Why I Should’ve Never Told People I Write

It took me many years to be able to admit I’m a writer. I used to think that since I wasn’t published, it meant I wasn’t one. I was just someone who wrote. And not very well at that.

Then I took my first college creative writing class and I realized, yes, I am a writer. Even if I’m not published. Even if I’m not particularly good at it. Even if I’m the only person who ever reads my work.

So I started admitting to people that I’m a writer.

And it bit me in the ass.

First of all, there’s the doubters. I’ve had someone say, because I’m not published, “Oh, she writes. But she’s not a writer.” So long as you’re getting your words down–even if it’s by dipping your quill in baby blood and writing on goat hide–you’re a writer.

Second, there’s the lengthy discussion of my work. The first question they’ll ask is what I write.

“YA fantasy.”

At their blank look, I suppress an eye roll and expound: “Young adult fantasy. It’s for teens.”

Then I have to endure the snide remarks. “Oh, ’cause that’s never been done before.” Or more often just the, “Oh.” I guess they were hoping I was writing the next Great American Novel?

Next, they ask what my book is about, which is a question I loathe because I can’t be as vague as with the first.

“Oh, you know. Lots of magic. Lots of gore.”

If they’re still with me, often not, they’ll ask the dreaded, “So when are you going to be published?”

Yes, Joey. When are you going to be published?

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO BE PUBLISHED, JOEY?

That parasitic question has burrowed in my head and died and now it’s just festering and oozing and I just can’t. Every time I’m asked that, it’s like having my heart ripped out.

The people who ask this don’t realize how difficult it is to get traditionally published. They don’t know how much competition there is. Writing a single draft isn’t enough. You can’t just submit it after you type, “The End.” There’s revising and editing and getting feedback and then revising and editing and MORE feedback and then scrapping the entire novel and starting from scratch and. It. Does. Not. End. They think it’s an amazing feat just to have written a book. But when you’re serious about publishing, getting the first draft is the easy part, isn’t it?

What’s more infuriating is that most of them don’t ask because they actually want to read it. No, most of the people I know would probably purchase a copy of the book (in paperback, I’m guessing) and never read it. Or they expect a signed copy to be given to them.

They ask me because of the money. Because all authors become New York Time’s Bestsellers. Because all authors have their books adapted to movies. The most interest my family shows concerning my writing: “When are you going to get published so I can quit my job?”

That question makes my chest tighten, forms a knot in my stomach. I wrote my first manuscript over three years ago and I’m still not published. Granted, I’m not actively seeking representation at the moment. But I still feel like a miserable failure.

Pressuring me to get published does not motivate me. It only makes me doubt myself. I start wondering if I’ll ever be a successful writer, and then I begin spiraling into a writing slump that I have to dig myself out of.

What are your thoughts? Do you proudly wave your writer flag? Or are you more hesitant to speak about it?

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  • Holy Moses, I do NOT wave my writer flag. Where I actually live, I think 2 people know I write. It took weeks to psych myself up to putting on my “I write random stories to entertain the grandparents” blog that I was writing a book. And then I avoided questions about it.

    And does writing fantasy make it worse? I think so. Somehow it feels more acceptable if we wrote thrillers. Or contemporary novels hitting current hot topics. Like a gay student dealing with end of life issue and a mass shooting. Hmm, we might be able to get a publishing contract with a premise like that.

    But dammit, Joey, when I want to read a book, I want to read Adela’s story, (Which even once you name it, will probably still be “Adela’s story” in my mind.) And then your others. SO, Even if you don’t end up traditionally published (a process which should definitely have support groups to cope with the experience) You at least need to export it to a .mobi file in Scrivener so I can read it. And then I’ll put it on the ebook black market – which I’m sure is a thing. Oh, and all your other books as well.

    I’m not lying when I say that your story was my favorite book of the last year. Almost no books actually make me laugh.

    • Smart, very smart. Being a closet writer is the best. People have fewer expectations of you. I think it really is harder if you write fantasy or science fiction. There’s always been this negative connotation with it, especially if it falls under YA. When I took a writing class at the U of MN, everyone read literary fiction. The first day, we went around and said who our favorite authors were. Them: Jack Kerouac, Margaret Atwood, yada yada ya. Me: J.K. Rowling. Do you even HAVE to ask?

      Aw yiss. One dedicated reader! (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑

      Thank you so much for that. I needed that boost today. 🙂 It’s not ready yet, but I’m super eager to begin submitting to agents. It’ll make me feel more productive. I’m sick of the story just sitting there.