I think there is a propensity among professionals in general to believe their profession is among the noblest, most difficult and most incomprehensible to others - and for the most part, I don't think we writers are any different*. Sure, we understand the necessity devoting time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears to our passion, but try explaining it to someone else. Not easy.
I've only recently started allowing myself to tell people I'm a writer. A strange feeling comes over me, like somehow I'm tricking them, like a beauty school student telling people s/he's a professional stylist, like I'm not a real writer yet. I know this is ridiculous, since I've been a real writer, heart and soul, since I was about four (the first time, to anyone's recollection, that I proclaimed "I have to write this down" - and without any further explanation, allowed the crayons and colouring book I was holding to fall to the floor and promptly disappeared into my bedroom) and a published (and indeed selling) writer for almost a year. But it still feels weird.
I know how many writers feel about this glorious, insane, impossible, wonderful profession, and how many of us feel about ourselves. What I'm interested in (for the purposes of this article), is what other people think about us - and how their preconceptions (or lack thereof) change ours.
When I tell people I'm a writer, one of the first things they (almost) always ask is, "Anything I'd know?" It's a good question, it shows interest, but I still fear it because I know the answer is no. Not even probably not, just, no. From there, their reactions can go anywhere.
Pleasantly, a lot of people seem to have the That's Amazing reaction, the one where they tell me they could never write and that they're fascinated by people who can, then proceed to ask me a million questions about my writing, my process, my whateverelsetheycanthinkof - which I am only too happy to answer. These people usually insist that I'll be famous soon, too, which I like, even if it is a baseless assertion.
Almost as many people (possibly more and I just trick myself into mentally fudging the numbers a little) have the Stunned Silence and Change the Subject reaction, where they say "Oh," or "Ah," or contrive to make an even less committal noise, then start talking about their cold or their dog or the exhaust pipe they need to have fixed on their car. It always makes me feel a little judged.
And of course, there is always the myriad of reactions we get from our family and friends when they find out we plan to make a career out of this thing called writing. In my experience, they have just as wide of a range as those of strangers and casual acquaintances.
There is the Go For It! reaction. It involves words of encouragement, help with writer's block, help with brainstorming and editing - and the understanding that when we are typing, completely ignoring what they're trying to tell us, it's not personal.
There's Go For It, But Be Careful. Supportive, cautionary, still overall not a bad reaction to have.
Then there's the Fall Back, the reaction basically suggests that eventually, you'll grow out of this phase and want to settle down and get a real job - and you should prepare for that eventuality, you know, just in case.
And, of course, there's the rare (although never rare enough) Why Don't You Get a Real Job? reaction. The one that can make you want to scream, throw things or just shake your head in bemused disgust. I'm happy to say that this is one reaction that I can't seem to get my head around, and as a result, I never take it seriously.
Have I missed any? I'm not certain what brought on this little catalogue of reactions, but I'd like it to be as complete as possible. I'm nothing, if not thorough.
*Of course, in our case, it's true ;)