You’re at a dinner party.
You meet a stranger.
Two minutes into the conversation, he or she asks, “what do you do?”
With a slight hesitation, you offer your response:
I’m a writer.
And often, in a matter of seconds, you wish you could take it back, amending your response with something more predictable or ordinary—even if it means lying.
I have a lawyer friend who used to concoct fictitious identities before attending dinner parties.
He was tired of the strange looks, the rude responses, the awkward conversations with people assuming too much about him from his profession.
He enjoyed his profession, and he took pride in his work.
He was tired of the stereotypes.
Writers have similar problems.
People understand little about your actual work, and they often assume too much, turning you into a caricature. They don’t understand the dedication and hard work involved. They assume writing’s easy, thinking everyone does it, right?
How many times have you bit your tongue, wishing you could speak your mind?
How many times have you wondered whether someone’s response to your work was genuine, innocent, or malicious?How many times have you bit your tongue, wishing you could say what was on your mind? How many times have you wondered whether someone’s response to your work was genuine, innocent, or malicious? Click To Tweet
Just for fun, I’ve compiled a list of the most annoying things people say to writers and other creatives. The top ten list comes first, along with some snarky comebacks you may want to keep to yourself.
I’m a Writer…
Interesting. So how do you make a living?
Don’t you hate the word interesting?
It means one thing on paper, and quite another in conversation. It’s one of those passive-aggressive terms people use when they think they can get over on you. It’s like wrapping an insult in a thin layer of bland, white tissue paper.
They’re not bright enough to realize you live and breathe words, that you understand perfectly what they’re trying to communicate to you:
you sad, pathetic creature, always trying to beat the system because you can’t compete. You poor, fragile soul, trying to make art, trying to make a name for yourself.
And don’t get me started on making a living…
You couldn’t possibly make money writing. That’s the realm of schemers and dreamers, people who’ve never grown up, people who can’t cut it in the “real world.”
I make my living on my own terms. Every day’s a gift. Thanks for asking.
You know what they say? Don’t quit your day job.
Wow, I’ve never actually considered the truth of this statement. Thanks for the advice!
This one’s tossed around liberally.
The worst part?
Your advisor gets to feel superior, like he or she is being altruistic, offering you a free, golden nugget of wisdom.
Translation? I’m sure you’re not very good, so don’t kid yourself and get your hopes up. You’re likely to fail.
How’s your day job? It must be hard stuck in the rat race…
You’re a writer? What does that pay?
Here, we have a gloating asshat pretending to be curious.
What they really want to discuss is how much they earn: their yearly salary, benefits, and perks to make you feel inferior.
The real message?
I like to think I’m winning the game, and to make sure I continue to feel like I’m winning the game, I need people like you to look down upon.
My pay? You’d be surprised. I can’t complain.
Smile, and excuse yourself.
It must be nice not working…
Everyone knows one of these folks.
They love to talk about their jobs. It feels as though they’re trying to convince themselves.
They’re miserable in their daily grind for a paycheck, and they need everyone to suffer in the same way. They can’t stand to think that you’ve taken a risk they can’t bear.
You’ve asked for more. You’ve put yourself out there, and you just might realize your potential.
You’re a threat because you remind them of every dream they let wither and die due to fear or laziness.
Sorry, friend. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been out of work.
I’d love to write, too, if someone else paid the bills…
Translation: You’re not pulling your weight.
Your “friend” delivers the ultimate guilt trip, trying to make you feel unworthy, assuming someone else is financing your writing time.
First, it’s nobody’s business how you pay your bills. Second, they’re assuming you aren’t paying your own way, that you can’t possibly make a living on your own.
I’m doing well, thanks. But you sound a little disappointed. What would you most like to do (if you had any talent)?
Don’t you feel guilty, like you should be doing something productive with your life?
This one is particularly irksome.
It’s a put down. This person’s trying to convince you that writing is wasteful. You can’t help but wonder whether this person has ever read a book.
It’s pointless trying to defend the power of the written word, so you’d better avoid the conversation altogether.
I’d feel terribly guilty if I didn’t write. What are you avoiding in your life?
But what do you want to be when you grow up?
We’re grown up, thank you.
We’re not deluded by ideas of overnight fame and fortune.
Writing chooses us.
We know exactly what we’re getting into: the long days and nights without guarantees, the long drawn out projects that force us to develop new skills.
When writing chooses us, we go out on a limb every day, doing the work we must, the work that feeds and inspires us.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Good luck with that…
You realize no one’s wishing you luck, right?
This one’s the ultimate dismissal. Your writing “hobby,” or whatever you wish to call it, doesn’t even warrant a conversation.
If you’re met with this response to your writing dreams, walk away.
This person is not worth a minute of your time.
Smile, and look away without responding. If you feel the need to respond, wish them luck as well.
They’re going to need it.
Oh, so you’re one of those…
When you hear this one coming, you might be tempted to finish the offender’s sentence, saying, “you mean artist or creative type, right?”
Most of the time, these rude remarks should be ignored or cut short with a brief response. This one, however, deserves a more detailed response.
“One of what, specifically, are you referring to?”
If this isn’t enough to embarrass your inquisitor, let them continue speaking. Let them hear themselves speaking.
Nod your head as they dig a deeper hole.
The only appropriate response is to say, “how interesting.”
Don’t offer another word on the subject. It’s not your job to make a jerk feel better.
Oh, so what have you published?
On the surface, this seems like an innocuous question; however, there’s often more going on in the background.
It’s not really a question.
It’s a well-laid trap, leading your antagonist to the punch line:
Unless you’re on the New York Times bestseller list, published by one of the big five traditional publishers, you’re not really a writer.
This “published” question puts you on the spot, forcing you to respond in a way that won’t leave you feeling humiliated.
You know your publishing status has no bearing on your writer status.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published, yet it remained a commercial flop until after his death. Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, published his first book when he was 66. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish until she was in her sixties…
One can’t help wondering how many awkward dinner conversations they endured, discussing their publishing status.
Every writer walks a unique path. You may be published or not.
You may be working on your first novel. You may have several works in progress.
You may be looking at the self-publishing market.
Don’t let anyone shame you over your publishing status.
Oh, nothing you’ve heard of. I write dinner party splatterpunk. Thanks for asking.
Here’s the rest of the list. We invite you to add your personal favorites to the comments section.
So, you like playing the starving artist?
Who doesn’t want to be a writer?
So you failed at your day job?
My husband began writing during a mid-life crisis, too…
Hmm. Have I heard of you?
Reading seems like such a waste of time!
Great! What do you really do?
I have this story I’m working on. You should take a look…
I could give you some tips…
Why haven’t I heard of you?
I admire your guts (translation=stupidity)
Shouldn’t you be giving up by now, cutting your losses?
Seems like anyone can write a book these days. Crap sells…
Can’t you find something more practical?
What’s your backup plan?
When do you think things will pan out?
What success have you had so far?
Why are writers always depressed?
A writer? God love ya. I guess I’m more of a realist…
That’s what I’d do, too, if I had nothing but time…
I’ve never met an actual writer… (wait for it; there’s more to come)
That’s neat, really, really neat…
I’m an excellent writer; we should collaborate.
I have lots of great ideas… I just need someone to put them into form…
I’d love to sit around and make sh_t up all day!
I’m a writer, too. I was a straight-A student in English…
My nephew, currently living in my sister’s basement, calls himself a writer. You two should get together.
Hope you enjoyed reading these.
Now, it’s your turn…
What’s the worst thing someone has said to you about being a writer?
Share it in the comments section below.
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