Nobody Understands

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Question: What do writers and sullen teenagers have in common?

Answer: Nobody understands us.

Actually, that answer is only about 90% accurate. Because there are people who understand sullen teenagers—they’re called other sullen teenagers. Likewise, at the risk of being labeled a sullen teen—I’ve been called worse, believe me—I’m gonna come right out and say it: Only writers know what this life is like.

For example, when someone finds out you’re a writer, they will typically ask one of two questions:

  1. “Anything I would have read?” When people ask this, it’s like finding a four-leaf clover. They’re like this close to actually caring if you’re a writer or not—although a subset of this group is just angling for a signed book they can hawk on eBay.
  2. “So, are you published?” This question is a none-too-subtle version of “Who cares?” disguised as interest. They actually expect you to say no. If you aren’t published yet and you get this question, understand that the conversation is over, and you have only two options—run or shoot them. The latter is not recommended … the aftermath takes soooo much time out of your day.

I learned this the hard way. When they asked if I was published, I said, “Not yet, but I do have an agent.” That’s when you get the “Oh.” As if they’re annoyed that you’re somehow still there, talking to them. Like any brain-dead orangutan can just go to the agent tree and pick one.

Would that that were true. Would have saved me countless months and a whole bouquet of rejections. Getting an agent is hard and the journey is not for the faint-hearted.

YA Author Tom Hoover Explains: What is it like to be a writer?Can anybody out there relate?

Note that if you get a response other than the two questions listed above, you are either speaking with your mother or they misheard you and thought you said waiter. And who doesn’t like food?

Here’s another nobody-understands-me response I get those times I’m lucky enough to get to the back and forth portion of the conversation. It happens when they ask about my writing process. Now, I don’t know if they’re actually interested or just being polite, but I tell them something true. Something like:

“The first 8 to 10 thousand words are always the hardest. It’s not unusual to write five or six times that many words to get to the right 8 to 10K. It kinda goes: write, delete, write, think, delete, finally.”

The reaction—“Wow. I could never do that. You must be very disciplined. I’d just give up.”

No matter how much I want to take that as a compliment, I can’t. Because I’m not disciplined—I invite people over so I’ll clean my house. I do all that writing and deleting and rewriting because that’s the only way I can get it right.

It’s like making a sandwich. If you throw a loaf of bread, a turkey breast, a jar of mayonnaise, a head of lettuce, and a tomato over your shoulder, would you give up and walk away hungry because they didn’t spontaneously become a sandwich?

Okay. Maybe you would, but most people wouldn’t. They’d open the bread, slice the turkey, spread the mayo, and do what it takes to make the stupid sandwich.

Getting the beginning right is my sandwich.

Great. Now nobody understands me and I’m hungry.

I wonder what’s in the fridge … see ya next time.

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  • Ana

    Haha I would never leave the room before having my sandwich: that would be a travesty! I find that if someone gets me started talking about what I’m writing, sometimes I can get lulled into just chewing their ear off about it. Afterwards I realise that they probably didn’t want to know all of that and were just being polite… Unless I’m talking to another writer. Then I can bemoan the fact that the word I put here, belonged over there, and my prose just isn’t sitting right; or conversely, that I killed it today and I’m nervous about re-reading it tomorrow and being disappointed.
    That’s why I find it so damn funny every time someone goes ‘oh yeah, I’ve thought of writing a book!’ and I’m like… Ok. Cool. Great job thinking.

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