Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Surest Way to Offend a Writer

I suppose that we writers are not renowned for having thick skin. We write after all. We don't push through crowds to get to the front and speak to masses, we don't generally grace the stage or airwaves. No, most of us would rather hunker down in our favorite spot with our beverage of choice (coffee for me in my favorite mug) and get lost in a litany of unspoken words.

So I guess it isn't surprising that we brace ourselves for constant rejection from agents and publishers and the ever possible bad review - not to mention the "you know what should happen in chapter 4" comment from a friend who suddenly becomes chief editor after a read. All of this I try to prepare for and handle with practiced aplomb. After all, it's the professional hazard. But there is one question that comes my way so frequently that I really should have a ready answer, yet it never ceases to irk me in the most profound way.

The question: "So are you published?"

My response: the Charlie Brown "grin and bear it".

This past week, it happened not once but twice - from two very unexpected sources. First during one of my classes in which I was working with an 11 year old student to improve his illustrious Five Paragraph Paper. In the midst of brainstorming the perfect thesis statement for the global impact of car emissions on the atmosphere (his topic not mine), he looked up and asked me what I do when I'm not teaching. I smiled at him and said: "I'm a writer." He smiled back and asked: "Are you published?" My heart sank. Are you kidding? Sheesh!

Two days later, I'm at the bank opening an account for San Diego Scribblers and the business banker asks me to describe my business. The conversation went like this:

Banker: "Describe your business to me"
Me: "I organize and run youth writing classes."
Banker puts down her pen and looks genuinely interested: "Wow, how did you decide to go into that?"
Me: "I studied creative writing in college and have been writing books ever since." I tell her happily.
Banker: "So you're a writer?"
Me: "Yes."
Banker: "Are you published?"

Really? I wanted to scream at her. Really? You who have not written anything more than your term papers in college are going to qualify my status as a writer? Maybe I should carry around two of my 300 page manuscripts and see if that proves that I'm a writer!

But I don't say anything. I don't say it because I'm too surprised. I don't say it because I'm too polite. I don't say it because deep inside a little piece of me feels the same way no matter how many times I remind myself that a writer writes - and yes, I am a writer.

I suppose it is the nature of being a writer, of being part of this misunderstood club of people who work in private and under solitary circumstances. After all, no one asks a painter if they've placed a painting in a museum; no one asks a sculptor to carry around a statue. Even actors and actresses are admired for putting in their time waiting tables while they travel to audition after audition. But for some reason, writers are not afforded the same generosity. So I guess I'll have to get used to this misguided standard that the public uses to judge "real" writers from those of us "fake" writers who haven't landed that perfect agent yet. After all, my 300 page manuscripts aren't real...they aren't proof that a writer wrote them. No, they just appeared on the page  - written by....


1 comment:

  1. Really. Sometimes people say the silliest things. It's like if I said, "I'm a runner."

    Would people say, "Oh really. Have you won any races?"

    "I run...therefore I am a runner." It's simple "Writers Write." That's it.

    Well written ;D