Last month I wanted to know what you said to people who don't think that writing is a job and whether you thought I should blow my own trumpet about my work. Boy, did we get a lot of replies! In fact, there were so many replies that we didn't have room to print them all in the newsletter. Further replies to this topic can be found below.
Some of you, like Annette Snyder, are lucky in that you seem to be surrounded by people who are interested in your work. "Most ask me what I'm working on now. The people around me are very interested in my work. If I know they have the Internet, I just hand them a bookmark with my web addy on it and tell them they should check it out. Seems to work."
But for most of you, getting recognition for your work is far from easy.
"When people ask, 'So, you're still writing, then? How's that going?' I usually offer up a standard reply. 'Oh, yes, uh-huh. It's going pretty well. I've been keeping busy.' And I leave it at that. Usually, so do they. There are only one or two friends that are genuinely interested in a real update. (We all know who they are, don't we?) I've stopped trying to 'gently educate' the rest. They just don't get it, or just don't care." --Michele Deppe.
"Moira was right in her column: Only other writers can really appreciate what we do all day. Most people seem to think we get paid to just sit here and pretend to work. Neighbors routinely call and ask favors since they know I'm home. At one neighborhood association meeting a board member actually scolded me for not doing something for the group, pointing out that I had time since I was home all day. I gritted my teeth and very calmly and sternly replied, 'I work from home. My work day is generally 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, depending on which coast the people I need to speak with are located. So while I may be home, it doesn't mean I'm available.'" --Paula Hendrickson "I've tried different tactics, but here's a few that seem to work. I always include my family members on my newsletter so that they're aware of my happenings. When I get exciting news, I always share it with them and try to include them especially in large book signings or media events. Of course if they get real cynical, I think about what is driving it. Do they hate their jobs, their pay, and/or their bosses? This usually eases my frustration and helps shed a different light on the subject. All in all, it's usually envy or their lack of commitment in chasing their own dreams that instigates their wickedness. If all else fails, I simply smile, shake my head, and walk away. I think it makes the person at least think about their ignorance and why I don't waste my breath discussing it." --Drew Silver, Author of "The Vampire Within" Trilogy
Some of you say we should definitely boast about our successes, like Pamela Toler: "When people ask about my writing, I say: 'right now I have articles in three magazines that you can find at your local Borders' and I smile. You'd be surprised how many times they write down the names, go buy the magazine (or more likely, stand at the rack and skim the article), and tell me how much they enjoy it."
"When people ask me if I'm still doing my writing thing, I usually tell them about my most recent sales. I do try to inject a tad bit of humility, but I don't mind bragging a little bit. I'm proud of what I do and if others wish to be condescending about it that's their problem, not mine!" --Vicki Kennedy "As for close family -- like parents! -- I think it would help to mention how much you earn (in a good month!). Money usually creates respect, so they can go, 'Oh my, I always picture her in her blue pajamas, but look at the money she's making today, and doing something she enjoys, too!' At least, maybe, that's what they'll tell each other and friends/family and not you." --Hasmita Chander
Finally, if you think it's just us relative newcomers who have these problems, think again. Here's Patricia Fry: "I've been writing for publication for over 30 years. Writing has been my full-time career for the last 20 years. I've certainly dealt with the issues you describe. And I've managed them in different ways over the years.
"At first, I had to train family and friends to at least respect my space when they were accustomed to my being ever-available to go shopping or lunch. They didn't exactly know what I was doing and why I needed all this time in order to do it, but they did eventually abide by my requests.
"At first, it really bothered me that I just couldn't make people understand my work and the process. And then I realized that it didn't matter if they understood. I must say that it took time to make this internal transition. But when I stopped trying to explain the writing profession to non-writers, communication actually became easier. Now, when someone asks me what I'm working on, how the writing is going or 'exactly what do you do?' I share a recent experience or credit or accomplishment.
"My aunt still doesn't understand that I am the force behind my Web site, Matilija Press. My mother is always surprised by the invitations I get to speak or to conduct workshops all over the globe. What she doesn't seem to understand is that I put in a lot of hours seeking out, soliciting and auditioning for these gigs.
So my advice to other writers who are trying to converse about their work to non-writers is, share the highlights--the interesting tidbits--about your career. You might even write them down as they occur so you won't forget them the next time someone asks you to explain what you do. And lower your expectations when it comes to educating the non-writing masses. They'll never get it. Think about it, is the reality of this career exactly as you expected? I think not."
Read on for more responses...
"I'm learning that usually people just want to be socially appropriate with small talk and they don't really care. Thus, what does it matter how such a superficial question is answered. With the people that really matter to us, and we know who they are, we can either unfurl our current quagmire or latest brilliant accomplishment as we see fit in the moment." --Lisa Guest
"If they're asking, give them a worthy answer. It's not boasting unless you're embellishing the truth. One thing I run into a lot is people who drone on and on about their office jobs and co-workers I've never met, but the second I mention my work they don't even feign interest. I write about television, which most people watch at least occasionally whether they care to admit it or not; I don't initiate discussions about my work because I don't want to come across as a name dropper. If someone asks me, I'll say I just wrote a piece on Lost or Veronica Mars or whatever I just covered (it might also be a non-TV topic like dogs or bungalows). It's astounding how often the same people who asked about my work will dismiss it with a quick, 'Oh, I wouldn't know since I don't watch TV,' or 'I only watch PBS,' then launch right into a detailed account of how their co-worker screwed up the paperwork again! Truthfully, I think these reactions stem from people who hate their own jobs (and co-workers, apparently) and are envious that I love what I do for a living. Sure, they get all the perks and benefits, but at least my co-workers' mistakes aren't the highlight of my day." --Paula Hendrickson
"On the odd occassion when an aunt or similar may ask me about my writing I do tell them about my recent achievements -- I can tell by their facial expression that they zone out after the first few words, but I figure if I just keep on plugging one of these days my family may feel that I am doing something worthwhile.
"Meanwhile I take that much pleasure in my lifestyle, the fact that I can write in my night wear if I want to, and that I do get checks every now and again, I have stopped worrying about what the people around me think. They are tied in jobs they don't like and living a lifestyle that doesn't stimulate them in any way. If I want any encouragement I read writing newsletters and I remind myself that I am part of a global community that does understand what I do and why I enjoy it so much.
So blow your own trumpet, sing your own praises and if the people around you get you down just pop back online and appreciate being part of a group of people who do know exactly how you feel. " --Lisa Oliver
"Although I once was meek about my writing, I have broken away from that state. I make a point of being upbeat, positive and highly enthusiastic when people ask me if I'm 'still writing'. I answer, 'Yes! absolutely.' When asked 'how it's going' my response remains as enthusiastic as if I was an architect who just landed a major building contract. After all, I am successful with my writing, I treat it like a business, and I promote my skills in the same way a salesman, engineer, or designer would promote themselves. I'm proud of what I do and I take every opportunity to let people know that I write.
"Yes, we should blow our own trumpet. Some may not be comfortable blowing that trumpet too loudly and that's fine. What is important, is that we make some noise about what we do and that we're demonstrative about how much it means to us to be a writer and to have the skills we do. My massage therapist is a reader and she still can barely get over the fact that she 'knows' someone who writes. She thinks it's like knowing a public personality. Well, I may not be that but it sure feels good that someone appreciates what I do.
"Ring those bells, blow those trumpets!" --Diane Schuller
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