Monday, May 7, 2012

Describing My (lack of) Profession

Now that I'm getting ready to move to a new place and quit my day job, I have a dilemma: when people ask what I do, what will I say?

To understand my position fully, you can check out my post “Why I Don’t Tell People I Write.”  I’ll have no trouble introducing myself as a novelist after I get published. Right now, however, I have to deal with the pep talks, the not-so-subtle scoffs, the patronizing head pats, the bad advice from non-writers, and of course the dreaded question: “What have you published?”

These reactions were rough enough when I had a job. I don’t know how to explain that I’m a full-time non-paid unpublished writer.

I tried telling people I'm still figuring things out, but then they want to know what my degree was in and help me brainstorm possible careers. I considered telling people I'm a homemaker, which is true, but it sounds lame when you don't have kids. I also thought about saying I'm unemployed, but then people will try to help me find a job and I'll have to explain that I'm willfully unemployed, which puts me back at square one.

I seriously considered telling people my husband and I want to have kids right away, even though that's the lamest reason of all. It sounds like I sit at home twiddling my thumbs all day, waiting for my husband to come home and impregnate me.

I decided to tell people the truth: "I'm going to stay home and work on a book I'm trying to get published." It sounds easy, but every time people ask me what I'm going to do when I get to Hattiesburg, I always chicken out. My gut reaction is always the same: I say, "I don't know." Seriously, brain?!? Why?

It's weird how I feel so inclined to be secretive. I have a guess as to why. You see, I’ve met people who sacrifice everything for a career everyone else knows isn’t going to happen. I remember the sympathetic looks we give such people when they aren’t looking.

Creative people are often delusional. Everybody knows it. Nobody says it.

I don’t want others to see me as the extravagant dreamer who’s headed for disappointment. The one who will eventually realize she wasted years of her life when she could have put her energy into something real.

I can’t make every person I meet read chapters of my book before judging me. I also can’t explain to every person I meet that I'm not wasting my time because getting published is completely beside the point. I'm not giving up my career to do this; this is my career.

A friend of mine is in a similar situation. When people ask her husband where she works, he tells them she doesn't have a job.

"So she's a student?" they ask.

"No, she's not going to school," he answers.

"She's a stay at home mom, then?"

"No, we don't have kids."

"Is she... disabled?"

"No, she's fine."

(Long pause.) "What does your wife do?"

At this point, he looks them in the eye and says, "Whatever she damn well pleases."

That's what I should start telling people. It sounds better than "I don't know."

I finally bucked up and told someone what I was doing, but only because my husband was staring me down trying to make me stop being modest. I told the man how I hesitate to say I'm a wannabe novelist because I'm afraid people will look at me differently.

"There is nothing wrong with that," he said, adamantly shaking his head. "You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself and God."

I like that.


  1. Just say you're a novelist with a number of agents who are interested in your latest. Currently you're revising the novel before resubmitting it. And if they ask further questions, smile mysteriously and say, "It's too soon to talk about it."

  2. I like both kriswaldherr's comment and the man's response. It's true, you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself and God! Just keep writing!

  3. I bet there's a million other writers out here who would love the chance to do what you are doing. Yeah, try not to worry about what other people think (easier said than done I know), you're living your dream and that's nothing to be ashamed of. Best of luck!

  4. I understand that if you've published you're an author, and if you haven't you're a writer. You might say that you're currently polishing your novel or marketing your novel. I avoid the issue altogether by telling people I'm a storyteller.

  5. I agree with Angeline, there are a million jealous writers out there, looking at you enviously. (Jealous and enviously in the same sentence...?) You should be proud of what you do.

    I tell everyone I can that I write, usually because I work part-time and people ask what I do when I'm not at work. I write!

  6. Ref: At this point, he looks them in the eye and says, "Whatever she damn well pleases."


    Ref: "There is nothing wrong with that," he said, adamantly shaking his head. "You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself and God."

    I just want to know if it is possible to have these two people cloned? Talk about supportive and open minded. Love it.

  7. People give me the same look when I tell them I'm dual majoring in Creative Writing and English Literature.
    I just hope I'll get the chance to see the look on at least one of their faces when they find my first book on a shelf at Barnes and Nobles ;)
    Write on!

    The Fiction Diaries

    1. This is what I want to do as well though I was thinking of just minoring in Creative Writing. How is it?

    2. I absolutely love it! I've only just finished my freshman year so it was mostly foundation classes so far, only 1 workshop, but still. Not a doubt in my mind I'm in the right place:)

  8. I like "willfully unemployed."

    Lately I've been experimenting with what happens if you don't feel obligated to answer people's questions, and if you don't feel obligated to answer in such a way that they'll understand or approve. It is liberating. I spent some time a while ago claiming I was not busy, or that it was a goal to not be busy. Whenever anyone said, "Oh, I'm so busy," I would reply, "I'm not. I plan to never be busy again." It was amazing how shocked and appalled they would be. Great fun.

    Elizabeth Twist: Writer, Plague Enthusiast

    1. "I plan to never be busy again..." I love it! Who says we have to be busy all the time? Way to be a rebel to society!

  9. Good Luck in Hattiesburg. I had to chuckle when I read this and glad that DKW let me know about it.

  10. Teralyn: Since when have you EVER cared what someone else thought about your goals???

    If you feel the need to be published before confidently stating that you are a writer, compile your wonderful blog posts into a self-published writer's how to book, upload it to Smashwords and sell it for a buck. You're official.

    Then, the next time someone asks what you do, you tell them:

    "I write porn. What do you do?"

    I doubt they will have much to say after that.

    XO Kathee N

  11. Kathee: I don't think I've laughed so hard in days. I might take you up on that advice...

  12. I used to feel the same way you do about my writing. Now I find that if I talk about it with a positive attitude, people respond in kind. I'm honest when I say I don't expect to be famous, but would like to find a niche for myself. That's enough.

  13. This is my own story about the importance of being proud to be a writer and mom. I hope it helps.


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