When I tell people I’m a writer, I’m met with varying reactions. Sometimes, I’m appraised with a mix of confusion and pity, and I half expect the individual to reach out, pat my hand, and say, There, there, dear. You’ll find a real job someday.
In most cases, though, people just smile politely and say something like, “How interesting! Where do you work?” When I say I’m self-employed, there is an awkward nod, and the inquiries usually stop. Rarely do people ask me questions about what I do.
Which is too bad, really, because I love my career. I love talking about it. And I enjoy the opportunity to celebrate exciting projects.
(I also love listening to what other people do and make a point to ask questions, so please don’t think I’m completely narcissistic.)
My guess is that most people would like to ask questions, but they just don’t know where to begin. And my further assumption is that my situation isn’t isolated and that other writers have similar interactions.
So, next time you talk with a writer, here are five questions to help start a conversation:
1. What exciting projects are you working on?
Instead of leading the conversation toward mundane day-to-day tasks, this question allows the writer to talk about the projects and clients he’s excited about. It also gives your conversation partner the opportunity to highlight his accomplishments…without feeling like he’s bragging.
2. Where can I read your work?
Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to read the person’s writing. But this question lets the writer talk about published work, and specifically asking where to find your friend’s writing might even help identify connections. You could find yourself saying, “Oh, you did the website content for the new pub downtown? I’m serving as their business consultant!” Bam. Match made in business heaven.
3. What creative personal projects are on the horizon?
The thing about being a professional writer is that personal creative projects are often pushed to the bottom of the pile. Paying the bills trumps personal fulfillment 99 percent of the time. But while we writers may not be actively working on creative projects, we are definitely dreaming them up. And we’ll do them. Someday. Even if it’s a ways off, it’s still fun to talk about creative goals. So, ask away.
4. How do you structure your day?
I think people assume that since writers work from home, they take leisurely lunch breaks, do multiple loads of laundry, and watch reruns of “Friends” while “working.”
Excuse me while I laugh hysterically.
Actually, most successful professional writers have strict routines and are extremely focused while they work. I’ve personally worked hard to create a schedule that fits my lifestyle and increases my productivity. For many writers, it’s enjoyable to talk about our days. (And since we’re alone all the time, it’s even more fun to share it with a living, breathing human.)
5. Why did you go into your profession?
I have yet to meet a writer who just “happened” into the field. I have spent the majority of my life working toward the goal of being self-employed, taking charge of my own schedule, and having the freedom and flexibility to pursue the projects I’m passionate about. My dream is still a work in progress, and I’m constantly modifying my vision of the future. But the point is: For most writers, what we do now is very much about the journey. Asking your writer friend about that journey opens up the opportunity to talk about the hard work that got her where she is today.
Writers, what questions would you add? If you’re in a different profession, what do you wish people would ask you?
(Image courtesy Kathleen Tyler Conklin | flikr)