While I was at that shower yesterday, I met someone who asked me both of my least favorite questions. She was a family member of a family member, so she knew I was a writer. In fact, when we met, she said, "Oh, you're the writer," which sounded as if we were getting off to a great start because, believe me, I very, very rarely hear that. Even after someone learns that I'm a writer, they're rarely impressed because I didn't write Harry Potter or Twilight. (Believe it or not, in the circles I travel in, no one has heard of The Hunger Games. Maybe after the movie comes out.)
Anyway, we're talking a bit about how I may have visited one of her kids' schools, and this woman says, "So you make a living writing?"
I said, "Well,it's definitely not a living. I don't know any writers who make a living writing."
That was a very defensive thing to say, but it's also true. The most successful writer I've met, personally, was still working part-time as a technical writer. I'm not talking about writers sitting up on panels at conferences, of course. (I've been in the same room with Rick Riordan, and once I was so close to Tomie DePaolo I could have hit him.) I'm talking about writers who ate lunch with me at conferences.
How Authors Get Paid by Cinda Williams Chima explains why so few of us make a living writing.
Okay, so after we've made clear that I can't support myself, she asks me, "What else do you do?"
In case it's not clear, she meant "What else do you do that generates income?" Now that's another awkward question. And it's not awkward because I do a lot of traditional women's homemaking/family care-type work and feel that that is unworthy in some way. I am a feminist. I hold traditional women's work in high regard. No, this is not a gender thing by any means. That second question is awkward for me because it is usually, if not always, asked by people who I know do not have the luxury of living in a home with one breadwinner. Most must have two. And, in this case, the question came from a single woman who absolutely had to work and make enough income to live on.
So I have to tell these people that I am supported by a male worker so that I can choose to work in a field that pays too poorly to provide for myself, forget about a family. And, yeah, I don't like having to do that.
Every time these questions come up, I promise myself that I will come up with a stock answer that I'm happy with. But always, after a couple of days, I'm busy with other things and forget about it.