Things NOT to Ask Writers

When we are children there are literally a million ways to strike up a friendship, from asking to borrow a crayon to walking up and poking another kid you’ve never met in the back of the head. Kids are simple that way. Adults are trickier because we rely mostly on polite conversation to suss out some information on each other. We ask common questions that everyone can answer with a relative amount of ease, and one of those questions is inevitably, “What do you do for a living?”

Now, since I have a day job that is completely unrelated to writing, I’ve rarely had to experience the frustration that follows as one grits their teeth, struggles to keep their eye from twitching, and grudgingly admits, “I’m a writer.” I have, however, heard many horror stories and had a few minor experiences myself as a result of people actually catching me in the midst of writing. “Horror stories?” you may ask. Yes, horror stories. Because, the thing is, for reasons I’ll never quite understand, when people discover a writer they immediately plunge into a torrent of questions, many of which are extremely rude and annoying. It’s a strange thing, as though the profession of “writer” is automatically up for intense scrutiny.

Most writers will clench their jaw and try their best to answer the onslaught of questions with a smile plastered on their face, even though on the inside they’re screaming. So on behalf of my fellow writers, I present to the rest of you a list of questions to avoid and why we hate it when you ask them.

Haha, very funny Google. You're not helping.
Haha, very funny Google. You’re not helping.

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“You’re a writer? So, you don’t work then?” or “Oh, that’s cool, but what’s your real job?”

I’ll never understand this myself, but unless you’re an extremely well-known author like Stephen King, or you work as a screenwriter for a popular TV show, people don’t seem to consider writing to be a “real” job. Correct me if I’m wrong, fellow artists, but I feel like writing is the only one of the arts to enjoy this stigma. There’s just something about writing in particular that makes people imagine that it can be a hobby, but not a career.

So let me clear things up: writing is as much a job as anything else. It entails a lot of hard work (more on that later), and if you want to be good at it you have to spend a boatload of time on training, research, practice, keeping up with business trends, networking with peers and important possible business contacts, and, oh yeah…the actual writing.

Just because something sounds fun and easy doesn’t mean that it is, and just because what someone chooses to do with their life isn’t a 9-to-5 with a regular bi-weekly paycheck and benefits doesn’t mean that it isn’t a job.

“What’s your story about?”

Non-writers, I know you think this question shows polite interest, but the question itself is an ignorant over-simplification. This question implies that an intricately woven tapestry of characters, setting, and plot line – something that may have taken months or years to construct – can be easily explained in a couple of sentences. But trust me, non-writers, it is no easier to give a brief description of what we’re writing than it is for a mathematician to explain calculus to someone who has never done it before. It makes us sweat, because we’re caught between making our story sound stupid (“Uh…um…it’s about zombies.”) or putting you in the position of listening to the entire life story of the novel so that you understand what it’s truly about.

If you’re honestly curious about what the writer is writing, a better question would be, “What kind of genres do you write in?” or “Are you working on anything special right now?” If the writer wants to talk about their current work-in-progress, questions like these will pave the way and let them know that you’re actually interested, not just being facetious.

“Have you made any money writing?” or “How much do you make writing?”

For the life of me I’ll never get why people think that this is an okay road to go down. With pretty much any other profession on the planet it is considered extremely rude to ask someone how much money they make (unless you’re already good friends and are comfortable with that kind of sharing), and yet people are constantly asking this of writers. It not only comes off as rude and nosy, but it immediately gives off the impression of disbelief in the writer’s ability to earn a living, which is much, much more than rude.

Do everyone involved a favor, non-writers, and just never bring money up. It’s none of your business and it can come to no good.

“Can I read your book before you publish it?”

No. No, no, no, no, no. There are so many things wrong with this request, but I’ll go with the one that everyone (hopefully) should be able to understand: something for nothing. Would you ask an architect to design a building for free? Would you ask a doctor to do surgery for free? Would you ask an electrician to wire a house for free? The answer in every case is a resounding NO, because it is ridiculous to ask someone to use their time, energy, education, and experience to do something for you for free. It is no different to ask a writer to let you read something (for free!) that you know damn well they’re trying to earn a living with. If you’re really that interested to read, go out and buy the damn book.

“Do you really expect to make a living as a writer?”

