In no other career does ‘going to work’ depend on having the muse Calliope descend and bless you with inspiration (okay, artists everywhere are afflicted with this too).
Yet ask most laypeople their opinion of writers and you’ll get a hazy hybrid of JK Rowling and a hobo. We’re either a few days away from publishing The Next Big Thing, or a few days away from destitution (yes, I know which analogy better suits).
Few other careers require an explanation or long-winded speech following the epitaph “I’m a [insert career here]”, yet should you utter “I’m a writer” you’re likely have to jump through the following hoops;
“Oh yeah? What have you written?” Prove it.
“No I mean what books have you written?” Because a writer only writes books.
“Do you make any money doing it?” Doubtful.
“Can I read something?” Let’s be clear, I don’t want to buy something, I just want to read it for free.
Let’s imagine for a moment this same line of questioning to a doctor;
“Oh yeah? Who have you saved?”
“No I mean who have you saved from death?”
“How much money do you make doing that?”
“Can you fix this boil on my bum?”
No. doesn’t happen. But to us writers, Every. Damn. Time.
Then there’s the scorn, you’re a writer?? The negativity, oh I wouldn’t quit your day job because you can’t rely on writing. The advice, you should write for Mills & Boone. The assumptions, you’re not published, oh then you’re not a real writer.
Sigh. As if it’s not hard enough having to deal with writer’s block, editing, the publishing dilemma, limited time, limited funds, breaking in, making a name, marketing etc et al, we must also deal with a society that looks down on us unless we slot into their predefined schema of what a writer “is”; namely Hemingway or Rowling.
So I’ve decided to simply answer, “I’m a freelance writer” when people ask the question, what do you do. Oh sure I still get asked what I write about, but there’s less doubt, less disrespect, less judgement. Freelance writing seems to slot into society’s scheme far better than writer.
While I wonder why this is so, it just resonates a simple truth, being a writer is hard.
*I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether or not you’ve experienced some of the prejudice I have when explaining you’re a writer.