Sometimes, when I tell people that I write, it gets uncomfortable. Not for me, really, but for them. Because people have a habit of asking me what I write and, almost always, if I’ve been published.
That’s where things get awkward. For them. Because while I’ll happily go on to say that nope, I haven’t been published – that I’m still working on it – the questions rarely shift to how I’m doing that. Instead, it’s the topic of conversation that shifts.
I normally get a cursory attagirl, followed by the least segued subject changes that I’ve ever encountered – like they need to immediately stop talking about the work I do because they’re, I don’t know, embarrassed. It’s almost like that awkward moment when you’re talking to someone at a party and mishear a word, then end up having a completely different conversation than the person you’re talking to. You know, like someone mentions shampoo, but you hear dog poo, and you scramble to back your way out of the fact that you just said you think it’s gross.
It’s that sort of thing that I encounter, where it’s like people thought we were having one conversation and realized they’d misunderstood the topic, so they need to disengage as fast as humanly possible before I realize they thought I meant I was actually a writer.
But here’s why I find those conversations funny – why they aren’t uncomfortable for me at all: I am actually a writer.
No, it’s not my job.
No, I haven’t earned any money.
No, I don’t have any books you can buy.
But I do have books. One that’s terrible. Three I’m proud of. Another that’s on its way. And I’ve written every word of them.
I write them during the school year, when I sit in front of my laptop every weekend morning. My butt gets firmly planted in my chair around eight and stays there until noon. Sometimes I can do more in the afternoon, but often I can’t.
I write novels after work, when I chug coffee and hope my brain reforms itself from the mush the day has made it. I sit with a writing friend for hours, the tick of keys between us, while I hope the words I’m stringing together become something resembling a sentence.
But mainly, I write them on breaks. Winter. Spring. Summer.
I fall into a routine where I hit the laptop by eight and work until eleven, when the dog reminds me that I should probably walk her and, you know, shower. Maybe eat. Then I sit in my writing space again, working from one until five, inventing people, giving them hopes, making blank pages into stories in three or four hour chunks.
This summer, when I booked a weekend away all to myself, just for my writing, it felt gluttonous. I mean, I have it pretty good. No kids. A lazy dog. A husband who knows how to cook. I get a lot done.
But I went away anyway. I pre-cooked my dinners, loaded up on chips, and gave up every task except writing for four full days. For four days, I wrote from seven in the morning until ten at night. I gave hours to my characters and days to my manuscript and emerged with a half-finished first draft – a draft that has grown to 42,000 words in the three weeks I’ve been working on it.
That’s one hundred and sixty-three pages of words. Words that I thought. Sentences that I constructed. One hundred and sixty-three pages of words that I wrote.
So I don’t have trouble telling people that I’m a writer. I don’t feel awkward that I haven’t been published. I don’t feel embarrassed that I’m still working on it. Because I’m working. Hard.
That’s what writers do.