The other day, a student came in to my library and looked at me quizzically. “You wrote a book?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, smiling.
“You don’t look like a writer,” she said.
“What does a writer look like?” I asked.
“They wear glasses, and they pull their hair back in a knot, and they stare at everyone. Creepy.”
I don’t know how many writers this child has seen before, but her description made me wonder about how nonwriting people see us. I know most of our readers here are writers themselves, but I thought it might be fun to explain some of the traits nonwriters should know about us.
1. We’re watching.
Characters in the most successful stories move and talk and behave in a believable way. So sure, we’re watching you. We’re looking at the way you walk, and the clothes you chose this morning and what’s in your cup. We’re interested in what kind of car you drive, your favorite color and whether you wanted to be a cowboy or an astronaut when you were a kid. We’re not trying to stalk you, really. Don’t run away. We’re just trying to get it all right.
2. We’re listening.
Not long ago I was sitting in a Starbucks waiting on a friend to arrive, and I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between a young woman who was writing a novel, and the young man who was coaching her. She was starry-eyed, he was pretentious and together they were practically a comedy team. Not that they knew it. I kept my face deadpan and my head down, but I heard almost every word. It’s a great way to learn how to write dialogue, after all. Hearing the give and take, the breaths and pauses that happen in between, is vital. And sometimes I hear a sentence that’s so individual, so perfect, I rush to scribble it in my notebook, in case one of my characters might say something like that. If you’re ever reading along and you run across a familiar turn of phrase, don’t be surprised to find that a writer was listening to you.
3. We’re not talking about you.
With all that listening and watching, you might worry that our characters are based on real people…maybe even you yourself. Most likely not. With all the listening and watching we do, we still prefer to create our own characters. Just because the protag in the novel has brown hair and drives a Santa Fe doesn’t make her me. So relax…your soul isn’t stolen, nor is your secret identity revealed.
4. We occasionally wander in another world.
Sometimes in the middle of a conversation, the writer will seem to drift away. We don’t mean to be rude. We can’t help it – something pinged a thought, and sent us wandering into the world of our imagination. Writers become skillful at pretending to know what they missed in a real-life conversation, because we do this so often. It’s easier face to face than on the phone though…as my best friend and my sister could tell you. I’ve done it to them more than once, and felt terrible about it.
5. We’re not vampires.
Most of us have day jobs to pay the bills, and have to do our writing at night or on weekends. Time is a premium. I have to plan my time carefully, to make sure I’m not throwing it all away. Sometimes friends will call on the spur of the moment and invite me to some great event, and I have to turn them down because I’d already planned to spend the day with the keyboard. I’d love to go out to the mall or have tea, but if it’s between that and getting the writing done, the writing takes precedence. That’s just how it has to work. Do you want the next book or not?
Anyone want to add to the list?