6 Things Only Writers Understand About the Writing Life

6 Things Only Writers Understand About the Writing Life

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?

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  • Chizoba Adimba says:

    I find writelife very encouraging, thank for sharing, keep writing and keep sharing!

  • Ivy says:

    I’m trying to steer my career path toward writing, and even before doing that, this article speaks volumes to me. I have many of these same issues, even before reaching a professional level.

    I’m an incoming senior to high school, and I plan on attending Full Sail University for a Masters in Creative Writing for Transmedia Entertainment. I take my writing very seriously; I have a writing quota I push myself to meet every week. And if I don’t meet it, I sit down the following week and I push myself past my quota to make up for it.

    Sure, I have ideas and stories I’d like to write. In fact, I am working on a pair of novels right now. However, I realize that’s not all there will be to this career track and not many other people do. My family thus far has been supportive, but I do get that worried glance and subtle shift that tells me when someone is waiting for me to discover a “real” career path and go to a “real” college.

    This is what I do, and it’s comforting to find a blog that expresses these feelings more eloquently than I could.

  • Janet O'Kane says:

    Excellent post! The attitude I find hardest to cope with is my Dad’s: he refuses to acknowledge at all that I write for a living. When I recently achieved my ambition of an Open University degree he asked what job it will help me get. ‘She has a job, she’s a writer!’ my lovely Mum pointed out.

  • Jason says:

    Number 5. Number5number5number5. I am not sitting here, shirking all efforts to do something “constructive”, I’m actually working on something that requires my concentration and harblgrablhrhrhrhrghghgh.

    Despite pulling in approximately the same amount of money I did working my 9-5, I still get the “what a lazy bum” look from my wife’s family. All because I don’t drive to some location, sit at someone else’s desk, and drive back at the end of the day. I’m considering moving the car during the day to give the illusion of me not being there, but then I realized, well… fuck that and fuck them.

  • NOAEfame says:

    This so true. My husband recently thought I should be writing for him instead of wasting my time blogging. The church people think that I am a better tool to lead people to Christ than wasting my time writing. Well the good news is that I know what I want. I have my plans and proud that I know how I can make it work. It is so lonely no body else understand that. Thanks for your post.

    • Michelle Joseph says:

      You are so right. I am a Christian Writer and my family and friends just do not understand me. I told them that I am called for this and they say yeah right. I have learned to push pass them and trust God. I am so looking forward to the day my book is published, unfortunatly that is when they will believe that I have been blessed to be a blessing. Keep your head up all of you, one day your friends and family will be believers of you and your works.

      • Noaefame says:

        I am glad you know that to surround your self with all your christian brothers and sister may not be a good fit. Recently I have been dealing with them on my Facebook.I cannot say anything right. How do i continue to live in that atmosphere.

    • Claudia Dahinden says:

      It must be hard if no one understands your calling, and I hope for you that your people soon will see that you can show people God’s love through writing as well – no matter if you’re writing a “missionary” kind of book or not. I’m a writer and believer too, and I’m convinced that my view of the world and my relationship with Christ will show in my writing and draw people to Him. Keep your good work going :-)!

  • benzeknees says:

    A fellow blogger who recently published a book asked me to write a review for his new book. When I said I would be happy to do it if he provided me with a free copy of the book, he seemed offended. He expected me to buy his book & then write a review for him without any compensation. His book was priced very low at the time, but to me it was the principal. I do reviews for free copies of books (in an effort to get my name out there as a credible writer) & I was not going to make an exception for him just because we’ve developed a “friendship.”

    • Dana Sitar says:

      That’s an uncomfortable situation :/ Anytime someone reaches out to specifically request a review from me at my blog, they always offer a free copy. Otherwise, it’s just advertising his book to you.

  • Yes. I loved “Oh, yeah? I love writing, too.” That’s why I don’t tell people I’m a writer. 🙂

  • Number 5 has always been my biggest pet peeve.

    Ever since I started working for myself full time, my retired mother has called me twice a day. No matter how many times I ignore the calls or pick up the phone and say, “I can’t talk now,” she keeps doing it. Please note: she’s retired, not elderly or sick. The woman just wants to shoot the breeze twice a day.

    And please don’t get me started on my DH. Who I love. Dearly. But he’s forever asking me to run his errands during the day. “Well, you’re home and can do it!” Sigh. But I’m working!

    My friends are probably the worst. “You’re so lucky! You don’t have to work!”

