Thursday, October 21, 2010

'So When Are You Going Back to Real Work?' and Other Annoying Questions

The other day on Facebook, I posted how I recently got asked: 'When are you going to go back to real work?', not to mention: 'What do you do all day?'

This sparked an outpouring from fellow writers, who've experienced similar questions from friends and family -- people who just don't take writing seriously.

Thing is, writing is a slog. It's not always fun and games, and there are days when I long to put on my killer high heels, dress up and head out for another brainless day in the office, complete with Jaffa Cakes, endless coffee breaks and idle chit-chat. Working on your own is often lonely and -- with the pressure of knowing just how much you gave up to do it -- sometimes quite stressful. Without a doubt, this is one the hardest jobs I've done. And by far the most rewarding.

Stunned by the fact this very nice person couldn't see just how offensive their questions actually were, I stammered and stumbled around as I tried to articulate my thoughts. Grr! Maybe I should send them this blog post!

Do the people around you take your writing seriously? And what's your killer come-back line to such annoying questions?

79 comments:

  1. My husband still on occasion calls my writing a hobby even though I spend hours writing, editing, critiquing, blogging, networking, plotting and reading. But, he's slowly seeing how much work I do during the day and now instead of saying I'm going to write or blog or critique, I say, "I'm going to work." That helps.

    CD

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  2. I'm surprised to hear this! I have great respect and I'm a little in awe of writers...such talent is amazing. I can't imagine asking a writer what he/she did all day or asking when he/she will get a real job. People never cease to amaze me!

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  3. Grrrr. It's almost like they're jealous, because that is just so insensitive I can't believe it!

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  4. Clarissa, you're right: I think how we ourself respect our work makes a big difference to how others respect it.

    Kathie - Oh, I've heard this several times from different people! :)

    Amy - I know. But the thing is, I really don't think this person had any kind of idea how it might be perceived!

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  5. It's a slog, but some writers have to do a day job as well, which makes it even harder. I'd love to be able to sit at home all day writing, but I can't. (Plus it would make me go mental). This irks me when NaNo time comes around, and there are people who see it as a race, boasting about their 10k writing days, and when you look into it, you find they don't actually work. Nice for some.

    Plus I know numerous people who have recently graduated from university. Jobless and living with mum and dad. Ask them what they're doing and they use the excuse that they're 'writers' or 'artists' or 'freelance photographers'. Not published, not agented, just working on chapter three.

    I can understand why people just assume it's easy, though. And it's not. I'm a writer myself and know how difficult it is. On the other hand, I can see why people DO ask this, although it's very annoying.

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  6. Ha ha Talli no matter the answer you give its all in the withering look you give them make sure that look says you cretin

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  7. How rude! I went to a talk at London Book Fair last year and one of the guest speakers commented on how annoying it is that everyone thinks writing is so easy. She said something along the lines of "People often leave their professions and say, oh, I think I'll take some time out to write a book. It's like a writer saying, oh, I'm bored with writing now I think I'll take some time out to be a brain surgeon." Why does everyone assume they can be a writer?
    I'd love to write all day long - mostly because I struggle to write anything decent in the few spare hours I get at the weekend and would need all day every day to churn out something semi decent. So well done for making a career out of writing, it's no mean feat!

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  8. You could always say, 'Want to trade jobs for a week? I have a deadline in two days and have to have ... words done. But of course, you'd want to start over and use your own words so you'd really need ... words done.' (Fill in ... with whatever number you'd like).

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  9. Elle! Your hair is blonde now! :)

    Writing full-time has its pluses and minuses, too. Obviously the benefit is time. The minus is you never have any money, you have nothing to blame your lack of writing or dedication but yourself, and it can be very VERY stressful (especially if you know you REALLY have to show people you can make it, now that you've given up your 'real work' to do it!). Just having time itself does not a good writer make, unfortunately.

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  10. People often, just don't understand what they don't know enough about. Maybe some of her other questions could have evolved around what it is you actually do when your working from home. Instead of taking offence, when asked this next time, maybe take the time to explain the day job to them. How many hours you put in, what is expected of you in order to actually make a dent in the writing world and how passionate you are about what you do.

