When do I tell someone I’m a writer?

Wanting to write a book is weird.

In today’s inclusive and encouraging society it might seem like we can pursue whatever dreams we want.ย Being some degree of professional writer is easier today than it ever has been. And there are some great success stories of those who are able to quit their jobs and write full time.

But those people are outliers, and they are weird, and it is a bold thing to say you are one of them.

Let me ask a simpler question. What do parents want for their children? A good many things certainly, but the most basic is parents want their children to be able to support themselves and maybe someday a family. Parents want their children to stand on their own two feet. Writing, to many, doesn’t seem like a terribly viable way to do that.

Sure there’s social stigmas of being “artsy” and there’s the whole “I don’t know how you find the time” argument, but the practical argument is often the best, writing doesn’t pay well, at least at first.

My parents were always very encouraging of my creativity. I grew up in an unusual world through my Dad’s ministry. Many of his fellow staff workers had published books of non-fiction and fiction alike, so writing a book never seemed that weird to me. I grew up in a house surrounded by books (buried might be the more appropriate term). And yet it was still important to get a “day job”. Now I’m not saying that I couldn’t have tried to make the writing pay and have it be the only thing, and for some people this is the crucible they need. I just knew from a very early age that if I wanted to have a wife, a family, and a house, writing had to coexist with another job. I could have a whole other post on why I think for my particular type of writing having a job is actually a very good thing, but for the moment I’m not making enough from writing to have it be the only thing (actually I have yet to get paid, hopefully this year).

I know we shouldn’t be judging each other’s choices in life, but a lot of us do. Even if you’re doing the “practical responsible” thing, there will be people who see you as weird for wanting to write.

This is by no means a bad thing.

You just need to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Not everyone is the kind of person who can put all they are out in front of people and not be affected if others don’t accept them. Some people, even if they are not writers themselves, love to talk about books and stories, and can be a great encouragement. But plenty of others aren’t really that interested. It might be a good idea to feel out which they are before dropping the “writer” tag on them.

This might sound like I’m being discouraging, but trust me, I’m not. I’m merely trying to state that for many writing is a kind of flight of fancy enterprise, maybe even a childish or un-adult profession. For those of us who work in the “real world”, we need to get along with many different kinds of people, while staying “true to our dreams”.

We can spend all day saying we’re a writer, and many of us have the passion to talk someone’s ear off. But it might be better, at least at first, to keep our dream to ourselves, to actually get work done that other’s can see, and to have something we can really be proud of beyond identity.

Have you ever had a hard time telling someone you’re a writer (friends, family, co-workers)?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “When do I tell someone I’m a writer?

  1. Great post! Yes, it took a lot of courage for me to share the fact that I am a writer with the “outside world”. A few family members and close friends knew that I wrote, and some even read a short story or two. It wasn’t until a fellow writer and dear friend encouraged me to start a blog and to share my writing that I found the courage and strength to say – “this is part of who I am, it’s not all of me, but it’s a pretty important part!” Yes, at times, those who I thought would be more supportive haven’t been, but for the most part my support system has been fantastic. Writing has always been something I’ve done for me and now I have people thanking me for sharing it with them! It’s a great feeling and I have never regretted taking the leap out of my comfort zone in order to tell the world that I am a writer. Thank you for sharing this post with us and bringing clarity to my thoughts this morning.

    • Glad you liked the post. I’ve always been more of a results based sharer (i.e. how many books\drafts\words written. How many posts to the blog). I don’t like to share new projects until I’ve actually put some serious weight into them. But that said, the core passion of writing that I frankly can’t keep hidden for long. When talking with friends we’re always one stray connection from me steering the conversation back to writing ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m glad you’re finding support in the community, and hope your blog continues to go well.

  2. It is something that can be difficult to explain… to anyone, really. My mother was always incredibly supportive, while my father worried about me supporting myself – both reasonable reactions. I didn’t share my passion for writing with anyone else outside of immediate family for a long time. But when I started my self-publishing venture, I kinda had to let it all hang out. Telling my boss and co-workers was a bit awkward, but they’re generally supportive. Of course, I work with what I call “giant children” in an auto parts store, so they tend to tease me – but that’s how they show they care. One person, who will remain nameless, called it my “little hobby” and I was never more insulted. But it’s just the motivation I need to prove them wrong… someday… ๐Ÿ˜‰ We are who we are, and we should embrace that.
    Take care, Ben!

    • I’ve always liked to use the word “passion” to describe my writing. Hobbies are relaxing, passions … well not always. Everyone at my work knows I write, but I don’t talk about it a whole lot. But there are a few who follow the blog and who I talk to a little more regularly. Ultimately finding one or two people to talk to is worth risking seeming silly to ten others. Didn’t know you worked in an auto-parts store. Cool ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Being a writer? Crazy dream. It’ll never happen.

    You need something down-to-earth and sensible. Like, say, building an artificial intelligence on your PC. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Chuck Conover

    From …
    THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG
    by Robert Anson Heinlein

    “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of — but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. ”

    and

    “A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits. ”

    But humor asside, I consider myself a closet poet and writer. In other words, a critic!

    Keep up the good work. Second guessing yourself can build character, so long as it doesn’t become habit forming.

    • Considering I have a blog that declares me a writer in the masthead, I’m not exactly shy about what I am, but nonetheless I have encountered a lot of different attitudes about writing, including one of the basest (and least founded) that writing is somehow “lazy”. I got a lot of flack from some of my engineering friends for getting a full ride from an essay contest (OSUs Maximus), but the fact is the amount of work it takes to be a good writer, and to be invited to the competition, is no less than getting their through math or through sport. You always have good quotes. Thanks Chuck ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Nice post. Weird is the perfect term. I feel weird no matter who I tell, and it doesnโ€™t get less weird the more I say it. I wrote a novel. Itโ€™s still weird. Beginning in March, writing will be my full time (and only) job. Even weirder. O well.

