Thanks to my thespian friends, ‘The Top 10 Worst Things about Being an Actor‘ has cropped up on my social media feed, and it certainly highlights how similar are the lives of actors and writers.
Therefore, I’ve put together a list: ‘The Top 10 Worst Things about Being an Writer’.
- Inappropriate questions
‘Have you written anything I’ve read?’ The only two professions in which you are asked to recite your CV are actors and writers.
Other inappropriate questions include ‘Do you know JK Rowling?’ and ‘Can I have a copy of your manuscript?’
I find it best to answer these types of questions with sarcasm (or, actually, by lying):
- ‘What have you written?’ Response: ‘Only a little book called Lord of the Flies.’
- ‘Do you know JK Rowling?’ Response: ‘Who do you think was the inspiration for Bellatrix?’
- ‘What’s your book about?’ Response: ‘Man’s inhumanity to man.’
- ‘Can I have a copy of your manuscript?’ Response: ‘Sure. I make millions off my work. I’ll happily buy you a copy of the last literary anthology I was in and don’t receive royalties for.’
- Constant rejection
Sending your unsolicited manuscript off to an agent or a publisher is a bit like buying a lottery ticket. You know it’s a long-shot, and you tell yourself that a rejection letter is ‘okay’. But, you can’t help daydream about the possibility of your book going to auction, large advances, and book deals. You mentally pay off bills, student loans, and — during times of procrastination — even quickly search Remax for that dream house. Then, six months later you receive the standard ‘your manuscript is not what we’re looking for’ and you go out and actually buy a lottery ticket.
Although, it could be worse. You could receive a ‘we’d like to see more of your manuscript’ email. The daydreaming becomes more grandiose, and then six months later you receive a ‘your manuscript is not what we’re looking for’ letter.
- Misconceptions about your life
Public perception about a writer’s life is perpetuated by film and media. According to the stereotype, many writers would prefer to spend time in scenic isolation writing and thinking deeply, but the truth includes day jobs, side projects (that may or may not pay), and social media presences. We are after all — on top of writing — running a business (although not necessarily a profitable one).
So, when the idiotic comments come forth, I like to respond with a bit of sarcasm:
- ‘It must be great not having to do anything all day.’ Response: ‘It’s fantastic. I don’t have to work another job to make ends meet, and I have a magic machine that takes all my story ideas and turns them into complete novels.’
- ‘I love to spend all day writing and just thinking.’ See response above.
- ‘I bet you have an amazing office to be creative.’ Response: ‘Yes, the “take a book, leave a book” shelf at the coffee shop is a nice perk.’
- ‘What’s your favourite whiskey? I bet you just drink all day for inspiration.’ Response: ‘I prefer lighter fluid. I enjoy the musty petrol smell. It reminds me of my youth as a motorcycle polisher.’
- You can never escape ex-lovers (or your nemesis)
Much like actors, writers like sex. Well, who doesn’t?
The problem is that writers go to writer-type events: poetry slams, book readings, salons, MFA programmes. And, at these events are other writers and usually quite a lot of wine. Therefore, it is inevitable that writers hook-up with other writers. Problematically, writers can be quite defensive, competitive, self-involved, and verbose, which are very tedious traits and can lead to lovers becoming exes.
Unfortunately, these same exes not only continue to attend poetry slams, book readings, salons, and MFA programmes even after the affair ends, plus it’s likely your tryst will end up in a short story.
It’s even worse when this ex gets a hot new partner and a three-book deal.
Note: Writers should support one another, and that should be the end of the discussion. However, sometimes you may end up with a writer-nemesis. I was told a year or so back that someone in the writing community sees me as their competition as we both had been applying for the same writing opportunities (this was news to me). I was told that this person doesn’t like me, and now being around that person is super awkward. Like exes, these nemeses will be at every reading, every launch and ever poetry slam.
- Being a constant disappointment to your parents
Check out the ‘The Top10 Worst Things about Being an Actor’ post because number 5 particularly pertains to both actors and writers.
‘Hey mum! Thanks for supporting me whilst I studied for a First Class BA (Hons) Degree and another year of a Masters. Could I borrow some money so I don’t starve?’
You’ve been published in dozens of anthologies, had a play produced at your local theatre, and your poetry collection won awards, but until you 1) become financially solvent through your writing and/or 2) have published a book with a title your parents’ friends will recognise, your parents consider you ‘the unsuccessful one’ that has a ‘little hobby’.
- Reading ‘friend’s’ Facebook statuses
Just like actors, writers befriend writers, and seeing their statuses filled with book launches, readings, and — even worse — quitting the day job to write full time is soul destroying.
Once again, have a look at ‘The Top10 Worst Things about Being an Actor’ because we writers can definitely empathise:
Even worse than your writer friends mentioning hectic book tours are the people you completed your MFA with who are doing well on every front. Not only have they been granted mortgages, they have held down monogamous relationships, afforded weddings and own a garden. And, all financed by their writing. You can’t help but think, we graduated at the same time. Why am I still waiting tables?
- Someone scooping your idea
This also applies to academics. You spend years researching, writing and editing a manuscript, then the day before you begin sending it to agents (or, if you’re lucky, your agent) another author’s book with the same plot or similar characters hits the shelves.
Yes, it’s true, their book and your book will be different. And just because they have the same basic premise it doesn’t mean their book is the same as yours. However, this is still a gut wrenching scenario, especially when you describe your novel to someone and they say, ‘Oh, it’s like X that came out last week. It’s already on the best seller list, and I’ve read it twice. Your book is like that one?’
- Your Time is Not Your Own
There is no down time for writers. Every moment you’re doing something else (laundry, driving, doing taxes, giving birth), you feel you should be writing. Even when you’re writing you feel like you’re not writing enough. Being a writer is not a job, it’s your life.
- Words of advice from the well-meaning but clueless
- ‘You can just write children’s books. That’s easy and there are loads of those.’
- ‘Have you tried sending your work to Random House. They publish all kinds of books. I read one the other day that was just horrible.’
- ‘You should turn your blog into a book.’
- ‘Self-publish. I hear people are making a fortune that way.’
- ‘You could write erotica. Look at 50 Shades of Grey.’
- ‘Can’t you write for newspapers like the Guardian or something to make ends meet?’
- ‘Skip the publishers and get it turned into a movie.’
- ‘I’m going to write a book one day.’
There simply are no responses, not even sarcastic, for the clueless.
- Working for free
Only in acting and writing will people expect you to work for free. No one goes to the dentist and asks to have their teeth whitened for free, ‘Come one. Make my yellowed nubs pearly white. It’ll be great publicity and you can add it to your CV.’
Blogs, short stories in anthologies, reviews in small magazines, press releases for a friend’s company: everyone expects you to write for free. You get the CV credit and publicity after all. But there comes a time when you should state that you are a professional, and your time and writing is worth payment. Unfortunately, even the biggest names in novel-dom write for free. The best-selling author will often give a short story to a small magazine as a favour, and even the most modest of writing generated income is accompanied by a barrage of ‘will you write a guest post for my blog’. It sucks, it happens to all writers, and it’s part of the profession. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that in the past, as an editor for small publications, I’ve had to ask for free writing. I hate having to ask, and I hate that it’s become the norm. However, if we — as writers — want that to change we need to buy anthologies, lit mags, and books by small publishers. The more we support them, the more they will support us.
What are your ‘worst’ things about being a writer?