Warning: Contains explicit material that may be offensive to some writers
‘It looks like he’s a writer, so he’s probably unemployed.’
These are the kind of words that kill faeries. Somewhere, a writer slumps in their ergonomic chair in the midst of creating an epic mind-bending novel. Aware of the novel’s power, it is left to the writer’s nephew, Tim, (along with a large sum of money) to see the novel to completion but the responsibility of the task tears his family apart. He grows reclusive and cannot leave his mansion, but Frank (Tim’s jealous long-lost brother) arrives and threatens to ruin the novel’s ending, forcing Tim to overcome his fears and save mankind from the dreaded cliché. Or something like that.
*clears throat* Is it warm in here? Anyhoo.
The point is, she said, ‘It looks like he’s a writer, so he’s probably unemployed’
I felt compelled to defend my writerly friends who are completely employed with the hard graft that is writing and said “Do you know how many people you’ve offended?”
Well, a hell of a lot more now that I’ve told everyone. But this comment was flippant not vindictive, she barely knew she’d said it until I pounced on it. It leads me to ask – how did this happen? How are creative writers so misconstrued that this becomes a default response (even from my lovely friend)?
Well, it’s not recognised as a occupation, is it? Not in my experience. While growing up, my school’s curriculum focused on employment rather than self-employment, leaving it absent from the A-Z list of careers. There were viable vocations and then there were dreams. Those with an interest in creative writing were largely (and somewhat paradoxically) steered towards journalism (or maybe it explains a lot?). Even in my teens at the peak of my writing output, I developed the belief that writing was secondary to a real job.
And most jobs are misunderstood, not just writers. Even your description for your real job, using your own words at census time (admittedly in a fairly small space) does not adequately convey what you do do.
Although these days I write solely to write better, I still find myself haunted by the same ‘get a job’ stigma that Amanda Palmer experienced when she worked as a living statue. I’m not intending to earn from writing, yet I’m unable to view it as a hobby like gardening, or knitting or baking. I freely admit to the half-finished quilt I have lurking in the cupboard, why should my patchwork novel be any different? Of course, it’s not any different, but it doesn’t change how I feel, which by extension re-enforces the perceived stigma.
You’re wondering about the Pink Floyd thing aren’t you?
Well, in my late teens, I screwed up my nose in disgust when a friend mentioned a band he liked. Surprised by my apparent aversion, he shot me a few questions under the mistaken belief I actually knew something on the topic. Oh. Ah. Well. Er. Hmmm. I racked my brain trying to justify how I’d even come to that decision. Oh yes, I had other friends who disliked them. And they had that weird album cover. Oh! And that – no – that was all the evidence I had. Intelligibly I said, “I just don’t think I’d like them.’
He shrugged, “It’s OK,” he said, “We’re all ignorant of music we haven’t heard.”
Writing is like Pink Floyd. Until you experience it, all you have are notions.