Monday, June 22, 2015

The Do's and Don't's of telling people you're an aspiring novelist

Check out my latest motivational mug:

It's perfect for writing.  "Making it happen" at the notebook/keyboard is what it's all about, right?  For us writers, that's where the battles are fought and won. 


But there are also battles to fight when the writer is not writing.  One such struggle, which I find particularly rough, is telling people I'm actually going for it and trying to make it as a writer.  As a recent college graduate, I get asked "So what are you DOING?" constantly.  CONSTANTLY.  THINK OF A NEW QUESTION, PEOPLE. 

They haven't yet, so I'm getting better at dealing with this.  Here are my top tips: 

DO be honest.  Lying is bad for you. 

REALLY DON'T lie.  I know, it's easy.  It shuts people up.  But I have done it, and it's harmful to your self. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are some examples of lies I have told: 

"I am considering going to grad school."

"I don't know what I want want to do with my life."

"I might teach, yeah.  Sure." 

"I don't know what I want to do yet." 

"Yeah, teaching.  *mumbles*  That would be cool." 

"Music is the most important thing to me." 

"Career plans?  Oh, I'm still thinking." 

"Of course I am considering going into politics." 

"Oh, I don't know.  But law school is an option, obviously."

"I am an aimless student who takes random classes at a liberal arts college because she is aimless and fluffy and doesn't know what the heck she wants to do with herself and really has no sense of purpose whatsoever and doesn't really mind because she is terrifically apathetic." 

The problem with lies is that, no matter how untrue they are, you may start to believe them.


Now that we're sure you're telling people you want to be a writer, some further tips:  

DO steel yourself for rudeness, indifference, curiously selective deafness, and nauseating requests for plot summaries. 

DO use repetition for emphasis.  Saying, "I'm going to write, write, write, write, write!" is actually a better way to communicate this than "I'm going to write."  That sounds silly, but I'm serious.  I have tried this.  I think it helps people imagine the thing as what it is:  a constant, energetic process, rather than some vague aspiration. I suppose "revise, revise, revise!" and "query, query, query, query, query!" are likewise effective, if you ever need to get more specific. 

DO be ready to repeat yourself in general. You may have to tell certain people multiple times that you are serious when you say you are going to try your darndest to make it as a novelist, and are in fact currently entrenched in the process of doing so.  This could be because they are inattentive or think it's a bad idea, but don't take it personally.  If you're anything like me, it is just as likely that they didn't believe you or didn't understand because you didn't do a good job of telling them. 

DON'T (EVER) respond in a way that expresses uncertainty, angst, or apology.  Unless it's someone you know very well and share all your troubles with, that will only translate to, "This writing thing is a failure already."  Now, why does this matter?  It doesn't matter what they think of you (usually/probably).  It does matter, even just on a practical level, what you think of yourself.  Projecting under-confidence will make your confidence issues worse. 

DO--wait, who mentioned confidence issues?  I did.  If you're an aspiring novelist and you don't have confidence issues...good for you, but.... *blinks in confusion for a few minutes*  Maybe you should think a little more about what it is you're trying to do. 

DO be confident.  Confidence is called for, by all means.  So is a little healthy fear, though.  Confidence and fear can live together in one soul.  Think of it as practice for microtension.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about and you're a writer, get yourself some Donald Maass stat.) 

DO mention whatever else you may be doing to make money, etc.  This is part of being honest, after all, and it will take the pressure off a bit.  Just be prepared that they might then assume that your writing is a mere hobby or pipe dream. 

DON'T feel obligated to tell people every detail.  Honesty is important.  So is privacy.  

DON'T care what other people think or seem to think about you.  That is really the main thing, if you can manage it. 

DO identify "polite conversation" and change the topic.  Someone who asked you about this to be polite doesn't really care about you, and you're not hoping for them to achieve some sort of deep understanding of who you are.  Save yourself the stress and redirect their attention.  They will chase whatever conversational ball you decide to throw, especially if it relates to them.  People like to talk about themselves.  Except...well...  Hm. *cough*

Just a note, this ^^^ was the biggest breakthrough for me.  Being someone who hates small-talk and likes all conversations to be meaningful, for a while I thought I had to thoroughly explain myself to everyone who happened to ask.  Then I realized:  most of them don't care.  Most of them are just TALKING.   And that's fine.  That's kind of nice, actually. 

DO ALWAYS actively take charge of the conversation.  If you are going into this process well-informed (You'd better be!  See our links page for a start if you feel clueless.), do yourself a favor and talk like you're well-informed.  There may be no entry-level job for novelists, but there are certain steps everyone has to take to break into this profession.  Talk about those steps.  Talk about the fact that there is no entry-level job.  Talk about the fact that the first thing a novelist has to do is write a really, really good book.  (To accomplish which thing you must "write, write, write, write, write!")  You will sound like you know what you're talking about because you DO.  You will sound like you're headed for success because you ARE. 

Any questions? 


  1. Ah yes, I have to admit I've typically been in the "don't say anything about it" camp mostly (although I do have another career, which makes it easier to keep it hidden). It's great to be confident about it, while also realizing that most people don't care (sometimes this is a 'Oh =(' realization, and other times it's a 'THANK GOODNESS!' one. Great tips for letting people know!

    1. Definitely "Thank goodness!" in my case. :)

  2. Oh my gosh, you are living my life. Or something. Because I found myself nodding along to every single one of these Do's and Don'ts. Also sort of laugh-crying, because of TRUTH.

    1. Haha, glad I'm not the only one with these problems! :)

    2. Definitely not! :)

      Also, I wanted to stop by to let you know that this blog post has been featured today in my blog series "Brown Paper Packages." Congrats!