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6 Things Only Writers Understand About the Writing Life

by | Aug 14, 2013

You’ve finally gotten over the hump of telling people you’re a writer — and suddenly you’re re-thinking how awesome it is to talk to people about this lifestyle. Anytime you bring it up, you’re met with predictable, annoying responses, showing the ignorance of everyone you know to the intricacies of the writing life.

Here are some of the things I’d love to shout from the rooftops to non-writers — and some advice for educating your own loved ones in a less-dramatic fashion.

1. Everyone has an idea for a novel or screenplay

As soon as you tell someone you’re a writer, they’re excited to tell you about the novel or screenplay they’ve “been working on.” Dig a little deeper, and you realize they’ve had this idea since high school. I always feel a little disrespected when someone brings up their story like we have something in common. Do they think my job is just me wistfully going about my day with big ideas?

If you find yourself cornered by someone else’s half-baked dreams, try to steer the conversation toward the reality of your career and lifestyle to help them understand that you’re more than fantastical ideas. Explain what your day really looks like, and the deadlines and commitments that drive your work toward the finish line.

2. I’m a professional writer, not a hobbyist

It drives me crazy when someone replies to my declaration of my profession with, “Oh, yeah, I love writing, too.” Writing is writing. But writing for fun in your free time is not writing for a living, and it’s offensive that they don’t see what I do differently.

Tactfully pointing this out in polite conversation isn’t easy; it can pretty quickly paint you as condescending. But you can slide the distinction in there while still accepting their perceived common ground. Try saying something like, “I’ve always loved it, too. It was a lot of work to make the jump to freelancing, where it feels a lot more like a job than fun sometimes.”

3. Blogging is real writing and a real job

When you say, honestly, that you make your living blogging, they make that face. Maybe it’s just for a second, but it’s unmistakable: They’ve pinned you for a fraud, not a real writer. Or, worse, they say it out loud, “Oh! I didn’t know you could be paid for THAT.”

Thankfully, this misconception is fairly simple to clear up. Just provide a description of the work you do — the types of companies you blog for, the kind of knowledge you have to possess, etc. — and you can effectively re-frame blogging as a legitimate career option in their once-ignorant minds.

4. My work is worth paying for, just like yours

Obviously, the old, “Would you ask a doctor to work for free?” argument isn’t getting through to some of your friends, because they’re constantly asking you to “take a look” at something they’ve written, offer feedback, edit, toss around ideas. It’s uncomfortable. They think your professional-level consultation is just a conversation between friends.

When a friend approaches you with a writing-related request, say, “Sure, I’d love to help you out — no charge this time!” Mentioning money casually reminds them you’re a professional, and helps you avoid the slippery slope that turns innocent conversations into dozens of unbilled work hours.

5. I’m working right now — so, no, I can’t do the laundry, chat, or run errands

You’re in the middle of a quiet, productive writing sesh, and your spouse/roommate/neighbor/etc. appears in the doorway and just starts chatting. Or, worse, they hit you with a honey-do list as they whisk off to the office, out the door before your cry of, “But I’m working!” can even leave your mouth.

Image: Take your writing seriously.

Even if writing isn’t a money-maker for you, you deserve the freedom to take it seriously. (Click to tweet this idea!) When the people in your life don’t value your writing time, you have to take control of it. Claim your space — whether you get a whole office, or a corner of the living room — and explain to everyone that when you’re there, you’re working. Stick to it, and don’t be afraid to ask someone to leave you alone.

6. I’m not responsible for my significant other’s writing needs — unless he hires me to help him

This seems to be a gendered issue, but maybe only because I’m female. If you’re a wife and the writer in a relationship, people will assume you take care of the writing needs of your husband’s “real” job. What’s that about?

If someone hits you with that question — “So, do you edit all his memos?” *condescending wink*  — kindly explain that he has colleagues and employees responsible for such things. You’re too busy with your own work — and your husband probably couldn’t afford your services. *payback wink*

How do you respond to misconceptions about your life as a writer?