Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Questions (and comments!) I get about writing

If I'm not staring at a computer screen, this is probably what I'm staring at.

I'm not exactly an expert at many things. I guess most people aren't, because nobody knows everything about anything. There are subjects I'd say I know a lot more about than the average person, but I still don't like getting asked a lot of questions about said subject for fear I'll get something wrong or come across as having no idea what I'm talking about.

But nearly everyone is an expert on themselves -- at least we'd like to think so. And since people normally ask strangers/new acquaintances things about their professional lives (as if that's the most important thing about us!), most people figure out pretty quickly that I'm a writer. I'm sure there are plenty of people who hear that and think that I'm a nutcase or that I'm wasting my time on a career path that could very well require hundreds of hours/blood/sweat/tears with little payout. But hey, let them think what they like.

Over the years, I have received tons of questions and comments about writing -- well, more comments than questions. I thought I'd go over some of the more interesting/frequent ones. I can't speak for every writer, of course, but here are some of the general thoughts that go through my head when I hear typical responses to "I'm a writer."

 "When you become rich and famous, I'll be able to say I know you!" Interestingly enough, this is the most common response I get. I wouldn't say it offends or even bugs me...but do people really think that will happen? We're always bombarded with the success stories of authors like Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. In a sense, this can make people think "if they can do it, anyone can." But at the same time, anyone with half a brain has to know that those success stories are one in a million...right? After all, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And nearly every successful author (or actor or athlete or musician or plumber) gets to where they are through a mixture of hard work and luck. Sometimes with a little bit of talent mixed in. This isn't a particularly offensive response or even one you should try to avoid when speaking to a writer. But it is sort of the equivalent to finding out someone is a Maroon 5 fan and saying, "When you marry Adam Levine, I'll get to say I know you!"

"Where do you get your ideas?" Like most writer questions/comments, this is one where responses probably vary greatly. But a lot of us will have an answer something like this "Everywhere!" I get ideas from the most unexpected and sporadic of places. My novel that's on submission right now was spawned after a comment a World Lit professor made in class one day. I have another work in progress that was inspired partially by a television show and partially by a dream (but there are no meadows or sparkly vampires in this one, I promise. Well...actually, there might be a few meadows.)

"Never piss off a writer." It's true that some of us will base our characters on people we know -- and not always people we like. Writing can be a great outlet for expressing frustration or even revenge. But due to both legal issues and, you know, maturity, most writers won't specifically call people out in a novel. Nonfiction is slightly different, of course. But even if you did unintentionally piss off a writer a long time ago, you probably don't have much to worry about. Don't attempt to refrain from pissing people off just because you don't want to get called out. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you find yourself at the mercy of a writer...well, that's really more their problem than yours.

"So, you have a degree in Creative Writing...what do you want to do with that?" I don't get this one as much as I get some others. But that's probably because people hear "I have a degree..." and they say "OMG HOW OLD ARE YOU?" And I sheepishly say "I'm 23," and they say, "OH MY GOSH YOU LOOK SO YOUNG I THOUGHT YOU WERE 16 OH MY GOSH I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU FINISHED COLLEGE" and other generally offensive things that I can't believe people actually say out loud and with the fervor that they do. Maybe that will be another blog post one day, but it pisses me off. A lot.
Anyway, if they get past that stage, I usually tell them that I want to be a full-time writer, but acknowledge how difficult it will be and that I might never get there. Unfortunately, I don't know what I will do if I can't afford to write full-time -- and, statistically speaking, the chances of me being a full-time writer are pretty slim. Maybe not as slim as me, say, getting to marry Adam Levine. But it's still pretty hard to do, even for those who work our butts off writing day in and day out and are driven insane with the desire to write.

"I'm not a good writer, so I admire people who are." I don't have any deep feelings on this one. I just find it interesting. I'm a writer. I enjoy writing and I would hope that I'm good at it (I think I am, but every good writer doubts themselves sometimes). The fact is, some of us are artists. Some people are good at making art, some people are good at performing heart surgery, and some are good at unclogging toilets. If we were all the same, not only would the world be unbelievably dull, but nothing would ever get done. We all have different gifts to fulfill different purposes, and I believe that mine is writing.

So there you have it. A brief list of general writer questions and comments. By the way...if anyone can get me that marriage proposal from Adam Levine, it would be greatly appreciated.

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