So, what is it you do again?

The lovely folks at Scottish Book Trust linked to this piece the other week, and it got me thinking. Oh dear, I hear you cry, this can only end badly. Well, hear me out.

It’s the question that begins a thousand enforced conversations at parties. If you’re a bona fide, professional, actually published writer, you can probably say you are with some degree of confidence. Me? I juggle the perils of freelancing with the demands of brazen housewifery, and in the spare time left over I suppose you could call me a writer. (Well, I *am* technically published now. Just saying.) Now, what happens when you say this? A world o’ hurt, that’s what.

What made you choose that as a job? That’s brave!

Er, no it’s not. ‘Brave’ is working as a nurse treating Ebola. ‘Brave’ is parachuting into warzones every day. Accidentally stumbling into trying to write words for fame and (piffling) profit isn’t brave. Some would say foolish, but we’ll come to that.

But when will you be getting a real job?

This was genuinely asked by the lady in the bank when we applied for our mortgage, shortly before opening her flipchart to predict when I would die of cancer, and asking me if I wanted to take our insurance for when my husband was in an ‘accident’ so the house would be paid off. The best part about my job, lady, is while you’re prattling on about these things, I’m working out the tense Mexican standoff will pan out between my selkie and my roguish delinquent. THAT’S JOB SATISFACTION RIGHT THERE, MY FRIEND.

And this is what I do in my head to sassy bankers. BOOM.

And this is what I do in my head to sassy bankers. BOOM.

Oh wow! I don’t know how you find the time.

A dear friend was discussing this very reply. There’s a sort of sneery undertone to it, one where the answer in the questioner’s head is clearly ‘because you don’t have a real job and therefore sit on your arse playing Candy Crush and watching Jeremy Kyle’. It’s true. That is literally all I do. I sit huffing giant bags of Monster Munch, work through a Columbo boxset then trot out 70,000 words of passable urban fantasy. Yes, that’s exactly how the creative process works. Gold star for you!

[unwanted advice about what you’re writing and how to do it]

Most people mean well. They want you to produce a really good book and then give them a free copy because they gave such good advice. Alas, 99% of the time it comes out like Harry Enfield’s ‘I do not believe you wanted to do that’ character. Like the older lady at a recent party who hadn’t heard of urban fantasy. After my explanation, during which she asked if there were any vampires in it ‘like that Twilight thing’, she thought for a minute then said ‘oh, so it’s like Harry Potter!’

Honey, my main character would kick Potter’s skinny arse.


I think the tipping point was when a (now former) friend mansplained to me that actually, editing was surely about taking words away, so why on earth had my manuscript had words added to it? Maybe because pruning into 50k words would result in a novella, and because it was a first draft that needed plot points fleshed out? Also, are you my editor? No? Here’s the door, then.



Is your book in the shops, then?

Well, while I’d like to see it in Waterstones there’s the small hurdle of sorting a publisher first. I mean, if you’d like to run up a few copies on your massive printing press and hurl them, shuriken-style, into your local bookshop go right ahead.

Really, the best response is to be all positive and encouraging to your poor writer chum. Alternatively, many of us accept donations of large gins. I should just add that Paypal donation button, shouldn’t I?

2 thoughts on “So, what is it you do again?

  1. Hmm. I think I take issue with you on the “bravery” front, albeit possibly by taking the comment more seriously than you meant it. I had a lot of people say the same to me when I quit a decent career in order to retrain in renewable energy, and in a sense they were right: I was throwing away security and taking a risk of ending up stuck jobless and penniless (which in fact would have happened, had I not been able to rely on family). I think it does take bravery to embark upon that, especially if you don’t have a safety net.

    I didn’t feel especially brave in taking that leap – and that might partly because I *did* have some level of safety net – but to a stranger who didn’t know my financial situation, it was not an unreasonable comment.

    Of course, bravery takes many forms, and I wouldn’t even think to compare what I did with your example of a nurse flying to an Ebola-hit area to help people… but the term is appropriate to describe them both, IMHO, and I can understand why somebody might describe somebody embarking on a creative/artistic career in the same way.


  2. Pingback: We are all Stevie Nicks | Writings from Otherworld

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