    I've just started writing and I'm definitely not in a position to give up my current full time day job. Doing it part time, however, doesn't make it any less important to me personally. It just means I have less time to devote to it. I'm not even sure I would ever be comfortable with saying the words, I'm a writer, out loud, so envy anyone that is making their stand on this.

    Don't take offence. I know our writing is personal, but you yourself said, the person in question didn't have any idea she could have upset you. Enlighten about the writers world!

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  11. Snappy, self-deprecating combacks are always a way to shut people up.

    They ask "when are you going back to real work?"

    You reply, "when they start padlocking the dumpsters behind my favorite eateries."

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  12. No better woman to put said person right! I wish those around me saw my "bit of scribbling" as work. In the universe I occupy the consensus seems to be, "Sure God Help Us!"

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  13. I've gotten this a lot too. You are not alone. :-) I especially love it when I get phone calls in the middle of the day, with the expectation that I should just pick up and chat away the afternoon. Thank god for answering machines.

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  14. Until I got my agent, I found my friends and family didn't take my writing seriously. They supported me and helped out and stuff, but it was clear they thought it a fun hobby. Steve was different, I think he always realized how important it is to me. I didn't really bother with a comeback to questions about 'real jobs' mostly because I HAVE been trying to find a 'real job' (which in my head means 'paying') as my writing doesn't pay just yet.

    It's too easy for a non-writer to think writing's easy, I fear. :-)

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  15. I think the only person who takes my writing seriously is me - and other writers who have the same obsession!

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  16. Having been a stay at home mom back during the decade of women's lib, I'm used to those kinds of questions.

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  17. Talli!! You mean you don't swan around in heels eating jaffa cakes and idly chit chatting to these nice people who rummage through your bins outside your window as you write your next blockbuster?!!!!!? Oh. I'm all disillusioned now!
    :-)

    Take care
    x

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  18. I've found that the best way to answer annoying questions like that is not with an answer, but with an immediate, direct question right back at them. Then they're the ones tongue-tied :)

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  19. I hate that. I hate that being a writer without being published yet isn't considered a real job. And even when people are published it turns into this piece of cake job! Which is crazy. Right now my job job is my only real "work" in peoples minds. The writing, yea that's just something I apparently do for fun.. And it is hard to make people understand when they ask things like that. Oh well.

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  20. I went through it, though it's been a LONG time (I published my first novel in 1988). I know published authors whose neighbors still don't take them seriously--always stopping by to ask them to take deliveries for them, let repairmen into their homes, or even take their kids after school until they come home from work.

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  21. Well I still have a 'real job' which for the record is nice, but I would love to have my 'real job' doing exactly what you're doing... Writing.

    My family and friends do not always understand my love for writing, especially since there are no guarantees and it takes years to get published (they just think you write it and viola it's done) so no, a lot of people don't understand, and right now I have the fall back of telling people that I work as a data analyst just to save myself the question.

    One day we'll team up and have world domination of writers.

    I'm just glad my husband takes it seriously, he loves that I'm so passionate about something, and he thinks it's amazing the ideas that flow through my mind. He loves the crazy :)

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  22. I'm lucky, my family and close friends are really supportive and so far I haven't been asked that question...but I haven't told the less close friends and extended family yet so who knows...

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  23. Talli, great blog! My compliments and applause to you.

    Love the cat pic, by the way.

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  24. i think i have the opposite problem - no matter how hard i try to convince them otherwise, my parents pretty much assume i'll be able to buy them a house when i publish my first book

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  25. I haven't been asked the question. Everyone around me is pretty supportive and knows what I'm doing and what it means to me.

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  26. I think as long as I remain unagented/unpublished my entourage will continue to see it as a 'hobby'. That said, I take myself seriously in the sense that I'm never giving up, will always continue to write and put myself out there in hopes that I'll someday be able to do what I love AND make money at it.

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  27. I'm fortunate to have a very supportive husband. All too supportive at times. He'll come home and the first question out of his mouth will be, "How many words today? You didn't write today?" Imagine a huge frown on his face.

    What he doesn't see or understand is the research writing sometimes requires or revisions which are slow as jello some days. Nor does he witness the 'I need to get out of my head' moments that drown out the muse.

