These days, when people ask me what I do, I say, with a lot of unease, “I’m a writer.” Why unease? There are two reasons.
First, it’s because I can’t point to a physical book that I’ve written and published. I’ve been writing online since 2000 and even had an article anthologized in a book that circulated more than 5,000 copies, I’m told. I’ve written white papers that definitely circulated more than 10,000 copies. But, nope, no booklength work with just my name on the front cover. Yet.
The second reason is bit of a copout. It’s because of how people start talking to you when they see you as a writer. Writing, unless you’re popular celeb-author, has not been seen as a respectable or sustainable profession for a few decades now. The internet has made it worse because there’s so much bad writing out there and it’s all free. What value can you put on something that is not only available in abundance but at the click of a link from the comfort of your couch? Even traditional publishers, the ones who, in the end, decide how much authors get paid, are paying them less and less.
Last year, #TenThingsToSayToAWriter went viral on social media. Established authors joined in the fun by adding questions and comments they’d received from non-writers over the years. These would all sound so very sad if they didn’t sound somewhat funny too.
Google that hashtag and you’ll find many blog posts too. Of course, almost all of them are actually filled with things you should NOT say to writers. My favorite one of these is by the author, Chuck Wendig, on his blog, because he gives responses that writers ought to give back. Here’s one terrific example:
“GOSH, I WISH I HAD TIME TO WRITE.”
Here, the person offers a little elbow-elbow poke-poke-poke suggestion that writing is this little side table, this luxury of the wealthy or perennially lazy. The translation is: “Oh, sorry, I have a lot more important things to do, but when I get some free time, I’m sure I’ll write a book or maybe take up decoupage. Could be I can catch up on some of my favorite shows, too, while I’m doing nothing else at all in any way important.”
Your response: “You do have the time to write. You have 24 hours in your day and I have 24 hours in my day. Oh, what’s that? You have a job and kids and important things to do? Yeah, because nobody else has those — that’s just you, holding up the American economy and the nuclear family single-handedly. Hey! Guess what? Everybody has shit to do. Kids, dogs, jobs, second jobs, flower beds to weed, checks to write, groceries, Facebook, porn, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, fucking. We’re all living life one minute at a time. It’s not that you don’t have time to write. It’s that you do not consider it important enough to give it time. But I do. I carve little bits of meat and skin off the day’s flesh and I use every part of the animal. I use the time I take to write. Fifteen minutes here. A half-hour there. A lunch break. That’s how shit gets written.”
Then, whack ‘em in the forehead with a calculator watch. Bop.
Then, I thought, maybe people don’t intend to be mean. Maybe not everyone thinks as much about what they say (as much as writers do, I mean). Or, maybe, they actually say these things in earnest, without much understanding of the impact of their words.
So, as a “writer”, I said to myself: Why not help by creating a handy-dandy cheat sheet of things to say to a writer if you like them enough or want them to like you? Or, if you are just, you know, a human being and want to treat writers as human beings too. So, here’s my list of #TenThingsToSayToAWriterNoReally.