Thoughts On Being a Professional Writer
“I’m just a writer.”
I’ve said that many times in answer to the question, “What do you do?” It’s usually right after I meet someone new — like at my kids’ sports or school events, or sometimes when I’m traveling. I always feel awkward; I always brace for the follow up questions, and the defensiveness I’ll feel.
Years of practice have taught me to say, “I’m just a writer.” I never, ever answer, “I’m an author.” Nor do I say “I write books.” Without fail, I always include the word ‘just’. I’m just a writer.
While I’m not entirely sure why I do it (probably some insecurity and angst are mixed in the cocktail), I’ve given some thought to the obvious reasons…
For one, I write under a pen name, which I do not share it outside of a very, very tight circle. Usually, I find that if I say I’m just a writer, it doesn’t sound very interesting. If I don’t offer credentials in the form of book titles or accolades, most people just assume I haven’t written anything publishable. So people feel bad, and they don’t dig. It’s not great for self-promotion, but it works to stop questions.
Also, I write romance novels, and while I technically write in the category of “sweet romance” (and wouldn’t at all be ashamed if I wrote erotica – I just genuinely suck at it), I still don’t really want to explain the nuances of genre. When I have in the past, I’d get plenty of “Fifty Shades” questions, the strange looks from moms (and sometimes dads) at school drop off. The jokes, innuendos, the commentary… it’s a bit of a minefield that I’d prefer not to navigate with strangers, and definitely not in front of children.
But, probably most importantly, I think I say that I’m just a writer because I still have some left-over voice in my head that simply cannot imagine that it’s what I get to do for real. My brain will not believe that “writer” and “author” are actual jobs. Vocations. Complete answers.
In my experience, most people assume that writing is a hobby. In fact, many people think it’s an EASY hobby. I probably have been guilty of that myself in the past. You know, before I actually jumped in and did it.
It’s very seldom, if I finally do say that I write books, that the response isn’t something like, “I’ve thought about writing one,” followed by a pseudo pitch. And, because the impulse is there in so many people, they assume they actually could do it. Like, it would just happen… if they had time, if they weren’t so busy living in the “real world”. Frankly, they’d do it if they had the kind of leisurely, easy life that they imagine I lead.
Maybe they could.
But, I’ve found that writing is a lot harder than it seems, and publishing is even trickier. Certainly, writing isn’t leisurely. It doesn’t pay well, and it requires tremendous discipline, a very unique kind of bravery, and a helluva lot of painstaking labor. As a hobby, that’s a pretty terrible sales pitch.
What do I know, though – I’m just a writer.
In love and laughter,