    The thing is he'll be in the front row cheering the loudest, when I finally get published. I know this...but no-one gets a writer, like another writer. (Hugs)Indigo

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  28. I think everyone who works in the arts gets these types of questions - unless they're unspeakably rich and famous. I don't think Brad Pitt gets asked "But what's your real job?" I must admit, though, every time I get a similar question my answer gets a bit more terse.

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  29. People just look vaguely puzzled when I talk about writing. I think it's just something non-writers don't get. Not their fault, I guess. I'm not that interested when people start talking about bee-keeping or how their collection of railway models is coming along ...

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  30. Now wait. There are PLENTY of adult creative types who live the lifestyle and never get published, shown, or paid in any way that would allow them to support themselves (much less a family). It's hard work for them, too. But I've known aspiring folks who follow this unpaid path to the point of self destruction and the alienation of those who supported them. It's real work, but not a real job. First-timers don't automatically get lumped in with folks who have made it as professionals. Remuneration at a self-sustaining level is a defining characteristic of having made-it. I support those who try, but I also "get" the question.

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  31. Most people I know who know about my writing absolutely do not take it seriously. It's really frustrating when we know how much work it is, and then they treat it like it's watching butterflies all day. I wish I had some great lines to say, but I don't. If it's a "repeat offender" I might give them "the look."

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  32. Funny, I've been asking myself those same questions.....

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  33. Usually I just smile and think of a way to kill them off in my next book.

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  34. Straight Guy, I do take your point. Writing is work - and that's why the person's question really did grate on my nerves; the implication that it's not work.

    That said, I do see writing as my job, too. I make SOME money, although not nearly enough to survive -- but it's the rare writer that does, actually!

    Bethany - I need to borrow your 'look'!

    Really enjoying reading all these responses; thanks everyone!

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  35. Hubby understands for the most part. Although I know he wishes I made more money. heck I wish I did too. I also wish I had more time to devote to my writing.

    And I'm at the point that if someone mentions something about a real job to me, I smile and don't answer. If they don't already understand, then no amount of words will change that.

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  36. You should send them this post. But also keep in mind that non-writers don't truly understand what goes behind the creation of a book.

    Usually when I say I'm a writer it's enough. It also depends on how it's said! :)

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  37. I actually don't tell most people in my life that I'm writing, because I'm afraid that they won't take it seriously.

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  38. bleah.. yep people are always amused by the fact I write. Apparently writing is an amusing hobby (???)

    www.damselinadirtydress.com

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  39. Do you think that part of the problem is that anyone (and everyone) thinks that they too can write a book? The number of times I hear 'oh, I'd write a book too, if I had time', as though the only thing stopping them from being a bestseller is the pesky day job! So these types look down on those who write during the day (therefore avoiding the 'pesky day job')and yet are not bestsellers, because somehow they think that the writer just isn't trying hard enough. Because we all know, all you need to be published is to have written a book, don't we?

    And I have a day job and I write. Working on the bestseller bit.

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  40. I think Jane is probably right. Most people think they'd write a book if only they had the time and therefore it can't be that difficult.

    Whenever I moaned about my previous job, someone inevitably said, 'well, why don't you finish that book, then when you're published you won't have to work again.' In the end I just agreed, as I'd given up trying to explain that it took more than finishing a book.

    Thankfully my husband is very supportive and loves that I spend so much time doing something I love so much.

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  41. Yup, get this all the time. It still stuns me though. I usually am left with my mouth dropped open in hurt bewilderment.

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  42. As one who has recently moved over to the dark side, I'll let you know soon!

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  43. As a stay at home mum of three ankle biters (8,6,3) I have the joy of a 24/7 unpaid 'profession' of housewife to juggle with writing. Every time I am busy or stressed, the suggestion from well-meaning folk is that I give up writing for a while.

    I can fully understand why people think I should devote my life to cleaning and slaving around but quite frankly I can think of other things I'd rather give up than the writing.

    I just sigh now and change the subject. But inside it makes me determined to make a proper go of it, and prove that it's not just a passing phase.

