Everyone’s Favourite Question

September 8, 2010

Drumroll, please:

“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’m still young enough that I get asked this question a lot. However, I’m old enough that I’m expected to have a solid, practical answer. “A speech pathologist!” I should be saying. “An IT recruiter! A Human Resources Consultant!” But no. Instead, I cling to the starry-eyed, eagerly voiced answer I’ve had since I was 12.

“A writer!”

Cue the raised eyebrows as the “adult” in question looks me up and down, and  hides a smile at the sound of my ever-so-high and squeaky voice. “That’s a hard industry to break into, dear. Do you have a backup?”


Okay, so maybe I don’t really have a good idea of what else I’d like to do. In a perfect world, I’d stay within the sheltering arms of academia forever and ever. Unfortunately, if I wanted to do that and still eat, it’d be in my best interest to become a professor. I don’t think I’d make a great prof. The whole high-and-squeaky voice thing…

Surely there are other people out there with the same problem. Those Peter Pans amongst us who keep their dreams alive and refuse to sacrifice passion for practicality. So what are we supposed to say? I suppose we could just mumble something about a “conventional” job, but as we learned from Pinocchio, honesty is usually the best policy. Besides, we shouldn’t be ashamed of our aspirations. So we want to be writers. So what? Someone’s got to do it. Sure, the odds are incredibly high, but there are new authors published every year. Why can’t you be one of them?

The next time someone attempts to squash your dreams, here’s a few things to say.

Talk about the steps you’re taking now

Are you starting to study the industry? Reading books with intent (ie, learning from the masters)? Working on writing, editing, and submitting? Great- say so. It’ll demonstrate how seriously you’re taking this “pipe dream,” and also make the nebulous publishing world a little more concrete.

Know your history

Eight publishers rejected Harry Potter before Bloomsbury bought it. Beatrix Potter had to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit because no editors would take it. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was deemed “unpublishable.” Imagine if they opted for their “backups.” Many famous authors initially had a hard time breaking into print. So yes, it is hard. But with our magic triangle of luck, talent, and hard work, it is possible.

Smile and nod

And excuse yourself. No fuss, no muss.

Wax romantic

My official backup plan is this: I shall live in a shack made of pizza boxes, writing manuscripts on the cardboard in my own blood. Thus shall I suffer for my art.

Melodrama tends to diffuse tension. It also gives you time to think of a real backup plan. “…or maybe, if I get sick of pizza, I’ll work in a publishing house/at a university/for the government…” 

Change the subject

A tactful way to get people to stop telling you to give up. Something like, “There are lots of good writers out there… who’s your favourite?” People love talking about themselves. So hey, ask for their advice. What did they want to be? What did they end up being? Show some interest in them, and not only will you look like a charming youngster, you may even learn something.

Invite them to your book launch

Just don’t say, “I told you so.”




One comment

  1. I want to bang on a drum (i.e., computer keyboard) all day.

    Write on!

    Invite me to your book signing.

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