is an excellent post, and so true to what writers face when 'coming out' to friends and family! Frequently the first thing someone asks me when they learn I'm a writer is, "Are you published?" Yes, becoming published is a great goal to set, but there is so much learning to be done between first writing a story and becoming published.
    ~Sarah Faulkner


  5. I so identify with this scenario. I’m still pretty far from even being at the query stage, and I’ve just accepted that most people think of my writing as a hobby, and let it go at that. I still dread the question, and sometimes, when I’m not up to the whole explanation I just talk about the ‘day job’.

  6. This is such a good post! I've tried to explain this to so many people, but until my father became a writer too, I didn't have anyone who GOT it.

    These days, I'm enjoying answering The Dreaded Question with, "I have two agents looking through my manuscript," and let them sit there scratching their heads, since nobody outside of authors knows what an agent is.

    It makes me sound far more important than I am!

  7. I'm mostly self-published, with one novelette series through a small press (one FAQ: "What's a novelette?"). But in my case, it's all speculative fiction (and, for that matter, fiction), so one issue I have is if someone asks me what I write and I already know they think everything other than non-fiction is a waste of time.

    That, and I tend to write dark/creepy themes, even when I'm trying not to—things that not a few people don't want to think about or don't even want to admit exist.

    I must admit, though, that it can be amusing. I remember one woman who asked me what my current WiP was about, and the time, it was "a 13-year-old presbyterian girl who's a werewolf". Her expression and prompt finding of someone else to talk to was HILARIOUS. ^_^

  8. Love this! Especially the Muggle part - I will now have a private giggle whenever one of the Muggles asks one of 'those' questions! :)

  9. I get asked this a lot and I tend to be mum about it because I hate explaining. Usually the question I get asked is, "why haven't you self-published? So and so did." A non-writer truly doesn't understand everything that goes into it and why we do it. (And love the comparison to Muggles! So true.) my husband even made a comment once about the time I put in compared to the money I may hopefully one day make doesn't make writing "worth it." He didn't get that I don't do it for the money.
    Great post!

  10. Like others, I get the "have you thought of self-publishing?" question. And also like others, I have had to disabuse the Muggles about the role of agents. Most of them thought that, once I got an agent, said agent would publish my novel. If only!!!

    Anyway, this is a great post for we writing hordes--so thank you!

  11. One of the directors at my job always asks how book sales are...duh, I'm still here!

  12. I was at a dog obedience class the other week and when the instructor asked what I did, I told her, "I write children's books."

    Her response was, "Oh, I could do that."

    I felt like I'd been struck. People have no concept of how many hours, days, months and years it has taken to have a book published. Even picture books, while short on word count, are exceedingly hard to get just right.

    Sometimes people say,"Oh, just a picture book," when I tell them about my first published work. It isn't JUST a picture book. It went through a year before anyone would even look at it.

    I'm venting a bit but writers all work hard, even if we are the only ones who see it.

  13. Thank you so much for your timing with this post, Authoress. I also love the Muggle comment and think you should come up with a title for these folk.

    Just yesterday I voiced my doubts as to whether I am still a writer or if it were a passing whim. I've been raising my young granddaughter for the last two years (something I never planned or wanted but something I would never take back even if I could) but it has made my writing time non-existent. One more month and she'll start school and I promised myself I'd get back to my other love.

  14. Fantastic post.

    After many years, I can now answer that Muggle question with certainty: Yes, I am a writer and my book comes out next year.


    then they ask you every other day, "How's the book stuff going?"

    Uh, I just told you last week it won't be out until next year. "But why so long, they ask. My neighbor's daughter's friend wrote a book and it was on Amazon in a week...


  15. Such a wonderful post! I love your muggle analogy.

  16. Now you've inspired me to write a story with ballet in it!

    One of my favorite conversations about writing was with a friend's 9- and 12-year-old daughterst. I carry a permanent image of the horrified expression when the older girl, a young writer, asked, , "You've written six books? And you're not published yet?"

  17. Wonderful post. I so get it. Muggles Unite!

  18. Once again you've hit the nail on the head and done a wonderful job of relating what so many of us experience! :) I also love the Muggle analogy -- I think being a writer is a lot like being able to work a kind of magic that most people don't understand.

    A friend whom I once talked to about writing made a passing remark (perhaps a year after the conversation, though I can't recall exactly) to the effect of, 'So where are all these books you've written?' (She also said it in a rather disparaging tone!) :(

  19. I can really relate to that feeling you get, the inevitable, "Where can I buy your book?"
    "You can't. Not yet." or "It's still on my computer." The best way I can explain it, especially when asked why I don't self-publish, is to remind them of the scene from Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts tells Richard Gere about the white knight who comes charging in on the white horse. She tells him that's what she wants, and so I tell them a traditional publisher is the white knight for me. I'm holding out for the white knight. I've been a lurker on this blog for many months, leeching encouragement. Hopefully the "white knight" metaphor will help someone else explain themselves . . . thanks for your posts.

  20. I was told yesterday, during my yearly evaluation, that my district manager thought that, when it came down to it, I would identify myself as a writer more than a manager.

    As if that were a bad thing.

    I love my job, I do. But my passion is writing. Otherwise I wouldn't leave my full-time job and work another eight hours on my writing. Even after I'm published, I doubt I'll leave my job, I'm too much of a social butterfly.

    It just shocks me that a passion can be seen as a negative.

  21. I don't tell anyone. It's my little secret, and I don't know why.

  22. I love this so much. I think as writers we don't give ourselves enough time to learn the craft before putting the pressure on ourselves to have something out there. But yes, the learning curve is steep. I'm lucky to have supportive and understanding family. (Also, I'm an English professor in my day job, so when I say I write, people tend to cut me some slack, whether earned or not . . . ).

  23. I couldn't love the post more. So true, we work at something we know might not ever be seen by anyone other than the critique group or the ones who reject it, but we keep at it anyway.

  24. Thanks for the post. I couldn't agree more. Most of my friends, especially other physicians, can't get why I'd tie myself to a laptop after work. And if I say it's because I love writing fiction, they want to know why it's taking so long to get published. I quit explaining a long time ago and now go with the standard answer, that I have no time to revise. That's something they all get :) In the meantime, every book is one step closer. From my standpoint, if you created a story you love and are courageous enough to send it out, that makes you successful. A step at a time.

  25. Lovely post. If it helps I have discovered a bunch who understand. Anyone who's ever invented something, had to look for a venture capitalist or other funding, and brought it to market; they understand exactly because they're doing the same thing as us. So we're not alone. If that makes sense to anyone. ;-) My OH works with a lot of inventors and I'm amazed and touched at the support and encouragement I get from both them and his colleagues. It probably says more about my husband than me, but yeh... it's good. So if you're all out of writers, find an inventor. They understand, too.



  26. Loved this post and it came at the perfect time, as I was just that day going through some yearning/hope-caused anxiety. The continual dance on the path. It was nice to get anxious at the writer's conference, then come home to my routines and my kids and settle into normalcy again. Now i can get back to work on the fixes that were suggested. I'm glad MOST of the path is calm and fun. But those valleys sure are deep sometimes.