Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Do You Do?

I, and probably you as well, am often asked what I do. For me, there are multiple answers. I’m a mother, a homemaker, a freelance editor, a book consultant, Partner and Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®, blogger, volunteer and, of course, a writer. The first seven replies don’t elicit much of a response or even interest. But if I say “writer” then the other person perks up. They invariably ask a follow-up question like, “Really? What do you write? Would I have read your books?”

If any of you have said you were a writer, you’ve probably gotten this question. It doesn’t matter whether you’re unpublished or published in magazines, anthologies, newspapers or online. If you say, “I write feature articles,” you’ll get a disappointed look. If you say, “I write technical articles,” their eyes glaze over. If you say, “I’m unpublished,” you’ll get a look of “What the hell? You’re not a writer.” First of all, they want to know that you’re a book writer. Second, they want to know they can go to their local Barnes & Noble or nearby store and find your book. Having your book available on your website and Amazon doesn’t cut it with those without an eReader. Your book has to have an established bookstore’s seal of approval. Although with more and more people getting eReaders, being e-published is becoming more acceptable. On the other hand, more quickie books and spam books being uploaded, which isn’t driving people to try unknown authors.

A lot of times, someone who isn’t published in book form but is asked that question won’t even answer with “I’m a writer.” They’ll give some other answer. Just to avoid that follow-up question. That look.

But what I’ve decided is that writers don’t need affirmation from others to call themselves writers. The title of “writer” isn’t something another person bestows on you. And it’s not something they can take away with a disapproving look. If you decide you’re a writer, then you give the title to yourself, whether you write books, screenplays, articles, essays, poetry, short stories, or greeting cards, published or not.

Good chance you’ll still have to endure the responses you get when others find out you’re not published in book form – or possibly worse, you are but your books are now out of print. But no matter what looks you get, those looks can’t take away what you are. Only you can decide you’re a writer. Only you can decide you’re not. It’s true that writers write. Writers also believe … in themselves.

25 comments:

  1. I am a Writer. There, I've said it and I don't care what looks I get.

    Seriously, the mystique that's attached the image of a "book writer" is incredible - but it's also responsible for some very set ideas on what A Writer is or isn't.

    I was a writer a long time ago, but it's only recently that I've been able to validate that inside myself and stop waiting for external validation of what I am...A Writer!
    Judy, South Africa

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  2. This was a great post. I consider myself a writer, but I don't say it out loud. :)

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  3. I am published, but the word author doesn't usually come out of my mouth first when asked that question.

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  4. I'm a writer and I say it out loud. It's in my bio, It comes after healer and medium, but it's there. I guess all writers believe they can write a best seller, and it's something I dream about. Writing is one of the most challenging things I've done, and I won't give up until I'm published. I want to be a good writer. I want people to feel something when they read me. Love me and hate me. I feel honoured to have online friends who are writers. Happy writing and I hope to see you at a conference or a bookstore one day :)

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  5. I definitely say it outloud. I am a writer. And I get the question and the look. Luckily, I am a playwright and I can tell folks about different plays that were produced locally. That kind of shuts them up. In a way, though, I like it when they want to know when I'm going to be published. I want folks to know how hard it is and for them to be rooting for me to get my book into their hands. It helps me get down to it - all those needy folks wanting my book to set them free.
    I was thinking of you this morning, Helen. I was thinking that you might consider doing a Tales of a Mermaid For Hire book. I would like it. I'll come and do photos. OK, maybe not. Maybe you don't fit into your mermaid tail like you used to - we'll do imaginary photos. What fun it would be.

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  6. Great post Helen. The question I usually get is "but can you make a living out of writing?" My response to that is "I think J.K. Rowling is doing okay?"
    Ann

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  7. I'm a writer and my books can be found in bookstores with shelves and in ebook form, including my self-published novels.

