Last week, writer and tweeter extraordinaire Elizabeth McCracken tweeted this:

There is something unique about the way people talk to writers. Strangers seem very willing to offer career advice — “self-publishing is where the money is!” — literary advice — “People love vampires!” — or to oddly ask you to guess what work they’ve read in their life and if any of yours is among it. It got me thinking about what it would be like it people talked about other professions in this way. 

“Ah, a middle school teacher? Have I met any of the students you’ve ever taught?”

“Cool, I always wanted to be a car salesmen. Maybe when I retire I’ll settle down and just work on selling that Buick I’ve had in my head for years.”

“Huh. A chef. Do people still eat food?”

“An accountant? Wow, I haven’t even looked at a number since high school.”

“You own a hardware shop? Nice! Do you sell tools with wood handles? People love wood handles, you should really sell tools with those.”

“So Chet tells me you’re a bartender. Would I have tasted any of the drinks you make?”

“News anchor? Okay here’s a news story I’ve been thinking about for years: the vice president slips into a vat of grape jelly. People would love that story, right? It’s yours! I’ll never have time to get away from work and break the story to a national audience myself.”

“Non-profit grant writer? Hmm. My 7-year-old niece is into non-profits. Do you write grants for any children’s non-profits? Maybe she’s read one of your grants.”

“Software programmer? Like, for actual computers sold in stores or just as a hobby?”

“Gastroenterologist? My aunt tried to be a gastroenterologist. Hard to make a living doing that! Hahaha!”

“Menswear designer for J. Crew? Interesting. Have you tried selling your clothes yourself on Etsy instead? I hear people are making millions self-designing on the internet these days.”

“You said a Wall Street banker? Interesting. Would I know any of the economies you ruined with borderline illegal practices?’

101 Responses

  1. Ed

    You’re on the wrong track if your position is that the question “”Have I heard of anything you’ve written?” is a challenge to you to play a guessing game about what writings they’ve heard of. Maybe the question is poorly worded, but the questioner obviously just means “What do you write?” Certainly it’s a legitimate question.

    Reply
    • Dragonwriter

      Actually, the implied question is, “Are you famous enough for me to have heard of you?” which is an incredibly awkward question to have to field. People who ask “Have I heard of your work?” want to know if they’re talking to a famous author first, and what you’ve written second, if at all.

      Reply
      • Stanley Rutgers

        Good response. Sometimes playing “the devil’s advocate” isn’t necessary.

    • Nick

      No it’s not! It is essentially a roundabout way of asking “Are you famous or just deluding yourself?” My answer to that question is usually “What literary journals do you read?” A question most of these people are unsurprisingly unable to answer. A person who wants to know what kind of writing you do would ask precisely that.

      Reply
  2. Hibah Shabkhez

    Jolly droll, this! And it does make a valid point : creative work, be it writing, art, music or anything else. is treated socially in a fashion that would make make people with a ‘real’ job apoplectic.
    Any way, I’m sharing it. Made my day 🙂

    Reply
  3. Jack M D Owen

    Probably less painful than that sometimes posed to pedestrians on Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue:
    “Excuse me. Didn’t you used to be somebody famous?”

    Reply
  4. Lisa C

    As a produced screenwriter I STILL have people who think I have an “interesting hobby. Or they actually ask how much I’ve made! Not many would ask an architect how much they’ve earned or call it a hobby!

    Reply
  5. Jayne

    The best one I get is ‘how many books have you sold?’ Like I would go up to anyone and ask how much money they earn. I get that all the time. All. The. Time…

    Reply
  6. Ryn Shell

    I have been told not the write historical fiction and that people only read books with dragons on the cover. I’ve also had the rare issue raised. I hope you don’t have any indigenous in your book.

    Heck, my books are Australian historical, of course, I have Australian Aboriginal people in my book, they are the main characters in six of my novels.

    The reply I sometimes get to that is, “We’ll; I wouldn’t want to read it. You should write about dragons.”

    I wrote a fiction story in the first person and made the main character a high-functioning alcoholic. Big mistake. I had people wishing me a good recovery. Some smart a… added me to a public list of alcoholics, and I don’t drink alcohol. I did not laugh at that, but I ceased writing in the first person or serious subject matter.

    I do get a lot of, “I hope you don’t write sex.”
    My usual reply is, “I write about life; nothing is excluded if it fits the story and is in context.”
    That gets me a disapproving stare.
    I’ve been bowled up in a public toilet in a caravan park and accused of being a witch because the caravan light is or through most of the night (I’m writing) and I’m not out socialising at the morning teas because I’m writing.

    Writing can alienate you from some people more than other professions. It doesn’t bother me as those would be the type of people I’d never have fitted in with even if I wasn’t a writer.

    Reply

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