Writing is one of those art forms that only looks easy. From the outside perspective, it’s me, sitting at my computer, typing onto a page.
People who do not write will never understand the daunting, niggling fear of the blank page. The emptiness that represents every unfilled opportunity that you had to fill that void and make something out of the nothing that stares at you, and you couldn’t do it.
(Even if that something is shit, which most writers also tend to think of their work at some point.)
Writing is not exactly a physical art. You’re not going to see my effort, you’re not going to see me break a sweat (unless there’s a deadline due!), and you’re probably not going to understand how much work and dedication is going into that baleful stare toward my computer screen. You’re certainly never going to know the nights that I’ve broken down and sworn to never write again, and the times that I’ve deleted whole manuscripts because I got pissy with a character or plot that wasn’t working out the way I had initially envisioned.
For those of you who don’t know, one of the hats I wear is that of an on-call nanny, which is different from the traditional one family nanny, which I have also done. This means that at any time I get a job, I am going into (most likely) a new situation, with new people, a new place, and new rules to abide by each time. Almost all of these people want to get more information about me, having just met me and realizing that they’re about to leave their child with a stranger, and one of the first things I’m typically asked is,
“So what do you do in your spare time?”
“I’m a writer,” I reply.
Being that I’m a recent graduate, I no longer have the option to tell people that I go to school for writing, so now I just have to wear that badge proudly. The entire time I was at school, I got to tell people that I was “studying to become a writer”. It seems like a cop out, because hey, writing makes you a writer, and countless lost hours of my life were spent on research, papers and scripts. Now that I’m out, I simply have to say it: I’m a writer, and I write. Prolifically.
Some people are slightly interested. Some ask me what I write, and then launch into tirades of someone that they know who knows someone who’s a writer. Exactly zero of these people have ever asked me if I have work published. I suppose that could be considered polite, since we both know they have no intention of reading it, and don’t want to waste my time or get my hopes up.
Usually, however, at this point the conversation can go one of two ways. The first one is usually something unenthusiastic or nonplussed along the lines of:
“Oh, that’s interesting.”
Or, my least, most puke-worthy, awful response, which is down and out condescending:
“A writer and a nanny? It must be nice to not have to work in a real job.”
To which I wish I could reply to you, but it’s all illiterate, nonsensical screaming sounds and random curse words while I simultaneously imagine your face having an intimate meeting with my fist while I sob uncontrollably.
This is actually pretty accurate.
People often don’t understand that writing is an INSANE practice that requires years of work to hone and perfect, and even then, we all stand a 50/50 chance of wanting to burn our manuscripts at some point because we still think they’re shit. To some, a fiction writer is nothing more than a dreamer who sits in front of their computer drinking lattes and madly typing words onto a screen before proudly announcing to anyone within hearing range, “IT’S A TOLKIEN-ESQUE MASTERPIECE!” and immediately sending it away to be published.
People who don’t write (and I’m also looking at you, people who don’t read, although you’ll never know it because you won’t read this) will never understand that I’m not just writing… I’m juggling the lives of people that I’ve created, in a world that I dreamed up that I’m freaking making up as I go along and I’m pulling it out of thin air and vague associations like a g.d. magician pulling rabbits outta the hat. Meanwhile, the whole while I’m trying to convince myself that it’s as good as other people assure me it is, because I’m a constant negative force acting on my own self-esteem like a freight train going 70 towards a crumbly brick wall.
I don’t know if it’s out of blatant ignorance, or perhaps just spite that people associate writing with laziness. The truth is, on any given day, my brain is in eighteen different modes. In the past year, I have managed to graduate from college, write a book, nearly complete a second book, get my work published numerous times, work as a freelance editor, write video game scripts, perform as an editing intern, and still somehow manage to send my fiancé off to work everyday with lunch and a kiss—all while taking care of your children at my ‘not a real job’ while you’ve been punching corporate numbers.
You may not understand the toil of a writer; the constant mental anguish that we put ourselves through, and the quiet efforts that go into creating our work, but that doesn’t mean you should demean it. What I do isn’t “quaint”. It’s not “cute”, and no, it may not be a traditional job, but it’s what I chose to do, and it’s a hell of a lot better than being a desk jockey for a soulless corporation any day of the week. I would also like to remind you that women used to be institutionalized for reading novels—imagine how dangerous my writing ‘not a job’ is now.
A real job?
Fella, you don’t know what a real job is.