“Oh, you write? What do you do for a real job though?”
Every profession has questions that they have to field on a regular basis that get on their nerves. When I was a soldier it was, “Did you kill anyone?” (I’m sure cops get it too) EMTs get the ever popular, “So, you’re an ambulance driver?” Lawyers love to hear, “So you keep criminals on the streets?”
Since I’ve started writing with aspirations of it paying my bills, I’ve told people I’m a writer. It started off as a guilty admission. Why not? I hadn’t published a book yet, and while I would have granted any of my friends the title of writer if they asked for it, I was shy about giving it to myself. Flash forward a year, and I’ve published one book, finished a second, and am nearly halfway done with a third. I think I can wear it. And yet that question hasn’t abated. “But what do you do?”
Well, I write.
A million non-writers will appear out of thin air when you say this and tell you it isn’t a real job. Do me a favor. Next time someone says you don’t have a real job as a writer, ask them if they like movies, books, TV, comics, short stories, video games, schoolbooks, advertisements, bed time stories, song lyrics, or any of the other million mediums a writer can use to express a story. Hell, you can tell a story with a paint brush and canvas. You can tell it with clay. Artists are only limited by their imagination. We don’t just sit around our houses/offices/studios staring at a screen for a few hours until we crap something onto paper. (Although we do that too) We add color and context to the world. Look around the room you’re in right now. Do you see art anywhere? Art of any kind? When was the last time you read an article or story that made you think or smile? Without art, the world would be less than it is.
If nobody has said it to you before, let me be the first: You have value. Each story you tell is a part of you and your worldview that only you could have created. And even if it doesn’t sell a million copies, so what? Even if you never make a living off of it, who cares? That piece of you will live on long after you’re gone, and it could effect the world in ways you can’t fathom right now. In the year 3345 people might talk about how your work was the picture of 2014 American zeitgeist. Or not! Even if they don’t, there is value in doing the things that bring you joy, or in the act of creation itself.
Kevin Smith said, ““Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.” I couldn’t have worded it better.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have the support you’d hoped to have when you started on this path. Yes, it’s not easy. Kathrine Monroe said, “Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.” And I agree with her in part. It isn’t easy. You will be the biggest obstacle in your own way, and every time the phone rings or the kids cry, you have one more thing to do that’s keeping you from your work. Once you sit down, you have to make the language sing and the story move, all without making it look like you’re trying too hard. But what could be more glamorous than doing the thing you’re really passionate about? Throw it all away– the dreams of fame, the desire for recognition, the need for the money– toss it all in the trash and ask yourself what you would rather have; all of that or the work?
If the answer is the work, then I’ve got good news; you already have it. Keep going.