I’ve been writing for a long time—or at least what feels like a long time, to me—but I’ve only been at this author thing for like two-years now. I’ve been working as a full-time writer, someone who actually makes their living telling absurd stories, for almost a year. Which is incredible. My imaginary friends help pay my mortgage. When I put on my bathrobe on in the morning, my daughter, Lucy, knows it’s time for daddy to go to work. In the basement. Awesome doesn’t even begin to cover it.
With that said, I have a serious problem telling people I’m an author. It came up again this week when I talked to a friend who asked me what I was up to. When I told him I was still writing, his responses? “Seriously. You’re still doing that?” It’s mostly for that reason that very few people (in real life, anyway) know my dark secret.
My immediate family knows what I do and so do a few close friends, but most of the people in my life are left scratching their heads in curiosity over how I manage to pay my bills and provide for my family. I can only assume they think I’m either (A) selling drugs out the back of my mini-van or (B) I’m the secret Nigerian prince from all those awful email scams. Not good either way you look at it.
When they do ask—which is more often than I’d like—I get cagey. Freelance writing, I say. Or, we have some savings (which is true, but which also reinforces the Nigerian scammer theory). I hate telling people what I do for a living, which is weird since I love my job. What can I say, I’m deeply broken.
I guess it really comes down to a couple of issues.
First, if I tell people I write books, then they will insist on reading them, which is awful. Wait, that didn’t come out right. I do want people to read my books, obviously, but mostly I want strangers to read my books. If a stranger reads my book and hates it, it’s no big deal because there’s no previous emotional investment in the relationship. But if a buddy of mine reads my book and hates it, well that sucks—especially if they’re well-intentioned and insist on telling why your books sucks, often in excruciating detail.
That’s the worst thing on the planet. Oh, wait, no it’s not. The worst thing is when they tell you how much it sucks, then go over all the bad reviews your book has on Amazon, before finally proceeding to tell you point by point how they would write your book so that it wouldn’t suck. Yep. That’s the worst. At least when strangers do that kind of thing I can just delete their emails. I can’t, however, delete friendships.
Second, and almost as bad, are all the other terrible things folks unwittingly say when they find out you write professionally. For example, “I would totally write a book if I had the time,” says one smug coffee drinking friend at Starbucks. Now this doesn’t seem so terrible at first, but it does imply a couple of things:
One, I have a colossal amount of free time to kill, which is the only reason I can write books. And, two, the only skill required to write an awesome book is the time to do it. Except that’s not quite right, ’cause writing a book is much more difficult than it appears. Commitment. Passion. Craft. And that’s not counting the business side of things.
Or, they might say something along the lines of: “Hey I have a great book idea—there has literally, in the history of books, never been anything like it—so why don’t you write it and then we can share the profits 50/50?”
Again, this might not seem so bad, but being a generally non-confrontational person, I hate having to tell my friend, “sorry dude, but your idea is not as cool as you think, and even if it’s the absolute bees-knees, I have my own ideas. So hell no, not ever, but thanks.”
And lastly, when you tell people you write for a living, they often respond with one question, just like my well-meaning friend from a week ago: “Seriously?!?!?” Which is generally followed by another question, “so when do you think you’re going to get a real job.” Because yeah, writing is a fake job.
Given, I do work in my bathrobe, and set my own hours, but I work my ass off to turn out books. It’s not like I sit around all day twiddling my thumbs, while the books write themselves. Though man would that be awesome.
Aside from the obvious issues with this statement, however, it’s terrible because I often find myself thinking the same thing. I always feel like I’m tottering on the edge of a cliff—book sales are unpredictable things at best, and any given month might be the month folks finally decide my books aren’t worth buying. And when that happens … well, then what? I keep writing, sure, because it’s what I love doing, but what does that look like? Do I get a “real” job … Do I go back to being a professional dinosaur wrangler? I just don’t know.
Some part of me secretly thinks this is all just an awesome dream and if I shout about it too loudly, I’ll wake up and be forced back into the real world. The real world where I don’t prepare for work by putting on fuzzy-pants and a bathrobe. The real world, where I actually have to wave good-bye to my family when I leave for work.
I hope I never wake up. And someday I also hope to have the confidence to leave my basement and proclaim loudly to the world: “I am an author and I don’t care who knows it,” bathrobe fluttering behind me like a superhero cape.
I’m not there yet, but maybe one day.
What about you? If you are a writer, do you tell your friends and family—and, if yes, what are some of the typical responses you get?