    • Dana Sitar says:

      Aw, Prudence, that sounds rough! *Really* common, though. I understand how lucky I am to have people around me who have come to understand the importance of work-at-home time. But for many writers — especially those who write on the side of a full-time/day job — don’t have that luxury.

      The situation with your mother sounds like it may be a lost cause… short of turning your phone off while you work. (We all have those people…) With the DH or other honey-do type requests, you may just have to set boundaries more clearly. Or, what I’ve found works with people who just don’t understand is to turn it around on them or draw parallels with a 9-5 workday they’re used to — ask him to run an errand on his lunch break, or during his work day. Or, simply set a schedule for your work — as he has one for his — and when he asks for an errand, explain, “I’m happy to do it at 5pm, when I’m done with work for the day.” Most important, probably, is not to give in; stick to the schedule you set, so he understands how important it is to you. That’s the toughest part!

  • Regarding #3 — I used to get those funny looks from friends and relatives all the time because to them, blogging = dear diary posts on LiveJournal.

    Fortunately though, I don’t get them *as often* anymore. I guess people are starting to realize the blogging is a legit marketing/educational tool that companies actually pay for.

    • Dana Sitar says:

      I think they are. It’s a weird conversation, because blogging is, in fact, still a way for writers to keep an online journal. But it’s *also* this legitimate publishing venue you can make a living at. The layperson’s confusion is understandable.

  • Alex Sheehan says:

    This post hits the nail on the head. I think it’s funny when I tell people what I do and they respond “I should do that!” as if it’s easy and anyone can pick up and do it. Recently, I was recruiting writers for one of the projects that I work on, and I posted a Facebook status about it. A couple of those same people responded and when I asked for a sample, they suddenly disappeared. I guess it became all too real to them about how much actually goes into writing.

    • Dana Sitar says:

      That’s so true, Alex. That is a quick and easy filter for the people who REALLY want to be writing and “get” the writing life — offer them a writing assignment, and see who sticks around!

  • Amanda says:

    Another version of # 1 is the attitude that “oh, everyone has a novel/screenplay/Slate pitch hidden in a drawer.” That might very well be true, but how many of them are actively working on it? It’s a pretty dismissive thing to say. Sometimes it’s best to just not say much about your projects until they are published (which is cynical and unfortunate, I know).

    • Dana Sitar says:

      I would absolutely agree with that advice — cynical or not. I’ve made a point to stop talking about what I’m *going* to do and focus instead on what I’m *doing*. Even prolific writers are filled with ideas that will never come to fruition. When you talk about ideas before you have a solid plan and are ready to take action on them, you run that risk of running into someone six months later and facing the awkward, “So how’s Project Y going?” conversation. (I’ve definitely been there — no fun!)

      I don’t think that has to mean you don’t talk about your work until it’s published. If you’re actively working and making progress on something, you understand where you are in the process, and you can humbly and honestly talk about it.

      • Rochelle says:

        I don’t talk much about my writing to my friends and family either. They all found out I was writing by someone else and it then out came all those ridiculous things people say. Ugh. I probably could be more open about it.

        I get sick of people saying they want to do something and then they just sit there. Like you said, they need to get out of their own way! I try to encourage them in whatever they’re doing and then hope down the road they can do the same to me or to others.

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great post, Dana!

    Someone at work told me it was nice to have a hobby when I told her my book was published. I was like SERIOUSLY?! I smiled politely and said thanks but it’s not a hobby. I consider it a second career and I have a 5 year plan to do it full-time. The look on her face was priceless. 🙂

    My husband didn’t take it seriously (although he supported me) until my book was published. Now he helps out more with the kids/house stuff so I get more time to write which is great.

    Another thing that drives me bonkers is when writers say they write for the joy of it, and not the money. Huh, really? Good for you, but I don’t plan to work for free. This is a career and like any job I want to get paid for my hard work. I’ve had dirty looks (mostly poets) when I say I plan to make lots of money from writing my books.

    I live on Grand Cayman and there’s not a lot of support for writers there so I setup a writing group. When people find out I published a book I get the ‘Oh, I write too’ but when I invite them to the group they back peddal quickly with excuses. I can tell from the look on their faces if they’re serious about their writing or not. I’m pleased to say, however that the group is a success and I am thrilled to be part of a wonderful group of writers who are serious about their writing and their career. In fact I recommended A Writer’s Bucketlist to them. 🙂

    • Dana Sitar says:

      Thank you, Elke!! I so appreciate your support 🙂 That’s a really interesting point that some writers still look down their noses at us for charging money for our work. I consider every piece of it *art*, as well, but the freedom to create comes much more easily when you can be compensated for your creations!

