Skip to content

The oddity of being a writer is this

You often find yourself constantly explaining that yes, it’s true. You are in fact a published writer. A paid writer. A professional writer. A person whose career is to assemble words in an entertaining and informative order.

While eating large amounts of protein at a tailgate recently, my friend, Shep, joked about how you never know when something you say or do might end up in one of my books. 

“Wait,” the guy standing next to me said. “You really write books?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“Real books?” he asked. “Like on Amazon?”

Happily, Shep came to my rescue. “Yes, he publishes books. He gets paid to write them. He writes for magazines and other stuff, too.” 

I was happy for the assist. It’s always awkward to justify your existence. Always a little embarrassing to be forced to validate your career. Sometimes I wish I had a business card that read: 

“Yes, I’m a writer. I’ve published four novels and have three more, plus a nonfiction book on storytelling, coming out in the next two years. My books have been translated into more than 25 languages, and one of them is an international bestseller. Three are optioned for film. I also write the humor column for a regional magazine and occasional for publications like Parents magazine. And I’ve been writing a daily blog for more than a decade. Also, I’m not rich. I’m not close to being rich.”

Hand the card over and end the interrogation. 

“Interrogation” is not an exaggeration. I can’t tell you how many times I tell someone that I’m a writer (or Elysha tells someone that I’m a writer) and we are immediately bombarded with questions about the validity of my claim. Questions that include:

  1. Do you sell books at fairs and farmer’s markets and stuff?
  2. Are they just e-books that you make on your own? 
  3. Do you publish with an actual book company?
  4. Where can I get your books?
  5. Can I find your books in actual stores? Libraries? Amazon?
  6. Do you actually make money on your books?
  7. How come I’ve never heard of you?

And the shockingly common:

Do you sell your books out of the back of your car? 

I suppose there are other professions that get similar questions. If I was a professional baseball player, actor, sculpture, or musician, I might be asked to justify my career, too. 

But why?

If asked what you do for a living, and your answer is, “I’m in a band,” you should not be required to provide a tax return in order to prove that you make money playing your guitar and singing backup vocals in your folk-metal fusion quartet.

Or that yes, people buy my naked lady sculptures for their gardens. Or yes, I am paid to perform Shakespeare onstage. Or yes, I’m the backup catcher for the Rochester Redwings of the International League.  

I suppose that because their are no amateur attorneys or accountants or astronauts, it is presumed that these people earn a living from these pursuits, and thus proof of income is not required. 

After all, I’ve performed in local theater and never been paid. And my son came home yesterday with a sculpture of a mouse that has yet to receive any offers from collectors. And yes, there was a time when I was writing and not earning any money for my efforts. 

Still, when someone asks what I do for a living, and I say writer, it would be nice if people would assume that “earning a living” means “Yes, I get paid to write stuff.”