You raised my hopes and dashed them quite expertly. Bravo!
Here’s how can I usually create some intrigue when meeting someone for the first time:
Them: “What do you do?”
Me: “Oh, I’m a writer?”
Them: “Wow, really?! That’s incredible. I could never write…”
This works great, especially among members of the opposite sex. Were I not married, I’m sure this would have inevitably led to at least a handful of dates, most of which would end once they realized how terribly boring I am. (Me: “So,what do you think of the discovery o–” Her: *thunk* “Zzzzzzz…glug glug glug…” Me: “Waiter, I think my date is drowning in her soup.”)
Now here’s how I completely and almost instantaneously destroy that intrigue:
Them: “What kind of writing do you do?”
Me: “Mostly technical. I write computer manuals.”
Them: “Oh… well, uhm… okay… I’ll be over there.”
I can’t tell you how awkward that gets in confined spaces, or when people have to keep talking to me. I’ve even had sales people try to continue their pitch, only to stop within minutes to explicitly outline the many ways I’ve disappointed them.
In order to salvage the interest, I would sometimes apologize by explaining that I also write short stories and am “working on a novel.” As it turns out, this just made the disappointment worse. Not only were they dealing with a technical writer, someone who was only technically a writer, now they were dealing with an aspiring novelist.
This is almost as bad as telling someone that I blog, in itself almost always a huge mistake.
The most common reaction the stunning revelation that yes, I am a blogger, involves their looking at me with eyes that convey or their telling me outright that “blogging is not real writing, you self important jackass!”
Another common reaction is their giving me a look which says, “you poor, deluded soul.” They usually try to cover this reaction up by asking me whether I make any money. If they’re either inclined toward masochism or still actually clinging on some semblance of hope, they may press on and ask, “What kind of blogging?” At this point everything breaks down, and I have to answer with, “You know… stuff,” because I’ve never been able to come up with a better explanation of what I do here. I might as well tell them I write in my diary.
Regardless, they’ll almost inevitably end the conversation by saying, “Oh… well, uhm… okay… I’ll be over there.”
I once made the mistake of answering a woman asking what I wrote about by saying “I write fiction.” This was during a time when, yes, I did focus most of my attention on fiction, which would have made it technically true if people didn’t define “truth” as actually getting paid for that type of work. As soon as I answered, her eyes grew three sizes too big, her smile nearly tore her head in half, and with sweaty, nervous enthusiasm she continued: “Anything I’ve read?” The answer, of course, was no. I tried to salvage the situation by explaining that while I had been published as a journalist (in industry publications she had never heard of and for which she likely held less than no interest), my fiction was still in its infancy.
In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that her eyes glazed over, the color drained from her face, and she mouthed “Dear God, why me?” before I could finish my circuitous apologetic denial. I eventually confessed that technical writing paid my bills, but by that time she had already started hallucinating about having met Steven King or J. K. Rowling. Either that, or thinking up ways to kill me using inspiration from those two, I’m not entirely sure which.
Today just about anyone can publish a book, even a terrible one, using services like Lulu and Amazon. I suppose this could give any aspiring novelist a license–or at least a learner’s permit–to say, “I’m a published novelist.” This despite the lack of any discerning publishing entity and lack of sales. Garrison Keillor put it best: with technology allowing us to go from a society of literary consumers to one of producers, “We’ve become a nation of 13 million authors, each of whom will have 36 readers — and half of those will be blood relatives.”
Because of this, it won’t be long before novelists are as universally reviled as bloggers. That is, unless someone has heard of you, a hope to which bloggers and novelists may yet aspire. Lucky for both, neither will be as immediate a mood killer as someone who raises people’s hopes by calling himself a writer, only to dash those hopes by eventually revealing this to be only a technicality. That’s because, unlike novelists and bloggers, no one ever hears about technical writers.
By the way, I’ll give you three guesses as to what happened to me this week. Multiple times.