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  44. I feel your pain! I left my job just to write the novel - before I hadn't guarantee or even an inkling of success with it - and so everyone around me thought I was crazy. (Maybe I am...!) People seem to think that I'm in bed all day or something, and I guess I don't help matters because I still don't feel right saying, "I'm a writer" when people ask me what I do. I'm just hoping it's because people don't realize how long it takes to write a book, and not because they're convinced I'm lazy! :-)

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  45. Lol. I think non-writer's assume all we do is sit around eating Jaffa cakes all day. I mean, sure it takes up most of the day, but not ALL of it. heehee

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  46. I like to ask people like that, "how many books have you written?" Only then can they really start to grasp the concept.

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  47. my darling hubs who I love actually said to me the other day, "you had three articles in the last issue" (of local mag). Me... "so what did you think I was doing all day?" ;p

    sigh. hang in there~ :D

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  48. Next time you'll be more prepared.

    I love that cat picture and the caption. Very funny.

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  49. Yup. I relate my friend. There are still certain people in my life who see this writing thing as a phase or pretend work. And, for the record, it is SO much more than that!

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  50. I hold down a full time job as well, so I don't get that question, but people do want to know why I "play" on the computer so much.

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  51. So when ARE you going back to work?

    Tell these people about the perils of writer's arse.

    Yes, send the post. I would love to write full-time. It's a gift and in turn we writers share our gift - our writing with the world.

    When I had days off from subbing (Miss them. Sniff.), the kids would expect me to drive them to school. My husband would say. "She's working." I loved that.

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  52. I wish I had a come-back line. I never know what to say when people ask those kind of questions (which is more often than I'd like.) I do have a day job, and a very busy one too, but I'm still asked what I'm really going to do with my career... and they act like writing doesn't count. Grrr.

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  53. And this is another reason I haven't told people I write yet! :)

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  54. Tch... It's the same for comic artists too, it can take up to five hours (sometimes more) to do one decent page and people think they sleep all day.

    I've never been asked the question, but I've had people hinting that it's a piece of cake. I just say 'have you tried to do it and finished?'

    Never had a yes yet.

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  55. It must be VERY annoying, you must have to be so motivated to write, but also scary, not knowing when the next pay check was coming in, I would imagine you would be scared to take a day off!

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  56. Like everyone else who reads your blog, I completely sympathise. Studying creative writing, people often ask me what I'm going to do for real when I'm done. Isn't writing enough? For money, they say. Something's gotta pay the rent. That's true, fo course, but the conception of "non-paid" work such as writing still needs to be rcognised, I think! A revolution is cooking!

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  57. If only people knew how hard it really is....

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  58. Ahh.. I hear you! See, no one knows I'm writing, except my sister, and she definitely knows how important this is to me.

    But I have mentioned it jokingly in the past to some people, just to see what kind of reaction I would garner, and it's always the same... a little laugh, and the usual "well, how will you make any money with that".

    The thing is... it's not about the money--that's not the motivating part, because let's face it, chances are, we WON't make much. But to see your name on a book in the bookstore and know that you CREATED that?

    Priceless :)

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  59. ooo the things I would have said - starting with F off MF. Hardest job in the world - you try being creative everyday.

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  60. Hi Talli,

    Love this post. I used to get this a lot...until I started making money as a writer. Now all I hear is, "when is your book coming out?" Sigh. Working as a writer does not equal author.

    I don't have any snappy come backs - I usually bog them down with details. I start going on about query letters and the publication process...before you know it, they change the subject! =)

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  61. The people where I work look at me askance, not understanding why I lock myself away writing when agents keep refusing to look at my manuscript.

    Give up already, they say.

    Never give up the dream. Mark Twain said that long ago, and it remains true today.

    Thanks for the kind words on my blog. Erin Cole picked a story, DEATH IN MY VEINS, for one of her 13 DAYS OF HORROR (It is more haunting than horrible.) You might like to check it out :

    http://erincolelive.blogspot.com/2010/10/death-in-my-veins-roland-yeomans.html

    Thanks for dropping in when you do. It means a lot to me. Roland

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  62. I don't really talk too much about my writing around my family and friends. But when I have, I usually hear the same old "you gotta have a back-up plan." And since I do have other interests, they're keeping quiet. :)

    Can't believe someone would say that to you. Do they even realize how difficult and often irritating the whole writing process is? I think they're just jealous.

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  63. Well, they are right. You don't work till you put on killer jeans, slap on the war paint, and consume cups of insipid coffee while exchanging office gossip. They work, you are being productive.

