There are so many different reactions when we reveal that we are writers. They range from bafflement (because people do that?) to excitement (I’m friends with the next J. K. Rowling!) and just about everything in between. We must learn to be patient in dealing with some of the assumptions that follow. Here are five specific things that non-writers don’t always understand about being a writer.
1. It’s Time Consuming
A book doesn’t take long to read, you can plough through one in a day or two if you want to. If a person has never written a novel, never mind attempted to edit, revise, and polish it, it may not have occurred to them just how long the process is.
Being a writer does not automatically mean that we have masses of free time or that we can churn out a *publishable* novel every month. I have found that a helpful explanation is to ask them how long it takes to write a 2000 word assignment for class. Then I ask them to imagine trying to do that fifty times over and you have a rough first draft for a sci-fi fantasy book. Once you’ve done that, you have to revise it and revise it until it’s worthy of at least an A-.
Be gentle though, it genuinely doesn’t occur to most people that a book that takes a few hours to read is months or even years in the making.
2. It’s Antisocial
Brainstorming is one of my favourite parts of writing. I particularly enjoy bouncing ideas off of my parents and have found great entertainment in ironing out the technical aspects of The Legend of Dreich with my dad. But ultimately, when it comes to sitting down and getting the draft on paper, we must write alone.
Writing as an act is not a social activity. It requires us to retreat into the worlds inside our heads and record the self-made hallucinations we see there. This can be difficult for non-writers to understand. Even reading can be adapted as a social activity by reading out loud to one another, but when the pen hits the paper, we are lost to the world.
3. It’s Difficult
We have our own hashtag to whinge about it and everything (#writerproblems). Even the most talented and prestigious writers have days when they want to bang their head off the wall. Words don’t work the way they’re meant to. Sentences tie themselves in knots. Plots park themselves in the middle of the floor and refuse to move themselves along no matter how we try to persuade them.
Even after the elation of finishing the first draft, there is the angst of reading it through and realising the extent of the work that needs to be done to make it even semi-presentable. It takes a special pig-headedness to be a writer, not everyone is cut out for the struggle. The question ‘how hard can it be?’ never fails to elicit a manic giggle.
4. It’s a Real Job
I fought with my teachers constantly about this throughout my later years in high school. They would ask the ridiculous question, what would you even use writing for?
Have you ever taught from a textbook? Read a paperback at the beach? Watched TV? Seen a billboard? Checked the calorie count on a bottle of Coke? Consulted Mr Google about a bothersome question? Have you ever followed a set of instructions? Listened to a song? Heard political leaders open their mouths? Writing is everywhere. It can do everything from update you on the weather to shape the ideologies of nations.
Writing is a real job, and one that requires a specific skill set. There are people out there who will pay you to write anything from birthday cards to the State of the Union Address if you’re good enough. Call it a hobby if you like but writing could get you a desk at the White House if that’s what your passion is.
5. It’s the Best Thing Ever
Most importantly, the thing that non-writers don’t understand is the pleasure in willing worlds from the dust of dictionaries and breaking hearts by arranging and rearranging combinations of twenty-six letters on a page. It’s one of those professions where if you can be happy doing something else instead, you should. It’s a labour of love and an overwhelming compulsion.
Holidays aren’t a time to not-write (I’m chuckling at the very thought), it’s a time to set aside to write more or to try writing something different. There are days that I decide I’ll take a break from writing. So I play with my poetry magnets or scribble down a song or some Spoken Word. There is nothing more pleasurable than using little dots and squiggles on a page to create something that wasn’t there before.
- It’s important to have grace with non-writers when they don’t understand us but what are some ways you’ve found people to misunderstand writers?
- What’s the funniest reaction anyone has ever had to hearing that you are a writer?