The other day, I met someone for the first time and naturally, the question of, "What do you do?" came up.
I hate this question; even when I was (gainfully) employed, I hated this question.
It's not that I don't see how organic this kind of inquiry is when first getting to know someone, but it has always struck me as a bit rude.
It's as if I were straight-up asking, "How much do you make?"
Anyway, as the conversation flowed, so, too, did the line of career-geared questioning. I soon came to realize I had answered more than one of these questions before.
As a matter of fact, they were questions I found myself answering constantly as of late.
They were the same, tired, let's-cross-examine-the-creative-type questions I always got when I mentioned I was a writer.
Joking about this with a fellow freelancer after the fact, I discovered I wasn't alone.
While no one in any field is immune to hearing, “What do you do?” there are at least five questions no aspiring writer can avoid upon disclosing his or her chosen industry.
So, are you JUST a writer?
This is the standard follow-up question to, “What do you do?” It’s not enough that someone just put you on the spot, now you have to come up with a reply that differs greatly from the nasty retort that’s lining itself up on the tip of your tongue.
It would seem to many that within the creative realm, simply paying your dues as a “nobody” couldn’t possibly hold rank as your only means of employment.
Granted, they are usually spot on with that one; no one pays you to write until someone starts paying you to write, if you know what I mean.
Regardless, it sucks to have someone imply (intentionally or otherwise) that pursuing your greatest passion in life is simply not enough (as if we don’t already torture ourselves with that one).
What do you write about?
Okay, I realize this one seems harmless enough. I mean, if I were a doctor, I shouldn’t be surprised if someone asked me about my specialty, right?
Wrong: It’s not the same. Most writers would have a hard time answering this one.
An accomplished, bestselling author might be able to reply back with his or her chosen genre, but most of us are so new to the game that we might as well have tattoos on our foreheads that read, “Will write anything for anyone willing to publish it.”
For example, I wouldn’t hesitate to wax poetic about a goat on speed if I thought it might add some credible bulk to my portfolio.
That’s just the way it is when you’re starting out, no matter what you’re working to do.
The more you do it, the better you get.
The better you get, the more likely you are to be successful.
Once you’re successful, you can throw a copy of your book at people when these questions start rolling in and be done with it.
Who do you write for?
This one is just awkward. Half the time, if they’ve heard of the publication, there’s some awkward pause as they pretend to rack their brains for something of yours they’ve seen.
The other half of the time, they have never heard of it, and in an effort to seem genuinely interested, the phones come out and Google comes into play.
Seriously, I have had people pull out their phones, Google Elite Daily and then struggle to further investigate as to where my articles are.
This is uncomfortable on so many levels, and if you can’t quite see why, you’re the jerk who's Googling people right in front of them. Just stop. Get a link from them later if you’re so interested and move on.
How do they pay you?
In magic beans. This is my answer because again, telling people to walk into traffic is no way to make friends.
You might as well ask me what I make, and as a writer, this is awkward because for the most part, the money is sh*t.
I would almost rather just tell you I make nothing than go into detail on the various forms of monetary compensation in the field.
God forbid you mention “pay per word.” Just don’t do it, trust me. Replying with “magic beans” works like, well, magic.
Are you writing a book?
God help us all if the questions go as far as this. By now, you’re making mental notes because this annoying little conversation is definitely making its way into your next rant piece.
Writers enjoy writing. Some of us have no intention of ever writing a book, and some of us do.
Anyone I’ve ever met with the goal of having a book published has always had little to say on the subject, and understandably so.
It might seem somewhat temperamental, but if I had written a book, I would have thrown it at you two questions ago. Seeing as I haven’t, you can safely assume I have not yet had one published.
That leaves the people who either have no intention of ever writing one and those of us who live our lives with no fewer than 100 open docs in Word, all contending to slowly but surely narrow themselves down to the one we might turn into a legible bit of writing.
You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t on this one. If you answer no, you seem like a writer with zero ambition and are content with turning out “easy pieces” to the highest bidder.
If you say yes, prepare to be bombarded with the kinds of detail-inquiries that only creative types would find as invasive and uncomfortable.
When what you do entails pushing out thoughts, stories and opinions for a living, you can find yourself pretty guarded when it comes to shedding insight on your process.
Keep in mind some people are harmless and just curious about an area they may be somewhat ignorant to.
For the ones doing the asking, keep an eye on the person you’re questioning; tensing up and rolling of eyes are not hints we wish to go deeper on the subject.