Here’s the thing…you can take any highly successful profession on the planet and there will be people who failed miserably at it. Young people with excellent GPAs will flunk out of med school because they can’t handle the pressure. Incredibly intelligent lawyers may fall apart on the stands because they’re no good at public speaking. Genius engineers may make a tiny mistake in their calculations that end up costing companies millions.

I get that the artistic fields (art, writing, music, acting…) are extremely difficult to break into and that the idea of the “starving artist” is a thing for a reason. But that does not give you the right to talk down to a writer because you think their ambitions are too high. Unless you are this particular writer’s parent and you’ve got them bumming in your house rent-and-bill-free, it is absolutely none of your business how they choose to spend their time and whether or not they’re going to be able to survive as a writer.

“Do you really think that self-publishing is the way to go?” or “But you’re not really a real author until you’ve been properly published, right?”

First of all, non-writers, I’m willing to bet that the majority of you don’t know much more about publishing than it’s how books are printed. Therefore, I forgive you for not realizing that there have been enormous shifts in the publishing paradigm in recent years. I forgive you for not knowing that trying to get traditionally published these days is like trying to convince the judges at a dog show to let you enter your cat in the competition. I forgive you for not being privy to the fact that traditional publishing can take so long that your book’s topic may no longer be marketable by the time you’ve gotten it in print. I’ll even forgive you for not being aware that many, many very successful writers have been self-publishing in recent years as trends shift and they realize that self-publishing allows them the ability and freedom to control more of the creative process, distribution, and marketing than ever before.

What I will not forgive you for is asking questions like these when you know damn well that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Do your research first, and then maybe we’ll be willing to have a nice, sit-down conversation about the virtues of each method of publishing.

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I could keep going, but those non-writers who are reading this right now are probably already frowning at their screen and coming up with counter-arguments for why I shouldn’t be so uptight and just be happy that they’re interested enough to ask questions in the first place. So with that I conclude my list of super-frustrating inquiries and open up the floor to my fellow writers. How about it, guys and gals? What questions do you just hate to be asked as a writer?

In the Summer of (a Writer’s) Life

I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. πŸ˜€

Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.

I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.

Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.

Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).

I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.

No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!

What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

Day jobs ruin everything, am I right?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

28. Write about the time you almost gave up writing for good

I won’t pretend that it’s an interesting story, but yes, there was a time when I almost gave up writing for good. It came as a result of my first post-graduate, degree-relevant job. You see, up to and including the moment when I graduated from university, I had only ever had part-time jobs. I’d worked summers, or evenings and weekends. I had positions that were Monday to Friday, 9-5 deals, but those would only ever last two or three months. Alternatively, the jobs I held in between those were 2-4 days per week, not even necessarily full 8-hour shifts. What I’m getting at here is that I had a lot of spare time to write. Even when I had the (temporary) full-time positions, they were the kinds of jobs where you could haul out a notebook and scribble away while you waited for something to do. Even at my most busy, when I was going to university during the day and working during the evenings, I’d still find time to write during free classes and slow shifts.

That changed quite dramatically when I started working at the paper mill. For one thing, this wasn’t the kind of job where you had down-time that you could fill however you pleased. Most of the time I was busy as hell, and even when I wasn’t it would be frowned upon if I curled up at my desk with a notebook. It was the kind of job where you were expected to be doing something even if there was no something to do. For another thing, this was a full-time, permanent position. I no longer had random slots of time to myself, multiple days off at any given time, and I got no breaks. I’m not talking about break-time during the work day – of course I got those, it’s illegal not to give them. I’m talking about chunks of time – days, weeks, or even months – during which I was completely off. This was a permanent job. After a few months that reality started to set in. I was going to do this job every day, five days a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year. That first year I didn’t even get my two weeks of vacation because I couldn’t afford to take it (vacation pay is based on previous year’s earnings and since I got hired in December that would have meant I’d get approximately $80 for my two weeks).

With all that said and done, you also have to add in to the equation the fact that I was all alone in the world. I’d had to move an hour and a half from home for the job, while my boyfriend (now husband) was still back home finishing his own university program. Since I was living alone I had to do 100% of the stuff you have to do when you live alone: the grocery shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the laundry, the errands, etc etc etc. To make a long story short (is it too late for that?) I didn’t have a lot of spare time to myself. The spare time I did have I mostly filled with brainless things like watching tv and playing on my computer because I was just too exhausted to do anything else.

