Why I Hesitate to Talk to Non-Writers, Part 2

In a previous post, I talked about why I sometimes hesitate to talk to non-writers.  These are some common things that I hear from downers that make it very difficult for me to want to talk about writing with people I don’t really know about:

Statement: “You’re never going to make any money at that.”

Response: “Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Also, so what?”

This is probably the most common one that I hear, and it really bothers me.  First, I’m not really sure why you need to make money at something to make it worthwhile.  I would absolutely love to sell my writing.  But that isn’t why I do it.  I do it because there are stories in my head and I want to see what they look like on paper.  I do it because I enjoy writing them, and people enjoy reading them.  Making money at it would be nice–I mean, who doesn’t want more money?  But this statement automatically equates an action (writing) with a motivation that may not exist (making money).

The underlying rationale behind this statement seems to be that not many people “make it” as writers.  And it’s true that not many people turn into super rich and famous celebrity writers.  But I go to bookstores a lot and they are just filled with names.  There are plenty of people who write professionally and even make a full-time living at it.

Writing is a skill you hone with practice.  These kinds of statements make me depressed about the prospect of ever being published as a writer.  If I don’t hone my skill, I really will never get published, and it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Statement: “Let me know when you get a real book published.”

Response: “My short stories are writing too.”

There is this perception that writing short stories is not doing real writing.  Let me tell you something–writing short stories is hard.  You don’t have time to flop around and try to find your way to the story.  There is a level of precision you must have to communicate your plot, characters, and setting, all in a digestible chunk of less than 15,000 words (the common place I see people start saying they are accepting novellas.)

Besides, I get offended that you have judged the qualities of my writing without ever consuming it.  Who knows, you might like my book that I haven’t managed to finish or get published.  You might even like my short stories, even if you’re not the kind of person that reads short stories.  But even if you don’t, that doesn’t make my writing somehow less ‘real.’

Doing responses to a couple of statements took longer than I thought it would and I’ve run up against my self-imposed 15-minute time limit.  Also, I have to go to work.  I’m sure there will be a part three.

Why I Hesitate to Talk to Non-Writers, Part 1

A lot of my acquaintances are surprised to learn that I’m a writer.  This is because I always engage in a mental cost-benefit analysis before I decide whether to tell someone that I write.  It isn’t that I am shy about discussing my work.  Though I used to be extremely hesitant to discuss what I’m writing, now that I have a bunch of rejections under my belt, I have stepped past the point of caring whether people think I have a stupid idea or not.

The problem is that I’ve found that the vast majority of non-writers that I talk to writing about fall into two camps: (1) you’re not ever going to get published and you’re going to make any money at it so why bother, or (2) oh that’s so cool can I read what you’re writing.  In other words, they’re either a downer or a supporter.

Talking to supporters makes me enthusiastic to write.  But I don’t like to talk with downers.  They approach the whole idea of writing from a place that is completely foreign to me.  I usually find the conversation depressing.  A conversation with a downer about writing usually ruins my ability to sit down and plug away at a draft for a couple of hours at best, or ticks off a malaise that keeps me from writing for weeks or months at worst.

How people are going to react to me telling them that I’m a writer is a complete toss-up.  The old adage ‘appearances can be deceiving’ is extremely true when it comes to trying to figure out which camp a person falls into.  I’ve had people that look as nerdy as I am unexpectedly turn out to be downers, or they might even be hostile to the very idea of someone presuming to try to write something.  And I’ve had people that look like non-readers wax enthusiastic to me about their favorite YA authors.

As a result, my default is that I wait to talk to people about writing until I have a better idea of whether they’ll be a downer or a supporter.  This entire process would be a lot less complicated if the downers would refrain from doing certain things.  The next time I get a few moments for a substantive post (nanowrimo is still alive and well in my house), I’ll give a few examples of statements from downers, my personal answers to the statements, and why the statements are hurtful.