You are in a group — it can be your friends or it can be your family — and suddenly someone points to you and tells everyone that you are a writer. You’ll see a few eyebrows raise up, but mostly you’ll see a room full of unenthused stares. One member of the collective will turn to you and ask, “Oh yeah? What do you write?”
I rarely feel embarrassed, but it is in this very moment, the moment before I tell people about my work, where I feel the most ashamed in my choices. What do I write? A little of everything… I write stories and I write researched articles. I write press releases and I write scripts. I write emails and I write text messages. Where do I even begin?
What I tend to say is just that, “I write everything,” which is the most nothing answer one can give.
Imagine it this way. Someone asks you, “What kind of music do you like?” To which, you respond, “Oh, a little of everything.”
While that might be true, it doesn’t entice the other person to learn more about you. Instead, you are making them do all the work. Interest can fade very quickly, but here is how you can spark it rather than defuse it.
But first, let’s understand why we gave that answer in the first place.
A Writer’s Self-defense
Giving a really broad explanation like “I write everything” is a defensive response. You are afraid that the more information you give, the more it will reveal about you — opening you up — making you more vulnerable.
Let’s stick with music for a moment longer. For example, someone asked you what kind of music you liked, and you responded with, “Folk.” A potential return for that is that the other person hates folk, and they will be ready to lay down all the reasons why they hate it.
All through my life, I have encountered people that hate the stuff I like. I’m sure you have too unless you live in a really tight bubble. And I believe that if you like something, you will stand up and defend it. However, at a random social event where I’m suddenly put on the spot, I don’t feel much like standing up for my little creative projects.
“Oh what do you write?” someone will ask.
“I write short stories about travelling,” I could respond.
“Oh, I don’t like those,” people will say, “I don’t read. It’s boring… I’ll just rather go travel. I don’t care what other people think…”
Well… then… I guess I’m just an idiot. Sorry for not being able to amaze you.
Even before they have read any of your work — or even given it a chance — people can shut you down. That feeling is crushing. Suddenly you are in the middle of a group, with a stupid smile on your face, wondering where to move forward from that awkward exchange.
This, of course, happens with a lot of other creatives. When you find out that someone is an actor, you’ll ask, “Have I seen you anything you’ve done?” A wonderful guessing game that actors love. And since they aren’t Leonardo DiCaprio, they will feel awkward listing off their credits like this is some sort of audition for your approval.
Is there a way to remedy this awkward feeling, when you get put on the spot as a writer? Or after announcing your work in progress?
Yes, of course, there is.
Don’t Talk About Your Projects, Talk About Your Mission
What is the one job that gets criticized the most? The showrunner for a hit television show perhaps. Maybe… But in my mind, one of the toughest job in the world is being a politician. You are selfishly climbing ladders, but also selflessly defending causes. As a writer, you have to see yourself in much the same light. As much as you want to write the best work for yourself, it is really the influence, change, and reflection you want to cast upon the world.
It’s time to start thinking of your stories as more than just mere tales for entertainment. A good story is transcendent. It is designed to make the reader or listener think. It is designed to inspire. It is designed to make people feel empathy or find relatable. A story is here to change a life.
Think about the mission you want to accomplish by writing. Surely it is more than just selfishly being published, right?
Think of any good story and the theme, history, or moral behind it. There are only so many stories in the world after all, and most people have seen and heard them before. However, what matters and what last are those themes that remind people that beyond their own perspective there are many more — yours.
So when someone asks you what you write. Don’t be embarrassed that you are using a platform to express your thoughts. Don’t even talk about the writing itself or the story. Talk about the mission you want to accomplish with your writing. What in the world do you want to change with your words? Who are you wanting to inspire and influence?
Take a look at some of the most recent Academy Award winners for screenplay and see how most of them, when receiving their prize, don’t even talk about the craft, but rather, what they were trying to communicate.
You are not simply a writer, you are a voice for your readers, those who have chosen you and believe in your world view. The only thing is… they might not have chosen you yet. But there is still time. You are early. And that’s okay because what a pleasure it is for the people gathered around you that day at the random party to see you at such a humble state with such a bold mission.
Rehearse What to Say, The Next Time Someone Asks You What You Write
Let’s role play. Pretend that you are attending one of those many annual parties. Your friends happily introduce you to a guest you have not met before. You friend says, ”This is _____, she’s a writer.”
The guest asks, “Oh… what do you write?”
To which you respond not with details of your current work, but the objective you want your writing to have on the world. If you can’t think of what that may be… take a moment to really consider it. What do you really want your work to do?
There are many people writing about dragons, romance, and swords. There are many people writing about their last moments with their grandma or the dog from their childhood. There are many people writing about spies and seductive lovers. So don’t talk about that stuff… talk about something beyond that. What does your writing do besides attempt to entertain? Once you can find the answer to that, say it… and I’ll assure you, that you will feel less embarrassed as the guest will start to engage you in a deep conversation.
What other areas of being a writer makes you embarrassed? I’d love to hear it… if you don’t mind sharing.
If you like this article, you might consider buying me a beer, it helps to keep me writing.