Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Things People Say

This week we're blogging about the things people say when they find out you write young adult novels. So yeah, I rant about writing novels all over the internet (internet, how do you like being ranted all over?), but in person I am generally pretty cagey about talking about the whole writing thing, especially the whole writing novels thing, and even more especially the whole writing YA novels thing. Because then most of my conversations turn into this sort of thing.

The 'Leila is deluded but I have to be very polite about it' conversation:

This is the one where they think to themselves, look at her. It is not particularly likely that she could ever earn any money from writing, really, and she already looks like she doesn't eat enough. She needs to not give up her day job, because she needs to put food on the table, and she needs to be able to afford a table so she has somewhere to put her food, and she needs to be able to afford a roof over her head so she has somewhere to put her table. I will feel guilty forever if I don't drop a hint.

To be honest, these days I'm very pre-emptive. Almost as soon as I tell people I want to be a writer, as my job job, like the thing that I spend all day every day doing, I tell them about how I'm after a career in publishing, which is true as well. Even though getting into publishing is not a hugely lucrative or easy career to get into either, I love books. Finding manuscripts with potential and helping them become polished and wondrous is something that I would adore. Also I like the idea of being a librarian, or the idea of venturing further into bookselling. I tell people all this stuff in a huge awkward gush, because if I don't, they either straight out say that I shouldn't quit my day job, hahaha, writing is hard, you know (you reckon?), or they politely ask what my real career plans are, or they ask me whether I'm going to go into teaching. Always teaching.

I think there's this assumption out there that there's nothing you can really do with an English degree except being a high school English teacher, which to begin with is a completely wrong assumption. And also I think that to be a teacher, you have to really really want to be a teacher. I would like being a tutor or a university lecturer, especially in creative writing, but I would have to be published and highly regarded before I could have any hope of going there. And high school English? Nooooo way. I loved my high school English teachers. They were brave, hardy souls and I have the utmost admiration for them. But at the moment, I'm just not courageous enough for that sort of thing.

The 'OMG fame and fortune' conversation:

This is the one where they either seriously or somewhat sarcastically name an Author Who is Seriously Famous. You know, DanBrownJKRowlingStephanieMeyerStephenKingShakespeare. That author. And start talking about how I'll be ever so rich and famous too.

All I can say is, 'That would be nice.' Because yeah, it would be. It is also extremely rare. I sometimes point that out too.

The 'OMG I have this idea!' conversation:

Often follows on from the 'OMG fame and fortune conversation'. This is the one where they have this amazingly amazing idea for a book, which they could share with you so that you can write it, and then you can share all the fame and fortune, and then you can both live happily ever after.

Fact: the idea is the easy part. I get ideas for novels all the time. I wake up in the morning with fresh new shiny ideas in my head that I already don't have time to write for at least, you know, ten years, what with all the other ideas I have. The writing part is the hard part. I'm always telling people that they should go write their amazingly amazing idea themselves, because I have plenty of my own and I wouldn't do it justice anyway. And then they have all these excuses, all this oh no, I don't have time, I don't know how.

No one in the world knows exactly how to write novels. That is because there is no right way. And no one has more than 24 hours in their day. But I want to lie on my deathbed and be able to say, I wrote novels dammit, not I had this amazing idea once and I never did anything with it because I didn't know how and I was a bit busy.

I don't usually say this to people.

The 'give me juicy details' conversation:

Some people would like to know everything. You know, the publication date, what the cover will look like, whether I've included a villain based on them*, what it's about.

Which usually has to turn into me saying, I don't have an agent yet. Publication takes a long time and I don't know when it will happen. And I don't base my characters on real people that I know, because that's not how things work for me.

However, I really, really need to work on the 'what's it about?' response. Because it is something that people are going to ask me for the rest of my life, and I need to have everything contained in a nice catchy sounding line so I can give them my line and leave it at that. Also I need to not be so embarrassed. It's quite hard telling people I write YA, the fantasy sort of YA, the magic and supernatural beings sort of YA, because people either get all awkward about it or start talking about Stephanie Meyer. Or both.

Sometimes I think life would be a lot easier if I did write the sort of books that people with English degrees are expected to write, with lots of characters you don't feel particularly sorry for who are all committing adultery with each other and remembering their childhoods in a very literary way, the sort of books that are generally only read by other people with English degrees.

The 'I'm writing something myself' conversation:

Seriously, this depends entirely on who I'm talking to.

I used to be very wary of this conversation. In the wrong company it can have kind of a patronising vibe to it. As in, you're writing YA fantasy eh? Well, I'm writing a screenplay/postmodern amorphousness/a novel about people remembering their childhoods while committing adultery. And then we end up sort of smiling at each other awkwardly for a bit. And then one of us has to excuse themselves.

But in recent times I've discovered in the right company it can be completely and utterly awesome. I can't emphasise how wonderful it is to find other writers who understand, who go through similar struggles themselves, who share the same dreams. And yeah. They're also so freaking talented that it's actually kind of scary.

Sometimes talking about writing can be a very good conversation indeed.

You should go to the highway right now and read about what people say to my fellow highwayers when they find out they're talking to a writer.

*No, seriously. I've actually been asked that more than once. I'm not sure whether it's people mistakenly thinking that I have some kind of grudge against them, or wanting to be all badass and tell people at parties that a writer based a villain on them so that they can get laid. Or both.


Kristin Miller said...

Great post. Srsly, my mom still gives me the fame and fortune line. Still. After countless truth-bearing conversations.

le sigh.

Kate Hart said...

I do the pre-emptive "this is what I've learned about publishing in my research so don't start with the lecture" thing too. It usually works-- or bores people into silence.

Kaitlin Ward said...

I actually had a high school friend who, when she learned I was writing a book asked, "this isn't, like, based on real life, is it?" with this fearful look in her eye like bad things might come out about her if it was.

I'm glad you've discovered the fun of talking about writing, in the right company!!

Leila Austin said...

My dad sometimes brings up my supposed future fame and fortune. I have a promise from long ago that if I become a millionaire from writing, I'll buy him the Jaguar he's always wanted. So he makes sure I don't forget ;-)

And yeah. Anything is better than having people get patronising, so I try to fly into the pre-emptive thing before people get a chance to start on the patronising stuff. It doesn't always work though.

A lot of people I know have a hard time understanding that fiction = things that are made up. Not sure why.

I'm glad I found good company too :-)

Anna said...

I LOVED this post, and giggled with the whole villain issue, not to mention the English teacher idea, or the uber literary adultery and childhood plank.

It is a minefield, but you covered the field pretty darn well!

Amanda Hannah said...

Ohhh, I've never had the "I'm writing something myself" conversation outside of writing forums. Bet that one is oh so fun lol

Michelle Zink said...

I've heard ALL of these things! It was the worst when I was in the two year period between selling my book and having it published. People just didn't understand that it takes a long time to get something on the shelves. After awhile, they were like, "Oh, yeah.. your 'book'." Like it was all a figment of my imagination.

Isn't it funny that something so critical to every day lives seems so impossible to most people? Who do they think writes the newspaper articles, books, and magazines that they read? LOL!

Thanks for this!