Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reactions to Writers

There’s a strange stigma attached to being a writer, one I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to.  I suspect it’s a bit like telling people you’re a mortician or a professional sewer spelunker. People just don’t seem to quite know how to react.

It’s not that I go about my day with a sign around my neck saying “Please don’t pet the writer” or “Caution, temperamental wordsmith, approach at own risk.”  However it is something that is going to get brought up from time to time, even in the politest of conversations. The reaction is rarely negative, but it often a source of personal entertainment for me. There are those who seem to want to offer their condolences, as though I’ve just announced I have some rare and incurable ailment that although not fatal, may make me eligible for my own telethon some day. They offer soft words of comfort or pity which they try to disguise as some form of compliment.  “Is that so? Well, well, I hear that some people can make quite a good go at that sort of thing dear girl, how brave of you to try.”

  Then there are those who immediately get oddly giddy, their eyes widening as if they have just discovered they are conversing with a celebrity of some kind.  “Really?”  Is invariably the next word out of their mouths, as though I have made claim to have starred in several blockbuster movies or solved world hunger problem.

 The other general reaction seems to be one of unease and distress, a lowering of the eyes and a quick step backward, as though I could go for their jugular at any moment. I can only assume these folks had a bad experience with an English teacher at some point that left them psychologically scarred, or they are incognito editors or literary agents on their day off; terrified I’m going to try to pitch my latest work at them, figuratively or literally.

I invariably get asked if I am published, and what I write about, which tends to cause confusion and then another round of entertaining reactions.  The confusion is when I tell them I have in the past been a freelance writer for a number of comedy sites, and they immediately try to determine why I never struck them as funny before.  Oh, they never say it, but I can see the question running through their brains as clear as day.  The best reactions come though, when I tell them what I am writing these days. “Oh, I write erotic fiction,” invariably gets a blink, a blush, a double take and then the invariable “Oh, so …like Harlequin romances?”   And then comes my favourite moment, the one that makes me smile like a Cheshire cat. It’s when I get to say: “Oh no, a fair bit steamier than they allow.”  There is always a pause, a moment of awkward silence and then they go one of two ways.  Either they try to get a sample of my writing right then and there, or they rapidly change the subject.

Being a writer has plenty of challenges & rewards, but when I stepped foot on this path, I never expected other people’s reactions to make either column. As it turns out, I was wrong.