The Stigma of Pen and Paper

So you’re a writer.

Maybe you do it as a hobby, maybe you’re serious but haven’t had your break, maybe you’re self-published, or heck, maybe you even have a traditional contract but you’re not “household name” status.

Now comes the question.

Maybe it’s a friend you haven’t seen in a while, maybe an uncle or cousin, maybe an acquaintance from a shop you frequent, or maybe even a stranger you’ve struck up small talk with.

“What do you do?”

Ah, yes. THAT question.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you’ve progressed past the stage of clamming up in silence or responding with whatever it is you do that other “normal” people might also do. (If you were confident enough to never have this stage, well done you strange and wondrous creature!)

You puff up your chest, stand tall, imagine all the greats that came before you and say it: “I’m a writer.”

One of two things now happens:

1) “What? Really? Me too!”

This can be a good thing. You may have a new friend in the form of a mentor or even just a fellow brother-in-arms. We are weird, skittish creatures and when like creatures come together, this can be good.

Or it can be like this –>

We're going to be best writing buddies FOREVER.

We’re going to be best writing buddies FOREVER.

You’ve seen this face before. The overeager, overzealous writer who just discovered shiny notebooks and nifty blogs and is pretty sure if you’ll just read the first (almost half-completed) draft of their epic, romantic, Viking vampire literary bloodbath that they will be your favorite writer ever and you’ll be thankful to know them before they hit it big.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t write about Viking vampires, but, well, you know the type I’m talking about. They can be scary. Scarier even then option number two, which is

2) “…so what do you really do?”


Writing’s not a real job.

This is the face I usually get.

I get this face when I say I’m a writer. I get this face when people who already know I’m a writer ask how writing is going and I tell them it’s slow or difficult. I get this face — oh boy do I get this face — when people who already know I’m a writer get updated with the news I’m a poet. (And let’s not talk about the face I get when I tell people who don’t know I’m a writer that I’m a poet.)

If you don’t run into the fellow writer (whether the honest creature or the terrifying one), then you are too often left with the disbeliever. To them, writing isn’t a real job. Or rather, it’s a very real one, but only to the already-famous names they recognize. These people often forget that Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Jackie Collins all had first books. And before that they had first drafts. And before those first drafts were even worse drafts, things that may have never left their drawers and possibly no one has ever seen.

Writers START somewhere, but much of the world seems to think they come into existence already formed.

I think these are the sorts of people that help make you or break you.

They can break you. Make you feel worthless. Make you feel like you will amount to nothing. Make you feel as though you are the world’s greatest village idiot for even trying.

Or they can make you. They can teach you that not everyone will understand and not everyone will approve, but these things make you not one bit less of a person or a writer.

You can’t rely on others to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself. Yet this does not in any way give you the right to be full of yourself and self-righteous, but it does give you the right to stand up for yourself and your passions in a respectable, professional way. So many of the people who do not understand why you write simply do not understand the drive for a creative lifestyle. The 9-to-5 that you so loathe may be the stability that they most desire. We all have different things that make us happy. If someone laughs at your dream, don’t laugh at theirs in return. Just keeping working toward yours.

Question time!

What’s the best reaction you’ve ever had to telling someone you’re a writer? The worst?


Image of girl by photographer Ryan Wiedmaier on Flickr.

Image of man by photographer David Goehring on Flickr.

Both photos used under creative commons with attribution.


2 thoughts on “The Stigma of Pen and Paper

  1. I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions… Since I tend to carry around a notebook with me so I can write wherever I am, I’m constantly getting people who jokingly ask, “What are you writing…a book?” and that turns into one of the above conversations. Luckily, usually, it’s my coworkers who ask this, since I scribble a lot while I’m not busy, therefore I don’t get a lot of the “But what do you really do?” nonsense. But of course I do get both good and bad reactions.

    The best reaction I’ve ever gotten? I had a coworker reply with, “Really? Have you published anything?”, and when I said I was working on self-publishing my first book he responded with, “That’s awesome! Keep at it; I bet the book will be awesome!” That one really perked me up. ^_^

    The worst reaction? It started out similar to the above conversation, but ended with, “Oh…but that’s not REALLY being published, is it?” That one made me want to get a list of every single successful self-published author and shove it down his throat. 😛

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s