You are here

Writers - and not writing

What do you do for a living? I bet it’s not what people think you do :-).

I was talking with my mother this weekend. And we ended up talking about writing. Well, about my writing. Or rather, about my not writing.

Huh? What did he say?

We talked about my not-writing. I bet you thought writers wrote, right?

Nope. Or rather, yes, with a lot of nope.

Writers, of course, do write. But they write like firemen put out fires. Well, not in the sense of risking their lives running into burning buildings. But yes. Like fireman put out fires. Or like police officers catch criminals, or the guy behind the bar at the place you’re going after work fills glasses.

Actually, not so much like the guy fills glasses :-). Why not? Because he does that a lot. Maybe a lot more than writers write.

That fireman? Yes, or woman? She (or he) does indeed put out fires. But for each minute they spend putting out fires, they spend a whole lot more minutes not putting them out. And not, as the movies might have it, sleeping and waiting for the bell to ring. Not even washing and polishing engines. They’re studying how fires burn. They’re in a weight room or a gym. They’re talking to other fire people about shouts they went out on, and what happened and how things could have gone better.

Or worse.

For every minute a police officer spends grabbing the collar of some ne-er do well, they’re spending a lot more minutes talking to people who don’t really want to talk to them. Minutes filling out reports. Minutes (lots of minutes) practicing doing things in vehicles that people like us think we’d really love to try, and that people like us would probably need an ambulance crew nearby if we did.

Writing’s like that. Well, not like that in the sense of needing ambulance crews if we do it – though I do have this nasty prain in my typing finger…

No. Writing’s like that, in the sense that writers spend a whole lot of time doing things that aren’t writing. Or at least, not writing books.

So what do writers do when they’re not writing the books they hope you’ll want to read? They do things like reading books about writing. There’s a famous saying about ‘Fighting for Peace is like…’, well, like doing something I wouldn’t dream of quoting here :-). Reading about writing isn’t like that. It’s like fire-persons reading about how fires burn. It’s not that the next fire will burn just like that, but it might be close. It’s not like the writer will write their next book just like the book they’re reading says they should. But it might be close. Writers do things like writing Query Letters. That’s like the letter you wrote to that guy with a job you wanted. They write Synopses – which is the fine art of putting a 100,000 word book into two pages. Or one. They research what different Agents like, and what they hate, they talk to people, to readers, they build relationships, they market, they publicise…

They spend a lot of time, um, not writing :-).

So what do you do? I bet it’s not what people think you do :-).


DM's picture

This is so true. I wish I had the energy to put into writing full time, but talk about a profession that wears you out with all the little parts attached to it.

Graeme's picture


Heh. Yes indeed. I made a blog post some time ago where I mentioned my mother asking me, every time I finished a book, whether I was going to try to get it published. She realises now why I was always less than ecstatic at the idea. She had no idea the work that goes into it. She just thought you wrote it, then 'sent it off and it got published'.

Lordy. If only... :-P.

Kelly Hashway's picture

Okay this makes much more sense now. Yes, we do spend a lot of time doing writerly things that aren't actually writing. We observe our target age group to make sure we are up-to-date on what's really going on. We read and read and read and... you get where I'm going with this. I write for about two and a half uninterrupted hours every afternoon and on the days my daughter has school, I get two and a half hours to write in the mornings too. I also steal writing time in the evenings. So I think I write a lot. I'm lucky my schedule permits it. But when I'm not writing, I'm brainstorming. It's all writerly stuff. So yes, writers do a lot more than just write.

Graeme's picture

And that, sort of, was the point :-).

When a writer tells someone they're, um, a writer - a lot of people get an instant vision of someone who sits at a desk, types some words here and there - not much else.

Were it only so :-).

But it's the same for most things, no? The view from the inside to the out is rather different from the passing glance from the outside to the in :-)).

Elizabeth's picture

I spend more time thinking about thinking about my next inspiration (yes, I meant to write that phrase twice) than actually putting words to paper. Once my muse wakes up, the words flow. Then stop. And take a nap.

Graeme's picture

... to get over my mother telling me 'oh, but I thought you just wrote stuff' (or words to that effect :-P) every time she asks what I'm doing with 'A Comedy of Terrors', or writing in general. Especially as, for the moment, mostly it boils down to 'not writing' while I try to put together an audience generation/ publicity package or approach.
'There's a lot of stuff to bein' a carpenter as don't involve wood an' a saw', as my old grandad might have told me (he didn't - but he might've :-P).

Add new comment

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer