“Hi, I’m Jim. I’m an accountant. What do you do?”
“Hi, I’m Mary, I’m a writer and editor.”
A conversation like this starts at a social function and it goes one of two ways. Either there is discussion of random things like cities and weather and sports or politics, or there is this little spark I see in people’s eyes when I tell them I’m a writer.
“I have always thought I should be a writer. You wouldn’t believe how many things have happened to me in my life. And what my family’s like! I should write a book.”
Since I have no filter between my brain and mouth it’s difficult to deal with someone who starts with the whole “I should write a book” schtick. It happens all the time. I try to remind myself that the person is not trying to be annoying, that they’re not making the assumption that being a writer is something you can pick up as a new hobby, like knitting.
I try to say something friendly, like oh you should try writing a short story first to get some practice before you go in for the novel or whatever, but really I’m thinking this:
I’ll tell ya what there, Jim. Let’s switch jobs on Monday. I will show up at your undoubtedly boring ass accounting office and do tax returns all day. I have always wanted to be an accountant. And you can show up at my writing cottage and borrow my laptop. You can write a 700-word opinion piece, edit two or three pieces written by other people and turn Microsoft Word documents into html web-ready pieces with correctly sized photos, etc. Run all stories on social media channels. Then work on a short story and the book proposal for your next book. I will file all the tax returns I’ve worked on, and you publish the stories you’ve written and edited, and we’ll see how we each do. I can’t wait to read what you’ve written and I bet you can’t wait to see how I did on those tax returns, especially since it happens to be the first time in my life I’ve ever done one.
I don’t walk into my dentist’s office and explain how I’ve always thought I should be a dentist; could I drill that tooth for you so we can test out my skills? I don’t go to my car repair guy and tell him I’ve always wanted to be an auto mechanic and he should let me take a swing at replacing that carburetor. I don’t walk up to the stage at the Kennedy Center and tell the lead ballerina in “The Nutcracker” that I’ve always thought I would make a fantastic dancer.
The reason I don’t do this is that those people are professionals who have many years of training and experience. Maybe I’ve fantasized about being a ballerina, but nothing in my brain indicates to me that I could decide today to be a ballerina, and dance the lead in “Swan Lake” by next season.
Everyone has an interesting story. Yes, yours is the weirdest, quirkiest, most dysfunctional bizarre family in the history of the universe. So is hers. So is mine. So is everyone’s. Whether you’re a storyteller or not is something you’re equal parts born to do and trained to do, but either way many years have gone into improving your craft.
So don’t tell me you’re a writer, or you wish you were a writer or think you should be a writer or might get bored one day and decide to write a book. You’re either a writer, or you’re not a writer and chances are, if you were one, I’d be reading your material instead of listening to it.
Stick to accounting, Jim.