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  64. Garrr AargH! That's all I have to say ;)

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  65. It can't be worse than "you know what"!

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  66. This is a common problem. When I mentioned to my osteopath that I was an aspiring writer he told me about a friend of his who is writing a romance novel. His words were, "She's been writing it for five months now and hasn't finished it yet. How long does it take to write a novel?" I was not amused and had to counter with an explanation of exactly what writing a novel entails!

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  67. I'm still doing the 'real job' thing at the moment, but that's mainly because I know that becoming a full time writer would be a hell of a lot harder for me :P
    I get asked the same sort of questions because I'm an Egyptologist though; if it's not an office job then people don't consider it work. People are very odd :S

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  68. I think I've been home so long (fourteen years next month - I left work to stay home with my first child) that no one dares ask me that anymore. I'm afraid I'm pretty un-employable after all this time, but no complaints here!

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  69. Hey, I saw author AND professional speaker, and people still stare at me like I'm from Mars or something.

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  70. Some do and some don't. I'm learning to take the some don't and see their comments as ignorance of our craft. They just don't get it. Most of those people (who I like) work certain hours and play, do family stuff, etc...the rest of the time. Our craft is nonstop and ever-evolving.

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  71. I'm not a full time writer, so I do get to go off to the office every day for a break. Which is quite nice. And most people who actually know I write think of it just as a hobby, which, I guess right now, it kind of is. I think all that matters is that you love what you're doing, no matter if others think it's silly or a hobby, etc. :)

    Have a great weekend!

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  72. Oh, man! How insulting! I think though, it isn't that uncommon a misconception. People see writing as glamorous--they envision the book cover photo and see pictures of authors at signings and readings, and have NO CLUE how much work it is to clean up a manuscript.

    I think it would be delightful to write all the time, because I LOVE IT, but definitely WORK. (and not well paid for the majority of us, were you to put it in hourly terms.

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  73. Hi Talli .. your time will come - and they'll be stumped dumb .. you're doing so much, learning so much, being so much .. it's just wonderful .. and then you will be a much revered author ..

    We're living a life, full of change, full of surprises, full of interest and full of brain stimulating ideas .. yay - wouldn't change it!

    Keep reaching for it .. it's their loss, yours is all gain and I'm sure glory fairly soon .. Hilary

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  74. I'm still somewhat of a secret writer. The only person who really knows what I'm doing is my sister, and she's super supportive. Unfortunately, I don't have any awesome comebacks to suggest for you.

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  75. Hah, I actually got into a furious argument about this the other week. The gist was that since I don't have any proper qualifications I'll never get a real job and I should think about doing a real job because this can't possibly sustain me.

    To which I attempted to explain that actually, I've been doing this writing thing for ten years and been published for five of those. So I've actually spent longer learning my craft than I would have getting a degree. My qualifications are the pile of paperbacks with my name on them and the shiny awards on my wall.

    I was also extremely irritated by the assumption that because I'm not an instant millionaire, I'll never make any money from this, so I should find another way to support myself. I tried to explain that I need to believe in my own success, rather like an Olympic athlete does. You let yourself get bogged down in the reality of statistics and you're allowing yourself to believe in your own failure.

    I had the last laugh, though. The person I was arguing with works in local government and her job security is extremely shaky right now. I've refrained from asking if she has a back-up plan in case her career fails, but only because I'm an excessively magnanimous person.

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  76. Gah. I hate this question. Only other writer friends and a couple of very dear non-writer but very supportive pals take my writing remotely seriously. Everyone else wants to know what I do all day, given they haven't yet seen a bestseller hit the shelves and I'm not earning much, if any, money from writing. My mother still introduces me as her lawyer daughter who's on a career break.

    My only comeback is to ask them if they would rather have impoverished writer but generally nicer person or stressed out lawyer around and they usually opt for the former!

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  77. I don't get cracks on my writing or anything but I get questions like, "so, when are you going to publish it?" or "why don't you just self-publish it?" to which I've started replying "oh, are you a marketing genius? will *you* promote my book while I keep my full-time job?"
    Then I have to explain all about how querying an agent works... but maybe I ought to stop doing that and just start telling them about my novel instead :-)

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Coffee and wine for all!