It took a while to work my way out of this rut. Eventually my future-hubby moved up with me and I had help around the house again. He would end up getting a job at the mill as well and as time went on things seemed to even out, become more second-nature, and calm down a bit. I’m still as busy as I ever was, but it doesn’t feel as busy because I’m used to it. So a while back I stumbled across NaNoWriMo for the first time and thought, “Hey, you know what? I miss writing. I should start writing again.” It’s been slow-going, and I still don’t always find the time I need to actually do it, but I’ve committed myself to keeping writing as part of my life. It’s important to me, even if it never takes me any further than my own laptop.

Look ma, I’m planning!

Okay, here’s the deal. As you read this I am on my way to board a plane heading toward my second rotation in Fort McMurray. Those of you who have been reading know what happened during my last rotation…I didn’t have any internet (aside from my iPhone) for the entire two weeks. I like to imagine that my luck can’t be that bad that it would happen again, but since discovering that there is exactly one IT guy for something like 4500 rooms at the camp, I’m not taking my chances. I want to make sure that my blog is updated, instead of being dead in the water for another two weeks, and plucking out posts on my iPhone is beyond tedious. So I tracked down another blogging challenge (okay, more of a list of post ideas), this one aimed specifically toward writers. The list has 101 ideas on it, so what’s going to happen is that before each of my rotations I’ll pre-write and schedule enough posts to fill up the two weeks that I’m out in Alberta. I’ll break during my weeks off so that I can post manually during that time. Sound like a plan? I think it sounds like a plan.

I’ll start tomorrow, and you should have 14 posts by the time I get back. If anyone is interested, the list can be found at Julie Jarnagin’s blog, and here is the exact post: 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

You Can Trust Us

Have you ever felt like someone was asking you too many questions? Have you ever filled out a form or a job application and thought, “Now seriously, why the hell do they need to know that?” Well I have, and that regularly-occurring experience is what lead me to write the following drabble, entitled ‘You Can Trust Us’.

Mental Heath Questionnaire

Please answer honestly.

What is your age?

Are you currently taking any prescription medication?

Is there any history of mental instability in your family?

Do you suffer from any form of mental instability?

Are you sure?

You wouldn’t lie to us, would you?

It’s okay. You can trust us.

Seriously, we aren’t trying to trick you into lowering your guard.

Why must you think poorly of us? We’re only trying to help.

Okay, that’s it. You’ve forced us to take matters into our own hands. Orderlies are on their way to detain you. Have a nice day.

New Job, New Time Management Issues

My husband’s uncle asked me a question today. An innocent question: “How’s the book going?” The answer was not quite as innocent: “Not as good after going out West!”

I haven’t written a thing since the week before my flight to Alberta. At first it was because I (obviously) had more important things on my mind, like figuring out how meals work on the camp, and becoming acquainted with my many new coworkers. As the days went on, writing continued to go by the wayside because I was adjusting to a new job that involves a hell of a lot of walking, climbing stairs and ladders, and hanging out in stifling heat while wearing flame-retardant, long-sleeved coveralls. In other words, I was tired. By the time the last few days of my two-week rotation began to wear down, I continued to fail to write because of good old fashioned laziness. Even after returning home, I got no writing done over the past five days because I’ve been too busy enjoying my daughter and filling other obligations (i.e. my niece’s birthday party…enjoy being 3, cutie!), and no one can possibly blame me for that.

Reincorporating writing into my schedule is one of the things that I’m going to have to work on with this new job, but other than a few minor complaints (I never did get the internet working in my room) the entire ‘Out West’ experience has gone much better than I expected. I don’t mind the camp at all, the work is easy and laid-back, safety is actually number one for a change, my coworkers are all good guys, and there is no way anyone could possibly complain about the money. All in all, I have to say that I am honestly enjoying the job. Yes, of course, being away from the baby for two weeks at a time is less than fun, but look at it this way: how many people get 14 days out of every 28 off? 14 days that I can spend doing whatever I want, which in this case is enjoying my adorable daughter? Not to mention, this job is so stress-free that my days off (so far) are being spent in a great mood, actually enjoying myself, rather than coming home from work every day cranky and tired and inadvertently taking my mood out on my daughter and husband.

Everyone is different of course, and I’ve only had one rotation so far so I can’t definitively judge, but it’s looking good so far. I really think this job might be the start of something good. If nothing else, it will allow us to ditch some debt that we’ll be ridiculously happy to see the backside of…we’re coming for you, student loans!

Now if I could just squeeze the writing in there somewhere as well, I’d be doing great.

 

A Day at Kearl Lake

I have come to the conclusion that the Internet in my camp room is not going to get fixed while I’m actually still here, so let it be known that I plucked out this entire entry on my iPhone. 😐

Camp life is definitely a different kind of life.

I wake up between 4:00 and 4:30 am. The bed is a little stiff, but I’m used to a cushion-top mattress, so I might be a little biased there. I wash up at the sink in my room, throw on some clothes, grab my lunch bag and stumble down to the main area of the camp.

Breakfast is served in the dining room, should you wish to partake. There are dispensers of cereal, tons of fruit, and you can also get stuff cooked in the kitchen, such as various forms of eggs, sausages, bacon, etc. To drink you can get milk, several kinds of juice, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. I don’t usually get breakfast in the dining room because I’m lazy and don’t normally eat much for breakfast anyway.

For your work lunch you go to the bag-up room. This room is full of easy-to-grab things like fruit, sandwiches and wraps, sweets, salads, and refrigerated portions of stuff from the kitchens, like lasagna, chili, chicken and potatoes, etc. These things are marked with stickers showing the day they go bad so you can see how old they are and judge whether you’d want to eat them. Of this stuff you can effectively take as much as you want. I usually grab some oatmeal and fruit (which I eat while waiting for the morning work meeting), one of the kitchen things (today I have spaghetti) and some snack stuff like celery and peanut butter, a bagel, some cookies, or whatever.

To get to he job, I line up at the gates at around 5:10 am. The buses line up at 5:15 and leave at 5:30. You have to swipe your card and go through a turnstile and then find the bus that goes to your section of the site. I haven’t actually counted, but I think there are close to thirty different buses. You have to get on the right one or you’ll end up in a section you’re not allowed in. The bus drive takes about half an hour to 40 minutes.

At work we have a meeting and then head out into the site. The site is so huge that you have to sign in to which area you’re going to in case of emergencies. I’m in the Froth section, which is the part of the system that will remove the oil (bitumen) from the sand. It’s still under construction so right now my main duty is to familiarize myself with the equipment. There’s a lot of walking and climbing. A LOT. The other day myself and a couple of the guys climbed to the top of the highest structure on site. It took almost half an hour to get up, but it was a pretty awesome view.

We catch the bus back to camp at the end of the 12-hour shift. If you’re quick you can jump in the bag-up room before it closes and grab some snacks to take to your room. I usually jump in and grab some cookies or something. For supper the dining room generally has two or three entrees and half a dozen possible sides, plus a bunch of deserts. Yesterday I had roasted potatoes and lemon-crusted sole. The night before I had hot wings and fries.

Finally, after supper I basically go up to my room, take a shower, and relax. There’s a gym with lots of equipment but I’m too beat by the end of the day to use it. Maybe I’ll get used to it after a shift or two and start adding in some stints at the gym but for now I just go up to my room, maybe give a call down home, and watch shows on my computer until I fall asleep (which doesn’t take very long).

Eventually I’ll figure out how to squeeze some writing into the day somewhere. 😐

Countdown…

In less than 24 hours I’ll be on my first airplane, just about to land in Toronto, where I’ve never been. I’ll then get on my second airplane, heading out on a 4 hour flight to Fort McMurray, where I’ve never been. I’ll be bused to the first work camp I’ve ever been to, and in the morning I’ll start a new job, working out on the oil sands.

All that might not seem like a big deal to some people, but as I’ve never even left Cape Breton for work before, it’s a big deal for me.

I’ve got my luggage almost packed, and I’m going to run out a little later to pick up some Gravol for the plane (I’m not taking any chances). I’m prepared to get up (very) early tomorrow morning for the drive to the Halifax airport. It’s going to be hard to walk away from the baby when it’s time to board, but I know her father will take good care of her, and I’ll be back in only two weeks to hug and kiss and snuggle her to pieces.

I won’t have a lot of time to myself while I’m out to work (12 hour days and a 30 minute bus drive to and from the work site), but I’m going to be trying to sneak in some time for writing each night before bed, so keep an eye out for updates.

