Yes, people actually say that when you tell them that you are a writer. People say a lot of things that make writers shake our heads. Sometime back Electric Literature posted a fairly funny blog titled If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers. Funny, except it’s kind of not. Non-writers have no clue what most of us go through.
Over the years I’ve learned to plant my tongue firmly in my cheek and listen when people decide to share their thoughts. While there are occasions when someone says something genuinely interesting and helpful, there are more of these.
First, is the Partner In Waiting. “Look,” he says when he corners you at a cocktail party, “I’ve got a really great idea for a book. Guaranteed to be a best seller but I’m so busy, I don’t have time to write it. What do you say I tell you my idea, you can write it, and we can split the profits?” This is almost never a good conversation. In fact, it’s best to get as far away from this person as you can because if you stand there and listen to the story, you are setting yourself up for them to confront you down the road and claim you stole their idea. It’s best to just say that you are too busy right now and you don’t want to complicate the plot you are working by hearing a new one. Then scram.
Next is the My Sad, Tragic Life Memoirist. It is very true that a whole lot of money has been made by people writing a whole lot of books on tragedies in their lives. These books have become so popular that they have their own genre often referred to as Miz-Lit, Misery Literature. I don’t know why people like to read this stuff, but a lot do. And there is much to be said for reading about triumphs of the human spirit. But somehow the people who decide to share their story with me, rarely come up with anything particularly miserable or redeeming. The worst one was a woman who told me she was thinking about writing a book about how she never had a chance at the life she dreamed of because her parents wouldn’t let her have riding lessons when she was a kid. I’m not kidding.
And, of course, my favorite, I Just Want To Have Fun Author. Now, let me say, I am totally in favor of people writing for their own amusement. If they produce something that other people want to read, more power to them. If you decide to entertain yourself by writing letters to your cat or imagining a conversation between God and a goldfish, have fun developing it. Enjoy every minute that you spend working on it. Just don’t ask me to read it—let alone how to get it published. Recently someone said to me, “I’m so jealous that you get to stay home all day and just make up stories.” First of all, I spent a lot of years running my own design business in order to give myself the luxury of having lots of time at home. And, second, do you know how damn hard it is to “make up stories?”
More than anything, these people have no idea what’s involved to market, promote, beg for interviews, develop relationships, etc. not to mention edit and rewrite and edit and rewrite. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It takes discipline, research, patience, and no small amount of agonizing. I always appreciate people who take time to tell me they enjoy the work I do, but my advice to aspiring writers is, write, write, write, write, write. Then tell me how it’s going.
Thanks for reading.