    I know a writer who used to tell me I wasn't a real writer until I had my name on the spine, and that was after being published in ten anthologies. I wrote a novel. She said I wasn't a real writer until I had published several books. She had one nonfiction book I helped her put together for the publisher and another nonfiction book she contributed to with two other writers. I had a novel and a growing list of anthologies, but I wasn't a real writer.

    She dug an old manuscript out of the drawer and paid to have it e-published by a romance house. I wrote another novel. She paid to have another romance she dug out of a drawer e-published by the same publisher. My novel was self published in ebook and print.

    The thing is that I never started this contest. I just wrote and kept writing. I've seen the looks when the questioner's eyes glaze over when I tell them I write articles or speeches for politicians or have ghost written eight books. I don't care nor have I ever cared. I'm usually too busy writing.

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  8. I started writing freelance articles locally years ago, and crafting those words just took over my life without asking. I am a writer, through and through.

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  9. I'm at a point that I could care less what people think. I'm a writer and it fits my definition and that's what counts, lol!

    Like you, I'm wife and mother and although I had a highly successful career, I still count being a mother as my most important, most challenging, and satisfying role.

    Great article, Helen.

    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

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  10. I have chills here, Helen. I've gotten those questions and those looks and it took me several years to be able to say, "I'm a writer," without cringing inside. It's a huge part of who I am, but I'm all about not worrying about what I do anymore. Thanks for talking about this. I think it's a huge issue for most of us.
    Karen

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  11. Such an important topic, Helen! Well-put. I've gotten about every kind of reaction there is--from boredom to disbelief to laughter, to enthusiastic interest. You're so right--we don't need others' affirmation! We're writers.

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  12. You have to have a positive outlook toward your own accomplishments to feel successful. No one else can give that to you. Great post, Helen!

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  13. When I tell people I'm an author I get, "Gee, really?" Then I tell them I'm self-published and I get, "Oh, I'm so sorry ... here's a buck."

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  14. Cool post, Helen.

    Since I have written both articles (even published), essays, short stories, greeting cards, and shopping lists, I might be tempted to call myself writer. It's not a protected title, is it? We'll see >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  15. I admit to not telling some people I'm a writer because I don't feel like answering all the questions. If my husband is nearby he always volunteers the information though so I end up answering them anyway.

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  16. Christopher, tell lots of people and save those bucks. They'll be worth something some day.

    When I say I'm a writer, I usually get people who say they always wanted to be a writer, too. I have a stock answer for that and it closes their gaping mouths every time. I ask them if they watch TV (of course, I do). Then I tell them that if they give up at least 30 minutes of TV a day, they too will have enough time to write (lack of time is the only reason they're not writing and selling books). First comes the blank stare reminiscent of a dazed cow and then comes the shut down and withdrawal from the fray. Works every time, and it also tells them, whether they ask or not, that sacrifice is part of being a writer. In order to have time to write, you have to give something up. Evidently, watching TV is more important than the bright and beautiful world of being a famous writer clipping coupons and accepting the samples in the grocery store because it's all we'll get to eat since we're not lucky enough for people to give us a buck every time we say we're self-published (or not) writers like Christopher.

    Christopher, where are those people. I have rent to pay again next month. ;0)

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  17. I get around all this by saying, "I write, and I don't always get paid for it!" Then people laugh and say, "I understand!"

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  18. So true. I'm getting a lot more comfortable with claiming the "writer" title, but sometimes I still default to "I work at a coffee shop."

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  19. Feels good to say, "I'm a writer." Thanks for the encouragement to do so!

    What do I do? I am a writer!

    http://writingstrongwomen.com

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  22. J.M.: They are usually waiting a stop lights, reading the sign I'm holding, "Starving Artist," but you'll have to find your own corner to work.

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  23. I have a corner, but get paid in twenties and fifties rather than pennies, Christopher. ;0)

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  24. Yes, but you've written more books than I have. That's what I want, even with the pennies.

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