One of my favorite Stan Lee quotes is when he talked about answering the question “what do you do” when he attended parties and social gatherings. At the time, some forty years ago, comics were really still on the bottom end of the reading entertainment scale and certainly considered as far away from “literary” as anything in print. Lee said he’d answer by telling them he was a writer. If possible, leave it at that.
Most wanted more information, so he’d tell them he wrote Children’s magazines. That satisfied most and they left it at that. But those who pressed and finally got “comic books,” Lee said, often offered a blank stare and walked away. They just didn’t “get” it.
To a certain extent, I think most writers fall into that category. If you tell someone you’re a writer today, they’ll ask what you do for a real job, as if writing isn’t a “real” job. Course, there’s a lot of truth to THAT one sometimes. There are more writers who work for free or for peanuts than who work for real wages.
Most “normal” people have no real idea what a writer does. Many think a writer only “types.”
I’ve also found that if people ask writers to “do” something during the work day…if the writer declines, the asker will respond with a “why? You’re not doing anything are you?” No, nothing but attempting to meet a deadline…so that I can receive money for the words I’m writing. After all, a freelance writer doesn’t have corporate benefits like insurance and “vacation time.” Time away from the keyboard is time not generating potential money.
I discovered this when I was teaching English Composition at Northwest Shoals: Many people still believe all one must do is sit down at a computer and the typing automatically becomes what it’s supposed to be. Many of the students thought that the first few days of classes. Not only that, it does it in 30 seconds flat!
Another funny way you can tell when people don’t understand writers is that they start telling you their ideas after they’ve learned you write. They either do one of two things: they launch in to this looong story they’ve had cooking up since they were 3, and how it’s a great idea and would be a great movie, too…and how either a)they just have to sit down and type it or b)can you type it for them if they just give you the idea? They stop after a few lines for fear you’ll “steal” their idea.
My experience in hearing these ideas is that I’ve learned ideas are like noses…everyone has one…and most of them are full of boogers.