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.
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!’
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?