  6. David

    That we have arrived in a world where to create art or the tools to share knowledge is shameful guilt ridden behavior is itself shameful.

    *Ok, so we’ve actually been at that point for almost 100 years, or at the very least since Sputnik in America. The point still stands nonetheless.

    • Why Sputnik out of curiosity? I think the value of writers and writing is something that has been a question for a lot longer. I don’t think we’ve ever really lived in a society where earning or working a living didn’t matter in some form or another. Some of the great poets and writers were independently wealthy, and so were free to pursue their art without burden. Securing a patron might be a way to have artistic freedom, but it can also be a away to tie oneself too much to a single interest. I’m speaking primarily from a middle-class and practical perspective that says “If you want a family, and you want to write, you probably need a day job.” If I were on my own I might be willing to accept poorer conditions for a while though I don’t know. I like my creature comforts, good food, technology, DVDs, etc. Mainly, I’m just trying to say that there is more than one attitude towards writing in society, and it’s important to be aware of the perspective of who we’re sharing that information with. I’m not saying that should change our behavior, but we should at least be aware.

  7. I disagree… I don’t mean to be rude — certainly I hope you know I respect you and your opinion — but I think it’s important to live life with honesty, integrity and courage.

    Centuries ago, being a storyteller, a skald, a bard, a poet, a WRITER was considered to be the most honourable of positions. Look back at just about any culture, and you’ll find that the writers (by other names) were the ones who were respected, admired, and loved by the people. Today, not so much. Today, reality TV stars are admired and loved, if not respected. Today, respect comes with a large house, a fancy car, and a job that you may or may not like, but that pays well.

    I don’t buy into that. And I don’t buy into the argument that “the most basic is parents want their children to be able to support themselves and maybe someday a family.” Is that important? Sure. No one wants to see their kids starve. But for me, the most basic thing I want for my children is for them to be happy, fulfilled, and true to themselves. For them to live with honesty, integrity, and courage.

    My sister is a visual artist, and has supported herself through selling art and working in the arts industry her whole adult life. She’s had a few part-time jobs, but never for long. And she would never have identified herself as a “retail worker”. When she wanted to go to university, her teachers encouraged her to find something “practical” to study. She chose veterinary science. As soon as she told me what she planned to do, I argued against it. “Why would you want to study something you’re not passionate about?” I asked her. She changed her mind, studied visual arts, and has never looked back.

    People will tell you that you can’t live comfortably as an artist, but my sister bought her own house when she was 21. Not because she’s exceptionally talented (although she is), but because she was PASSIONATE and COMMITTED and she never tried to hide those passions from herself or others. She worked the jobs she could, networked with others in the arts industry, lived really, really cheaply (but never at home with our parents), and focused on improving her skills and selling her work.

    As for me, I’ve worked lots of jobs. I’ve managed a travel agency, I’ve sold skin care products, I’ve shelved books in libraries, I’ve worked in bookstores. But through all of that, I’ve always been very clear in my own mind that I’m a WRITER. And if someone asked what I did, I’d say, “I work at XX bookstore, and I’m a writer.” And although occasionally I get some skeptical glances (especially when I say I don’t have a book published yet), 95% of people are interested and excited about the idea.

    And at the end of the day, if you’re not HONEST with yourself and others, if you don’t have the INTEGRITY to stand by your passions, and you don’t have the COURAGE to tell other people what those passions are, what exactly do you have?

    *steps off soapbox*
    *apologises for the long, rambling comment*

    • Thanks Jo for the lovely (almost blog post length) comment ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t think being a writer is something you should hide, but I do think we should be realistic about how some people will react. I tend to be of the opinion I am who I am, accept it or not, but I also know a lot of people really care what others think, especially their family. It’s important to weigh the consequences of any important revelation.

      I agree that parents want happiness and fulfillment for their children, but many define that happiness as being able to support themselves. And I have to say part of what I’ve defined as “being an adult” means being able to pursue my passions without relying on the support of my parents. They’re always there for love and encouragement (and alpha reading) but I’m a responsible owner of my life and my passions. There are some who are able to support themselves solely from their passions (and that’s wonderful, I’m still striving for that). But I think the experience of most (even famous writers like John Grisham) is to start out working, finding time for your passion where you can.

      And sometimes having a job can actually help your writing. I’m in a technical field, and I write futuristic sci-fi. Keeping current in my chosen field often helps with my primary passion. And the fractal book is a synthesis of the way I currently make money (programming) and my passions (writing). I may expand on this in another post soon ๐Ÿ™‚

      Sidebar: I’ve been really encouraged to see how much progress you’ve been posting on your WIP. Great job Jo!

      • Was that almost blog post length? Wow. Sorry. *scrolls up* Yeah… Clearly my expertise is not in writing short comments… ๐Ÿ™‚

        I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. Maybe I’ve just had different life experiences to you, and so have a slightly different slant on the question. To my way of thinking, if you consider yourself a writer, say you’re a writer. You might also work as a teacher or a programmer or a police officer or a lawyer or a cleaner or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t own your passion out loud.

        Oh, and I absolutely agree that working in any job, no matter what it is, can help with fiction writing. You can’t write about life if you don’t have one. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Sidebar: Thanks very much. ๐Ÿ™‚ As of tonight’s efforts, I’ve written just over 15,000 words this month through writing 1 hour per day. I’m pretty stoked it’s working so well!

      • That’s great Jo. Keep up the good work!

  8. A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann

    Sent from my iPhone

    • I like that one. It distinguishes nicely between the mechanics of writing, something we all need to learn, and what writers specifically are trying to achieve. Thanks!

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