A late post is better than no post, I say. I’m back home for a short spell, fully expecting to head back to my parents’ house in a week or less. But for now, I’m checking in.
You should’ve seen the look.
My mom introduced me to someone recently and announced proudly “She’s a writer!”
Right away, the question.
“What do you write?”
I’ve learned. If I want to move on quickly, I simply say “Corporate writing for companies of all sizes.”
If I want to ensure the conversation comes to a halt, I say something like “I write about risk management, insurance, workers’ compensation…”
This encounter required the first response.
But what happened next, oh, we’ve all been there.
The person looked a bit pitifully on me as though my career choice wasn’t necessarily paying my bills.
You know the drill — you’re a writer. You don’t have a “real” job, so while you’re really enjoying the freedom of working in your underwear, you’re not really supporting yourself.
Yes, that look.
I’ve had it before. Hell, I’ve even had that look with the following accompanying asshole statement: “I could help you earn sooo much more money!” (Oh yes, he did say it.)
In this case, it was more subtle. The person, who was discussing financial matters with us, turned his full attention to my mother from that moment on. I’d lost credibility. It wasn’t obviously dismissive, but make no mistake — it was dismissive.
We’re writers. Worse, we’re freelance writers. We must be starving, right?
Oh, how wrong can a person be?
What I found entertaining in this scenario, and in most cases when this comes up, is that I probably earn more than the people who are looking at me thinking I’m wasting my life. In this iteration of my writing life, I make over double what I did when I was someone’s employee.
Funny how calling the shots yourself can do that.
Yet there’s a stigma that comes with our chosen careers that is tough to shake. We are writers, therefore we must be starving, drunk, or both.
So beyond carrying your 1099s and a copy of your latest tax return in your pocket, how do you overcome the stereotype?
That’s the trickier question. I don’t give a flying fig what anyone thinks about what I do or do not make. It’s really none of their business. However, I think I have a responsibility — all writers do, I believe — to set the record straight to some extent.
That’s not to say we need to beat them over the head with the “I make three times what you do, pal” outrage. In fact, I’m more inclined to drop subtle hints.
Talk about the work.
Yes, I mention the types of clients I work with. Global corporations. Household name companies. I talk about what I write — websites, case studies, articles for executives… This exercise alone sends a much different message than getting one’s back up and defending oneself to a clueless assumption.
Talk about the perks.
“Yes, I was fortunate enough to double my revenue this year by picking up three new clients.” Or talk about the vacations to exotic places, or the conferences where you meet your clients. Or the car you’ve just upgraded to. Brag a little. Mention your busy schedule alongside your need to get away on that European vacation just to get some downtime.
Talk with the language of wealth.
Revenue instead of income. Clients instead of customers. Contracted projects instead of gigs. All of these subtle language shifts send a more potent message about the seriousness of what you do. I’m prone to peppering industry jargon into a conversation whenever I’m facing a rather difficult case of dismissiveness.
Let it go.
Your job isn’t to convert them, but to leave enough breadcrumbs to maybe change their minds about being so rude in their assumptions going forward. There are some people who will look down on what you do no matter what you do or say. In one case, I had a very rude individual at a dinner party in Italy pay plenty of attention to me until he asked what I did for a living. When I told him, he immediately turned to the person on the other side of him and started a conversation, leaving his back to me the rest of the night. I wasn’t a scientist (like he was) so suddenly I didn’t matter. And right there, I decided I didn’t care. He did me a colossal favor by revealing who he was and then relieving me of the obligation to be nice to him. If you’re facing someone like that, let it go. The unbelievers don’t belong in your orbit.
Writers, how often have you faced the “you’re just a writer” attitude?
What’s the worst case you’ve had?
How have you converted the nonbelievers?
How much giddy joy do you get in knowing they’re revealing how uninformed they are?