Recently I’ve made a lot of new friends (in-the-flesh, for a change, and not just online!) and the way they react, on discovering my profession, usually falls into one of five categories, some of which make me a bit wary of wearing my “I’m a writer” T-shirt.
1 They become starry-eyed. In awe. I blame JK Rowling for this 🙂 People imagine red carpet events and sales in the millions. They start inserting complex words into their conversation (that I don’t understand) and talk of the high-falutin’ literary works they read, as if intimidated. So I thank them, but if pressed further, make it clear I’m nothing special. I’m not curing cancer nor have I discovered a new planet. I’m simply lucky enough to be getting paid for an activity I adore.
2 Almost without exception, they declare that they have always thought of writing a novel. This irritates some authors, but not me – as I’ve said above, I’m not exceptional. If I can do it, why not anyone else? I’m a grafter – had to keep my nose to the grindstone during my four years at university, unlike some friends who could socialise as much as they pleased and just cram at the last minute. It’s been the same with writing – I wrote novel after novel at home, for eight years filled with tears and rejection, before landing my publishing deal. So when people react like this I say go for it! You might surprise yourself. Or, you might discover it is a lot harder than you imagined.
3 Quite often, when people discover my genre – romantic comedy – their awe turns to disdain. And I annoy myself by going on the defensive. I laud Mills & Boon authors who earn more than your average writer could dream of. I explain what a diverse, popular genre it is. I did this recently and received the sneery reply “I’m sure it is”. I imagine, in some circles, actors find this if they tell people they perform in a soap and not on the Shakespearean stage. I’m working on not letting these people press my buttons. Huge skill is required in making prose sound chatty and light. The same prejudice is sometimes shown towards children’s authors. I just have to accept that his is just one small downside to a career I thoroughly enjoy.
4 People say what a difficult job it must be – don’t I ever run out of ideas? I explain my belief that the brain, like any muscle, performs better the more you use it. Before you know it, you automatically take on board inspiration. I used to particularly find this when selling short stories. At the beginning I struggled to write even one. But before my novel deal, I sold 50 in one year. My brain just seemed to adapt to searching out suitable material. What’s more, there are a lot more challenging jobs out there, like nursing or serving burgers and fries all day. So yes, you do require determination and stamina but your passion makes it an easy career to follow.
5 The final reaction – it must be the only job in the world where people feel they have a perfect right to ask how much you earn! Not that this bothers me too much. In fact (just between us) I take a certain pleasure in telling them that most writers never earn enough for it to be their only source of income, and watching their jaws drop! Again, I blame JK Rowling (sorry!) for their misconception that being an author automatically means riches beyond your heart’s desire. If you are lucky, with a decent back catalogue out there, then yes, one day you might earn enough to support a mortgage and family. But don’t count on it. It’s not a profession you enter to become a millionaire.