It is still strange to tell people I am a writer.
There’s almost always a catch, the slightest pause, when someone asks me what I do for a living. It’s almost like I have to check with myself to confirm.
Am I really a writer, an author, some blessed fool who makes a living out of the mad ramblings that spring from his own head?
Well, yeah, I guess I am.
Am I world famous? No. Am I rich? Nope. Are any of my books about to be made into movies? Not last time I checked, but I’m still hoping one day.
But I am a writer and when I finally work myself into saying as much invariably I will get loads of questions.
Now note it’s not because I am so incredibly charming or clever, but rather because I’m something that most people haven’t ever seen before. Keeping in mind that I don’t mind it, but sometimes as the questions start tumbling out I feel a bit like zoo keeper and exhibit all at once:
“Where do you get your ideas from? How do you keep everything straight in your head? How fast can you write a book? What is your preferred habitat? Are you anyway related to members of the Ursa family?”
These questions are fine, and sometimes even a little fun as no craftsman can honestly tell you that people interested in his craft is a bad thing, but it is what often comes afterwards that almost always trips me up, as much if not more than the what do you do for a living question:
“Hey, I always thought I should write a book. I’ve got this really great idea and I think people would really like it. So it’s about this…”
At this point I’m usually elevated to threat level orange and I’m discreetly looking for a way to escape the conversation. Now this has absolutely nothing to do with the validity of said person’s potential career as a novelist, though to be honest when most people learn how much work it is it quickly loses its glamor, but it has much more to do with my role as a craftsman and not as a talent scout. Usually the person sharing their brilliant idea, and some of them truly are magnificent, is looking to me for some sort of affirmation, some assurance that they aren’t silly or crazy for thinking this story or series idea is cool/fun/engaging/exciting/etc. I mean I should know, after all, with how many times I wander about my house harassing my wife and children with “another book pitch”, and as I’ve said I’m still fresh enough to the game to feel that prickling fear in the pit of your stomach that tells you that you’re a joke and a fraud. I get it, I really do, and I often wish I could be more useful with helping people with such things but often I can only manage an admittedly lame “Sounds great, I’d love to read it someday.”
Most often this is when an intangible chill sets in between us and I’m left to squirm in what I’m sure seems like sullen silence before one of us finds an excuse to escape the other’s company. I sincerely hope I’ve never doused a future writer’s dreams with this now formulaic encounter, but turning the coin over what else can I say?
I am the first specimen most of these people have ever encountered in the wild, and so I’m not keen to give them a bad impression but also because of that I understand how little people know what being a writer actually means. It’s not all flashes of inspiration and book signings and royalty checks. It is revisiting the same scene a thousand times to berate it and yourself for not closing the plot hole you didn’t see until 50k words too late. It is your characters refusing to do what you tell them to do as they twist with a narrative you thought you had control of. It is dickering with your editor about a single turn of phrase until your so strung out you approve the next five chapters of edits without even looking. It is trying to balance cove ideals with market realities and artist interests and abilities all on the backdrop of a rapidly shrinking budget, because there is no free lunch. It is a constant balance between swallowing your pride to listen to others and having enough confidence to push through with your idea/concept/story/character/word choice because at the end of the day this is your work and it rises and falls based on you.
So like any craft it ends up being a lot of work meaning that any one idea a person has about a book idea, and again many are brilliant, it is simply not enough. It is like the movie Million Dollar Baby: “Tough ain’t enough.” It isn’t enough to have that brilliant idea, it isn’t even enough to force that brilliant idea out of your head and onto the page. It is all those things and a thousand more that I list above, though it is not like I don’t think many people are capable of them, most probably are, but who would want to bother. Most people like books because they are fun and diverting, but the writing of a book is not a book. Writing is art and craftsmanship and work, and I love it where most wouldn’t and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But how am I supposed to fit all of that into a light conversation when some kind and unexpected stranger wants to talk about my job?
Perhaps this is why I’m abysmal at small talk.
Until next time, Dear Readers.
Aaron D. Schneider