Talking About Writing, or Why My Eyes Glaze Over

“What do you do for a living?” I politely ask the woman sitting across from me at the annual luncheon. The hand lifting her fork pauses, eyes brighten as she shares what it is that fills her weekdays.

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“I’m a media technician for the school district.” or “I work for the city, in the records department.”  or “I’m retired now, but for years I….”

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Later as we sip coffee I ask the same question of a man who has joined the group standing at the fireplace. His eyes instantly glaze over as he mumbles a barely-audible response and begins inching away.

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“Me? I’m, uh, a writer.”

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I take pity on him and don’t follow up with the usual question. I recognize the look that says he dreads the “Oh, really? What are you writing?” response. I offer a reprieve and reply, “Me, too. Have you read Donald Maass’ latest book?”

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Why is it that when you say you’re a writer people feel they have an obligation to ask for details? I don’t ask a media tech what computer problem she’s currently solving, or the city worker which record was the one she most recently reviewed. I don’t ask a lawyer to tell me about his current case. So why am I expected to have my story’s synopsis on the tip of my tongue at every encounter? Why do I feel I have to defend what I do?

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With rare exceptions I prefer not to talk about my stories. Until they are actually published I feel they are works in progress that will continue to be edited and revised before they become available for public scrutiny. Of course, if you’re an editor or agent (or related to one) feel free to ask anything you like about my writing. But the rest of you? Take your cue from my eyes. If they look glazed, please just pass me another canapé!

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How about you? Are you a writing wallflower at gatherings, or do you enthusiastically launch into conversations about your work?

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19 thoughts on “Talking About Writing, or Why My Eyes Glaze Over

  1. Depends on the audience – mostly I shy away from talking too much about it, if only because I tend to stick my foot in my mouth at every available opportunity.
    I do like your example conversation and how people don’t ask other occupations to justify themselves or explain. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cassandra. I suppose we should be practising our marketing skills since we’re trying to build a following of readers. I like to think it will be easier once there’s a publication to focus on and promote. 🙂

  2. I’m a wallflower unless I really really know the person. Your response was perfect. I’m going to have to remember that if I ever stumble upon a fellow writer!

  3. I never admit I’m a writer unless I know the other person is also a writer. On the only occasion I was spontaneously asked about my writing–by the postman as he took a handful of queries I was mailing–I enthusiastically volunteered info about my writing until HIS eyes glazed over. He still speaks to me when I go to the post office, but he never asks how my writing’s going…

    • I didn’t used to admit I was a writer because I didn’t think I could be considered a real one until one of my novels was published. Then I realized that I have other work that is published and I needed to take myself more seriously and give my work the respect I wished others to have for it. A change of attitude has helped a bit but I’m still very much a wallflower.

      I love your postman account! He asked for it! I’ll bet you didn’t grab onto his sleeve if he was trying to inch away. I saw someone do that at a conference… reach out and lay a detaining hand on the arm of her captive audience. 😐

  4. Joanne says:

    Oh, love this, haven’t we all been there? If I’m with people who know me well, yes, I’ll divulge. They’re interested, and care, and often seem intrigued. But with passing acquaintances, it’s sometimes easier to be vague rather than explain all the nuances of the craft and its accompanying journey.

    • I agree, it’s much easier if we know the people well, although it helps if those people also understand a little about the writing process. Some of my relatives would probably shake their heads and dismiss my babble as something to be expected from an eccentric family member! 😉

  5. Laura Best says:

    Oh my goodness, that is all so true.

    Until my novel was published I never wanted to discuss my work. Of course that all changes once you go to book signings. I’ve been asked so many times what the book is about that I actually don’t stumble and stammer the way I did in the beginning. It’s been good practice and I’m getting over those feelings of self-consciousness I had in the beginning.

    That said, when I’m asked what if I’m writing another novel, I’m pretty vague about it. Like you, I don’t want to talk about my work until after it’s published.

    • Maybe we should look at those awkward social queries as good marketing practice for later. On the other hand, I think I’ll be content to write out my spiel and memorize it for use during those readings and signings.

  6. joylene says:

    All I can say is “I’m with you, sister.” I dream it happening this way:

    “What do you do?”
    “I’m a writer.”
    “Wow. Kewl.”

  7. nonie vogue says:

    You are not an eccentric family member as far as I’m concerned, Carol. I envy you your ability with words, and to put those words into a novel is awe inspiring!

    You go girl!

    • Thanks, Nonie, I appreciate the encouragement. You “get” me more than most. I think the others probably wonder at someone who always says she’s writing but doesn’t have much to show for it.

  8. Jean says:

    Great post, Carol. So true. And the next question they ask is even better. “How many books have you published?”

    I hate it! And I love it! It gives me a chance to work on refining my perfect answer.

    Thanks for dropping in to Write2Ignite! Please come back and see the great presenters and workshops we’ve planned.

    I hope I get to meet you face-to-face in February.

    Jean Hall
    Write2Ignite!

    • I’m a long way from Greenville, SC, Jean, so doubt that I’d be able to attend the conference but I was looking at the workshops and they look great! Developing the power of the word is so important.

  9. Tricia says:

    I never ask anyone what they do for a living out of fear they’ll ask me. I shy away from that subject entirely.

  10. Sounds like a good, safe plan. 😉 It’s bound to get easier when we get to the marketing stage, right?

  11. David R. Obey says:

    I really like this blog. Please continue the great work. Regards!!!

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