I’m going to a writers’ conference in a couple of weeks, one I’ve been to every year since 2008. It’s just a tiny, local conference, no wiz-bang show like the RWA conferences or ThrillerFest and the like. But its small stature means that every variety of writer imaginable attends – the retiree who finally has the time to write her memoires, the young Goth in his black overcoat and combat boots working on his epic fantasy trilogy, the World War II history buff with his passion for detailing the bombing of Darwin Harbour, the cookbook writers, the poets, the essayists, the magazine contributors … you name them, they’ll be there, writers of all persuasions rubbing shoulders in a little microcosm that well and truly defines the breadth of the word “writer”. And no one really worries about what stage you might be at in your writing journey; in fact, there is an instant comradeship whoever you talk to, published writer or not, due to the fact we all share the same passion for conveying our stories and opinions from our minds to the page- and we all, for better or for worse, love what we do.
Announcing that you are an unpublished writer doesn’t often get the same enthusiastic response in other circles, however.
Last week I was fortunate enough to get away with my husband for a few child-free days, tagging along as “the spouse” while he attended a conference. There were a few social obligations, and being a stay at home mum of nearly thirteen years I am well primed for the quick, “Oh how nice,” response when strangers ask me what I do - followed, usually, by an equally quick escape before I do anything so heinous as break out a wallet full of my kids’ photos, or force them to examine photocopies of my offsprings' school reports. And I get that. I love my kids, but completely understand why others could not care less.
But a few brave souls sometimes stick around long enough to ask another question, which is often: “And what do you do besides look after the kids?”
So I tell them that I am a writer.
At first, the reaction is vastly different. Their eyes spark with interest, and the questions start to flow. What do you write? How long have you been doing it? Where do you get your ideas? We’re best mates now, their enthusiasm knows no bounds - until we get to: “So, how many books have you published?”
I tell them none. Not yet. The face falls, ever so slightly. The smile tightens. And it’s off to top up drinks as soon as they can politely extricate themselves.
And I understand this too. People want to be talking to Stephen King or Jodie Picoult, some author with actual BOOKS on the shelf, someone far more exciting than me (especially at a boring finance conference.)
I’m sure budding musicians and artists and actors who have not yet secured multi album deals or whose work is not yet hanging in the Guggenheim or who have failed to nail a role in a Hollywood blockbuster, get exactly the same response. And that’s OK. It’s just How Things Are, and there’s no point becoming depressed or despondent about it. In fact, the luke warm responses of some strangers should make us value the writers in our lives, those other word-and-story obsessed weirdos who just get us, who don’t care whether we are published or not for they understand that while publication is the dream of many, the simple joy of writing is a prize equally as sweet.
Hold these people close, for they are precious and rare (ATWOP ladies, I'm looking at you. :-) ) And remember not to be hurt by others and their cursory opinions of you. They don’t really know you; they don’t get why you do what you do. But the rest of us frantic scribblers do. And knowing that – knowing you are not alone - is treasure beyond words.