  • wyojer says:

    Yes the comments range from “that must be nice to sit and just write” to “oh, what other hobbies do you have?” My responses generally depend on whether I feel like mounting a master debate on the line between career and hobby, or whether this individual is someone I will probably never see again. If the latter, I smile and nod; if this person knows me– they know I’m serious. My significant other is unbelievably supportive and I consider him my muse. He keeps a running list of ideas that he thinks of during his work day, and emails that list to me before he returns home in the evening. I have used many of those ideas to write stories for local papers, so he has the satisfaction of helping me in my career as I’ve helped him in his.

    • Dana Sitar says:

      That is such a cool way to support your work!

      Yes, sometimes it’s easier to just smile and nod. I’m always trying to find the balance between that — letting it go — and mounting a debate. It’s tough to let it go!

  • Maria says:

    I think there are a lot of people out there who love to write, are interested in writing, but are afraid to try. For years, I was a “wannabe” writer. I loved to write and wished I could make money doing it. I did write during the course of my marketing work, but I didn’t consider myself a writer. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it was there. I wanted to do it, but I had to pay the rent. Fast forward 15 years into a marketing career. Since in a down economy, marketing is always the first thing to go, it seemed the last few years included a layoff per year. It was not only exhausting, but these episodes emptied my savings. I began consulting, but it got harder and harder to collect money from clients. I decided it was time for something different, but had no idea what that was. Then it happened! An opportunity came up–contributing to a local ethnic newspaper. What began as a free contribution twice a month, soon became a staff position, and a title–Associate Editor! So I was reinvented as a writer (Though it was only about 2 years ago that I began call myself a writer; for years I said I worked for the paper.) Weekly deadlines have helped me hone my writing skills. This writing consumes the greater portion of my time, but I love what I do. Now I get to learn more about and celebrate my Greek heritage in my work as well. It’s been 8 years now, and I never imagined this is where I would be. It has led to other things–writing for another newspaper, a magazine and an ezine, plus contributions to 3 books; and many great friendships. One writer friend (met during an interview for the paper) really encouraged me to do more. I began writing a parenting blog and I’m working on several writing projects, though my “day” job writing often leaves me little time for my own creative endeavors.

    When I hear people say these things to me, I think of myself in my previous career. Many people want to write, but are scared. That fear could be of what actually may come out on the page, being vulnerable, the lack of immediate earnings, or fear people might say it’s not a legitimate job. I always encourage these people to follow their creative muse, even if it’s just for them, just an outlet. The road of a wordsmith is not necessarily paved with gold, but it can be very fulfilling. Go for it!

    • Dana Sitar says:

      You make a good point Maria: At some point, we were all probably people with big ideas. And you’re right; it’s important to encourage people to realize their ideas and follow their dreams. I tend to have a low tolerance, though, on encouraging people who have yet to get out of their own way.

      • Dan says:

        Re. your statement that you “tend to have a low tolerance…on encouraging people who have yet to get out of their own way,” I must remark, well, that at least you admit you have problems!

    • Katherine says:

      I never considered writing a hobby. In fact, I find writing to be like any other career. As a novice writer, I decided to take writing seriously, after a comment my English professor wrote at the end of the semester saying, “I enjoyed reading your work. Never stop. Keep writing.” That comment make me stretch my hands and create symphony with every tap on my computer. I felt connected to Maria comments,and I wish I could work in a place where I can constantly write, but I would like to add, that I had voices in my head since I was very young maybe at the age of 12. I had characters in my head, and recited stories to my sisters at night(sometimes they thought it was boring, but I didn’t care), seventeen years later I had enough and decided to let them free them and its been very cathartic. I may not be like you guys professionals in this beautiful craft, I sure hope so be like you people. I am writing a lot everyday and although some may not understand what I do, I stay true to myself. But for know like Stephen King said, if you want to be a writer, read read read, write,write, write.

      Great article 😀

  • Love this, it’s so true! I’m lucky to have a husband who understands and respects my career – and who has been incredibly supportive about me making the switch to full-time freelance work – but the comments from other people drive me crazy. Everytime someone says, “Oh, I would love to stop working and just do that all day,” it drives me bonkers!

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