I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it through the plane rides without hurling. 😐

Time flies when…

I’ve been slacking off with the blog lately, not because I’m too lazy or don’t have anything to talk about, but because it seems like the days are getting away on me the past couple of weeks. Today, for example, it seemed like all I did was wake up and do a bit of housework, and all of a sudden it was lunch time. Then before I could sneeze, it was supper, and in about an hour and a half it’ll be the baby’s tub time. From there I pretty much go to bed, as the hubby and I like to pass our nights before bedtime watching movies. So for all intents and purposes, my day is already complete. I’m plucking this post out while the baby watches a cartoon (in other words, while I’ve got two seconds to myself).

I think this is a phenomenon that happens to everyone when there is a looming event on the horizon. The ‘event’ can take many forms, but in my case, this particular time, it’s the date of my flight out West. I recently got my itinerary for my flight out to the oil sands, and ever since it’s seemed like the days are just disappearing behind me.

Much like attempting to finish, edit, and publish a novel, starting a new job in a new province is an adventure, and as such I’m a mixture of nervous, excited, and curious. For one thing, my flight out to the work site will be my first ever time on a plane. Yes, that’s right, I’m 28 years old and have never been on an airplane before. So that’s pretty exciting (and nerve-wracking). In addition to that little tidbit, this will be my first time ever traveling alone. As I’m a full-grown adult that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s an interesting concept to me. The only trips I’ve ever taken have been with family or friends by my side. I’ve never traveled more than a couple of hours drive without at least my husband, so flying three quarters of the way across the country all by myself is going to seem odd. All I can say is thank god I’m flying, because without my husband to keep me on track I’d probably drive to Texas or something.

Another thing that I’m anticipating (whether for good or for ill) is the camp I’m going to be living at. As funny as it may sound, I’m actually looking forward to this experience. I’ve been assured that the camp is clean and has good food, and all in all I think it’s going to seem like the college dorm experience that I never had. When I was in college I first lived with my parents, and then in an apartment with friends and my hubby (then boyfriend), followed by just my hubby (boyfriend) and I, and I always felt like I missed out on the dorm experience. It’s not exactly an ideal way to live, I know, but it’s still something I would have liked to try out, and now I’m getting a similar chance, albeit belatedly. I might end up hating it, but at least I’ll have tried it, you know?

Of course, there’s also the job itself. I’ve heard good things so far from colleagues I have out there, but I won’t really know until I get there. I’ve been out of work (that is, career work) since October, so it’s going to be strange to go back. Part of me thinks it’ll be like getting back on a bike, but another part of me can’t help thinking that I’m going to totally forget how to do any of the things I used to do. At the very least, it’s going to feel weird being back on a work site after all this time.

Finally, it’s going to be strange leaving my daughter behind for two weeks straight. Compared to other prospective western jobs and the position my husband recently left so I could take this one, two weeks at a time won’t be bad at all, but it will still be odd. So far, since she was born a year and a half ago, the longest I’ve been away from her at once was something like 36 hours or so. While I know she’ll be fine at home with her father, and I’m sure my two weeks will go by fast as I’ll be working 12-hour days, it’s still a pretty large stretch between 36 hours and 336 hours.

All in all, my life is speeding toward a pretty significant event. So, of course, you’ll excuse me if things like blog posts get temporarily pushed aside. Life will resume eventually, I promise. πŸ™‚

Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

I’ve been a little busy lately, what with the hubby coming home, and preparing for my upcoming trip to my new job. I was subjected to a drug test on Monday (always fun), and had to take my Construction Safety course yesterday, so this is the first time I’ve really sat down at my computer since before hubby came home.

Regularly scheduled updates will resume at some point, but for now I thought I’d share another drabble. This one comes from a small collection of Harry Potter fanfic drabbles that I wrote a while ago. I was attempting to write a drabble for each important character in the book. I stopped at 18, but maybe I’ll get around to finishing the series someday.

Anyway, here’s the one I did for Harry:

It was quiet for a moment. Then a earthshaking howl echoed through the house. Harry cringed and sunk himself deeper into the space between the bath and the sink in the washroom.

He couldn’t understand what he’d done…one minute the cookie jar was on top of the refrigerator where it always was, the next it was on the floor, spilling out more cookies than logically could have fit in it. There must have been a hundred chocolate chips all over the floor.

There came another howl and thundering footfalls up the stairs.

Uncle Vernon didn’t like chocolate chip cookies.