To complain about any part about being a professional writer pains me, because I'm living my dream. All I ever wanted was to write for a living, and now that I've achieved that, I'd feel very ungrateful to whine about it. Boo hoo, poor me, right? But the things that I'm itching to complain about, I think are things other writers experience, too.
Handling the kinds of questions people with more traditional professions ask you, over and over again, can be frustrating. And it can be frustrating to be frustrated! Most of my friends have chosen a different path, and they're probably doing things the "right" way, or at least the parent-approved way. That said, I think it's important to own up to the fact that if you're in a creative profession, your work life is not traditional, which means people will have questions.
Writers and other types of creatives that work from home, tend to be treated as zoo animals by people in the corporate world. Last week one of my dearest friends, who has a more traditional work life, texted me to complain about how uncomfortable she was in her work clothes and how jealous she was of me that I could "sit home in sweatpants and just chill all day". Her comment didn't bother me because she assumed that I was in sweatpants, because while I wasn't I surely could have been. It was that she assumed that because I work from home, my work isn't hard. And I think that's the biggest disconnect between the two worlds. There are plenty of mornings that I wake up and wish I could put on some uncomfortable pants and sit in an office all day, zoning out and only pretending to do work when my boss comes around. You don't get to do that when you're a writer. You're not allowed to have an off day, or a half-ass day or a day where you're too hungover to function. It's your byline on the line, all the time.
If you're a writer and you're all about that non-traditional work life, you've probably been asked these (completely kind and rational) questions and had to keep yourself from strangling the person asking you:
How's Your Novel Going?
You're writing a novel, it's a totally normal question to ask. It's no different than asking your friend who is a lawyer how the case is going. But for some reason, this question makes you feel two very conflicting emotions. You're both grateful for the opportunity to be acknowledged and offended by an imaginary projected tone that makes you feel like no matter how you answer, you won't impress the person asking. Alt option: I respect what you do.
Do You Just Write Whenever You Feel Like it?
Whoever is asking you this question is probably not aware the of fact that by assuming you can write whenever you want is assuming that you don't have a strict work ethic ... which is a massive misconception about creatives, just because we're not in an office, doesn't mean we're not busting our asses and working on a schedule. Just because it might not be 9 to 5 doesn't mean it's any less rigorous or stressful. Alt option: What's your writing schedule like?
"Unrecognizable Quote From Bukowski" — No, I Don't Know It
People often assume that writers are overly familiar with other writer's work. While sometimes this can be true, people who write for a living tend to shy away from obsessing or idolizing other authors, it can be distracting. So just because I spend all day writing and all night reading, does not mean that I'm going to recognize that Bukowski quote you just threw at me. You've probably read more of his work than I have. And by probably, I mean definitely. Alt option: What are some of your favorite authors?
What Do You Write About?
Yano how it's kind of difficult for you corporate workers to explain what exactly it is you do? There are lots of different elements to it and while your title might suggest one role, your body of work might contain tons more? Well, it's the same for authors. Our body of work is incredibly diverse and complex. Most writers do not write about just one topic. They write about whatever interests them. Maybe one book is about relationships and love and the next is a psycho-thriller. Our minds are wide in the way your responsibilities are. And plus, no author wants to sum up their work in one word that helps you judge them. Alt option: What kinds of topics do you enjoy writing about?
Have You Been Published Yet?
Again, this is a fair question. It's logical, and it's polite. It not only shows that the person you're talking to takes you seriously, but it shows their interest will extend beyond the momentary interaction. But something that all non-writers should keep in mind: writers are incredibly insecure, and anything you ask them about their work will automatically put them on the defense. If you ask this question, the writer will probably think you're assuming they have not been. Alt option: I'd love to read your work, where's the best place to find it?
Oh, I Read A Book Like That
Oh did you? You read another book about a young woman in a relationship? Well crap, I should just quit and move back to the farm! Do not tell an author that you've already read something similar to what they're writing. That implies that there's no room for two great stories about the same subject. Similarly, writers rarely like to be compared to other authors, it implies that they've been influenced. Let all writers feel unique. Alt option: That subject really interests me! I've read some great stories on the topic but can't wait to read yours.
Will You Be Home To Sign For A Package?
Okay, I get it, we work from home so technically we might be around to sign for a package for a roommate, or be there to let the cable guy in, or clean up your room for your impromptu Tinder date, but when you ask us to do these things without asking if we can do these things, you're implying that what we're doing at home isn't important and can be interrupted. If a roommate asks me if I'll have the time to do something home-related, I'm 100 times more likely to do it happily than if they just tell me to do it. Always assume a writer is writing, or thinking, or doing something that's important enough not to be interrupted. Alt option: I know you're going to be busy tomorrow working, but I have a package coming that needs to be signed for, might you be able to do it? If not, no problem, I'll pop home on my lunch break.
How Did You Get An Agent?
The world of professional writing is surely complex and confusing. I understand how people who are not personally involved in it, have questions about how it all works. Do you need an agent? How do you get an editor? How do you find a publisher? Even many writers don't have these answers. But when you ask an author how they got an agent, you put them on the defense. Just assume that all professional writers have agents and got them because they deserved to have someone who believes in their work. I know it's not easy for everyone to find an agent, better yet an agent that works for them, but don't question someone's support team. Alt option: Congratulations on getting an agent, you deserve the support!
What Do You Do For Money?
Most authors have to supplement their income outside of the publishing world. Whether it be teaching, editing, working a few hours in a cafe or restaurant or bookstore or hell, even being the personal assistant to an iguana, there are plenty of odd jobs that writers take on to pursue their dreams. But many writers also write full time for magazines or online publications, in addition to working on their books. So don't assume anything and when in doubt don't ask about finances, it's always tacky. Alt option: Don't ask!
When in doubt, assume that an author is always working their ass off, writing, editing and revising all day and sometimes throughout the night. Assume they're not in sweatpants, they're not available to put your clothes in the dryer and what they're working on is unlike anything you've ever read.