I know lots of writers. Half of my friends are writers. Good ones. They are good writers because they have spent years and years honing their craft–you know, reading books, taking classes, getting degrees, writing and writing and writing and writing and writing. . .I could type “writing” a few more zillion times, and it would still be fairly accurate. Writers write. A lot. They write the same way ballerinas dance a lot or physicists do physics a lot. They write all the time, obsessively. They write a bunch of shit that sucks. Then, once they get past the shit-writing phase, they start writing stuff that doesn’t suck.
But much of the time, nobody wants to read it. Good writers write stories and poems and books–yes, entire books–that no one ever sees. On a daily basis, they send out their masterpieces with hearts filled with hope, and in return, they get little scraps of paper that say things like, “Dear writer, you’re a hack. Thanks for playing.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s pretty much what it feels like when you submit your latest story/ poem/ novel, over which you have slaved for hour upon thankless hour, to a magazine/ agent/ publishing house, only to receive a form rejection letter.
My friends who are writers cry. A lot. They also drink. A lot. Then they sit down and write some more. Sometimes, when they aren’t busy trying to slit their wrists, they go to parties. When they go to parties, this is what happens. People who don’t know very many writers bop up to them and say, “What do you do for a living?” If the writer in question hasn’t published a novel yet, this is bound to send her into the throes of a panic attack. Because she knows what’s coming. Sometimes, she lies. She says things like, “Oh, I’m a stripper.” You know. So she has less of a chance of being judged by the end of the conversation. But if she tells the truth, mutters, “I’m a writer,” and then downs her entire margarita in hopes of staving off the impact of the emotional desecration that is about to ensue, the conversation is almost guaranteed to go in one of the following directions. File these under:
THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO A WRITER:
- “Oh, you’re a writer? Have you written any books I might have read recently?”
This is sort of like being introduced to an actor and immediately asking, “Have you starred in any Hollywood blockbusters I might have seen recently?” Or to a gymnast, “How many gold medals have you won in the Olympics?” The publishing industry is cruel. About one out of every ten-thousand books written ends up getting published. This means that a writer has .001% chance of publishing his or her book, even if it’s really, really good. This means that a writer who does get a book published has probably spent years and years honing his or her craft and building a career that finally ends (and simultaneously begins) with a book publication. Don’t make your new writer friend explain the horrors of the publishing industry/ erupt in hives. Don’t set the bar so ridiculously high that the conversation is over before it begins. Start with something non-panic-attack inducing, like: “Oh, you’re a writer? What kind of stuff do you write?” Or, you could be an asshole and say:
2. “Oh, you’re a writer? I’m actually a waiter, but I’ve thought about writing a novel as a source of residual income.”
Way to dismiss someone’s entire life’s work in a sentence, douchebag. Someone actually said this to me at a party once. As I had spent the last 20 years (count them: 20) honing my craft, getting various degrees, writing novel after novel, building a career journal publication by hard-won journal publication, his words were pretty much the equivalent of throwing acid on my junk. I think I said something like, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about getting a job as an NFL quarterback, you know, just to bring in some residual income.” Still, he didn’t suck as much as the six jillion humans who have said something like:
3. “Oh, you’re a writer? I’m a bit of a history buff, and I’ve been writing a treatise on the Hundred Years War, with each year spanning about a hundred pages. Would you mind editing it for me?”
Are you freaking serious? Dude, I have a master’s degree in my profession, ok? Would you ask an accountant you met at a party to do your taxes for free? Would you ask a lawyer to defend your deadbeat brother who just got a DUI for free? Then don’t insult me by asking me to work for free. As it is, even though I have (finally!) sold a novel, I still have to keep a job teaching writing, because contrary to popular opinion, selling a book does not make you an instant millionaire. This means that I spend many, many hours reading/ editing other people’s work. That’s ok. I get paid to do it, and I love teaching my art, because, well, I love my art. (I wouldn’t have stuck with it so long if I didn’t.) But the last thing I want to do in my spare time is edit your shitty writing, or anything, really. I want to stare at a T.V. screen and drool. Or, you know, work on my own writing. Which sort of circuitously brings me to:
4. “Oh, you’re a writer? How many houses do you have?” One, kid. One. And I don’t actually own the thing. I rent it. Sometimes, I subsist on Ramen. (Yes, I’ve sold a book. I still subsist on Ramen.) No, you can’t take a ride in my non-existent yacht. And please, in the name of God and all that’s holy, do not say:
5. “Oh, you’re a writer? I should tell you my life’s story! It would make a great book! It all started when I was born. . .” If you are going to do this to me at a party, just shoot me first, ok? I have a million gazillion stories of my own I would like to write. If you want your story written, write it yourself.
But when you do, don’t you fucking dare ask me to edit it.