Friday, September 12, 2014

"That's Nice." (On Not Being Taken Seriously)

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at
When you were a little kid, did you ever hear an adult say, “That’s nice” to you?  Chances are that you did.  You were probably going on and on about something that was really important to you (even thought it wasn’t important to anyone else), and your longsuffering mother said something like, “Oh, that’s nice.”  You could hear it in the dismissive quality of her voice that she wasn’t really paying attention to what you had to say, and you could tell that she didn’t think she needed to take you seriously in any way.

My mother said that to me countless times.  In her defense, if she’d paid attention to every single thing I told her (especially while she was driving), she would have gone insane long, long ago—the slow, excruciating insanity of being constantly regaled with the never-ending yammerings of an attention-deficit child.  By no means am I even suggesting that she should have given me her full attention; I was a kid, babbling about kid stuff, and I still count myself fortunate that she never told me to shut the blank up. 

At the time, I absolutely knew that she wasn’t paying total attention to me.  But I had important stuff to talk about, darn it, and I was more interested in just talking than having her totally engaged.  As long as I knew she was giving me a marginal amount of attention—and bless her, she knew exactly where to input the right, ‘uh-huh,’ ‘oh!’ or ‘really?” to keep me satisfied. (I love you, Mom!)

There were other times, though, when I really did want to show adults my capacity for awesomeness (usually in the form of bizarre and unidentifiable crafts), and they said—you guessed it—“That’s nice.” 

When I finally put it all together, I learned the cold hard truth that when someone says, “That’s nice,” it means they don’t take you seriously. Of course, it’s all in the inflection.  If somebody nods approvingly, like a guy looking at a really cool car, and says, “That’s nice,” you know they think it’s pretty darn awesome.  But the inflection I’m talking about—I’m pretty sure that you can already hear it in your head.  You’ve heard it before.  You know the one I mean. 

As a little kid, it was to be expected.  I knew that grown-ups thought about grown-up things, and kid things weren’t interesting to them.  At least they gave a nod in my direction. 

So, when I started writing at the age of fourteen—something I was really, seriously passionate about, and I started to get the same “That’s nice,” I was sorely disappointed. I was trying to write books, and all of the adults in my life really liked books. To be fair, my parents eventually figured out that I was serious, around the time that I declared I was going to college to study English. 

If you’re in that same boat right now—that feeling that nobody takes you seriously—hang in there.  Chances are good that the important people in your life will eventually realize that you mean business. Even if they don’t, there are lots of people who will—other writers.  There are some great forums on the internet for people who like to write.  My personal favorite is Mythic Scribes (you’ll notice that I link to them in the sidebar; they have a blog as well as forums), which is specifically for fantasy writers.  Other sites are out there, such as Scribophile (a peer-review forum for all genres).  These types of things are great for solidarity and moral support. 

Trust me.  You’ll need it. 

Once you get out into the wide, wide world, you find that there are lot of people who won’t take you seriously either.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told that I am a writer, and most of them say, “That’s neat,” in exactly that same dismissive inflection.  Those who seem to have interest will ask if you’ve had any books published, and if the answer is no (as is my case), they become dismissive.  This is true even if you’ve had several short works published, as I have.  For some reason, people are especially dismissive of poetry.  

It’s kind of sad that people are so dismissive of your passion for writing—unless, of course, you have a published book.  Even then, if the book is self-published, it might not be enough to convince people.

Sometimes, however, you do have the opportunity to open somebody’s eyes, and change their perspective not just on you, but on anyone who says they are a writer. 

A little over a year ago, I was training a new co-worker at my job.  We were making small talk and getting to know each other, and it turned out that we had a common interest in reading.  We talked about our favorite books and such, and somewhere in the conversation I mentioned that I was a writer, working on a fantasy novel.  She said, “Oh! That’s cool.” 

She didn’t use the dreaded inflection, though.  I thought that she really meant what she said, really believed that I was a writer, and really believed it. 

Sometime later that week, I had brought my 300-plus page manuscript to work with me, so that I could edit it during my breaks. When she saw me working on it, her jaw dropped. “Oh my gosh!” she said. “I didn’t know you were actually a writer.” 

I was floored. I said, “I told you that I was a writer.” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t think that you meant you were a writer writer.” 

You see, there are a lot of people out there who talk about wanting to write, or only write very little, or haven’t completed a 300-plus page manuscript.  Apparently, the co-worker’s brother fell into this category.  She didn’t think he was actually a serious writer—a “writer writer,” whatever that means. There are a lot of people who have this same idea about writers; they won’t actually believe you when you say you’re a writer unless you have massive amounts of writing to prove it. 

This is so unfair to beginning writers.  If you just started writing a month ago, but you do write on a regular basis, you are a writer.  If you are planning and outlining a novel or story, you are a writer.  Yet in many people’s estimation, you aren’t a “writer writer.” So when you say that you’re a writer, you will frequently get the “That’s nice” response. 

It’s completely bogus, of course.  The only requirement of being a writer is that you write.  Do you write poetry? You’re a writer—called a poet. Do you write manuals? You’re a writer—called a technical writer.  Do you write novels? You’re a writer—called a novelist.  Do you write newspaper or magazine articles? You’re a writer—called a journalist.  Do you write blog posts?  You’re a writer—called a blogger. Do you write fan fiction or write for your own personal amusement?  You’re a writer—called a hobby writer. Do you write licensed fan fiction? You’re a writer—called a franchise writer. (Don’t believe that there’s licensed fan fiction?  Go check out the section of your local bookstore that’s full of Star Wars novels.  They’ll claim it’s not really fan fiction—but I prefer to call a spade a spade.) 

The truth is, even if nobody in the world takes you seriously, you don’t need their approval to be considered a writer.  Write, and you are a writer.  Even a writer writer. 

Take yourself seriously, and you won’t need anyone else to do it for you. 

And that, my friends—that’s nice.

Do you feel like you need the approval of others to consider yourself a writer?  What do you think makes somebody a writer?  There is actually a raging debate on this in writing circles, so any viewpoints on the subject are welcome; all I ask is that you be polite when sharing your opinion. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. As a author/reader of primarily fanfiction, I don't necessarily call myself a "writer" when discussing my hobbies. I do write purely for enjoyment, so by your definition I am a "hobby writer". However, I try to specify that I _like_ to write, and I sort of feel that becoming a writer in my own mind involves more effort and less relaxation than my own writing process. I have some friends who are working on their own original stories, and I've always considered them to be more "writers" than myself. Really, I feel the need for my own approval before I count myself a writer by my personal definition. Does that makes sense?

  2. Interesting. I understand most of what you're saying here, and I see your point. Everyone has their own writing process, so I'm curious as to what you mean by "becoming a writer...involves more effort and less relaxation" than your own writing process. Also, what criteria does someone need to meet, at least in your opinion, to be a writer?

  3. I suppose what I meant was that when I write, it's usually on a whim, meaning that I don't sit down knowing even what fandom I'm going to write about, and most solo writing projects that I begin don't get finished. With a partner to spur me on and trade off the load with, I go places, and that's when I feel like a "real" writer in any respect. I really can't think of a way to truly put into words what I feel makes a writer. It still doesn't make much logical sense to me. I mean, I suppose it makes sense that I would judge myself harder than any other writer, and really I only feel conflict on the subject in respect to myself. Oh, the confusion!