Friday, March 8, 2013

“I’m a writer” does not mean I’m unemployed.

Posted by: Shawna Thomas
Do you remember when one of the hot button issues was a stay-at-home mother’s outrage at the commonly held belief that they didn’t work? Remember the term, Domestic Goddess?

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been a working mom. I am currently attempting to do both. I can tell you being a parent is work...but it’s not employment.

Sometimes being a writer reminds me of the stay-at-home parent days.

When someone asks what I do, and I say I’m a writer, I get that same narrowing of the eyes, the same twist of the mouth, the same subtle nod of the head that very clearly says, Oh, you don’t have a real job.

The conversation branches off from there. Some people will ask what I’ve written or if I’ve been published. 

When I tell them I have published two full length novels with three more contracted and in various stages of publication, they ask where they can buy them. When I say they’re ebooks I get the same twist of the mouth, the same subtle nod of the head.

Other people will immediately ask me how they can get published because they have an idea for a book that they’re going to write. Can I stop here for just a second? I don’t want to sound grumpy and I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from writing, but when was the last time you stopped your mechanic to ask him or her to explain how a combustion engine works because you‘re gonna put one together some day? 


I know a lot of people think that I sit at home, on my computer, in my pajamas drinking coffee and talking on twitter and Facebook all day, occasionally typing a few words. While that might be true—and I’ll have you know I’m wearing sweats today—it’s not all I do.

And it’s not the asking that bothers me. I knew nothing about the publishing industry when I first put pen to paper and I am so thankful for those who taught me what little I now know, and I’ve done a lot of studying. The problem is the attitude behind the question. Most of these people don’t understand that writing is work. Publishing is even more work.

And that brings me around to the beginning. Cool how that works, huh?

Writing is lonely work. It’s frustrating work. It’s work I love. It is work that I can do in my pajamas, with a cup of coffee, and a donut, without brushing my teeth first or putting on any makeup. Skype? Yeah, right! Not for me.

But it’s also a job. 

I may be self-employed, but I am employed, um, by me. Which means I’m my own boss and my own employee. Which means I do have a somewhat flexible schedule, but the term schedule in there is really important too.

So how do I get people to respect that? This is the question I’ve been asking myself. And you know what? I can’t.

This is not a rant against people not understanding what I do. Because how could they? It really isn’t fair of me to expect them to. It only bothers me because I don’t always treat my work as employment or give it the respect it deserves.  So this isn’t a rant, it’s a battle cry, a call to arms!

--Sorry, writing a war scene in my current manuscript in progress--

It starts with me. No more excuses about ebooks verses print. No more...well, I edit too amendments to my statement as if my writing were a hobby and not a job. I know how many long hours, some of them in the wee hours of the morning, I’ve put in. How I’ve struggled with stupid words like burst and bust so you won’t have to! And really, lay lie laid? Yeah someone needs to be! I mean who made up these rules?  

You know why I wear pjs or sweats? Because I haven’t had time to do my laundry and I can’t afford a maid. Yet. Maybe ever. But it’s okay. I don’t notice. I’m working.

So yup, I am employed. I’m a writer. The reason that people think it’s easy is because we make it look easy! Do you know what a compliment that is?

I mean magicians practice and practice to make the slight of hand look effortless and we make magic with words. We study transitive and intransitive verbs, character arcs, have CMOS and MW on our favorites menus and shun stereotypes all to make writing look effortless.

A word magician. Yup, that’s a pretty awesome job.

Now, please pass the donuts. 


  1. "...when was the last time you stopped your mechanic to ask him or her to explain how a combustion engine works because you‘re gonna put one together some day?"

    *Jax snorts coffee onto her pjs*
    *No, wait, I'm dressed and don't have coffee. Never mind.*

    Hilarious article, Shawna! Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Jax. Yeah, I'm dressed too. LOL I actually don't work in my pjs but I guess I could...if I wanted to.
      : )

  2. I AM DRESSED TODAY! But I haven't touched my combustion engine...

    1. I went comfy today. Yoga pants. But I was cleaning... Are they still considered combustion engines? Seem more like computers now a days. ; )

  3. When my kids were in school, I used to rush to get dressed right before the bus came to drop them off. But yeah, that didn't mean I wasn't working! Great post.

    1. Thanks Cindy. I do put make up on right before my husband comes home. ; )

  4. I work both my day job and what I call my real job (writing) from home in my jammies. That part does not suck. ;) And I'm with you on the Skype thing. That will NOT be happening until they come up with the "putting on your face" device Jane Jetson used. (Did I just totally date myself there?)

    Great post!

    1. LOL. No kidding. It's bad enough I have one of the iPhones that you flip so you can easily take a picture of yourself. I've flipped it one too many times on accident. *bigsigh*

  5. I was told that today - "At least you don't have to go to work." I don't have to "go" anywhere but I still have commitments to meet. My immediate family understands. Most days I can shrug it off but some days it's just demoralizing. Today stung a little bit.

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  7. I spent about a decade as a stay-at-home mom and I actually found that was easier for people to understand. Now I'm an author (I don't say writer anymore because it seems like the public perception is different and I'm all too willing to play to an audience.) and it's the same stupidity. I just signed my first advance-paying, multi-book contract, and I think my mom is now FINALLY taking me seriously.

    About to grab your thread and run with it...sorry.

    You know the pain scale thing at the doctor? I always explain my ten before I answer their question. (Short story, the drugs for my c-section didn't take and I felt them tearing apart my insides. Good times.)

    I figure I'm going to start doing the same with writing. This month is my ten. I have final round edits on a novella, likely ALL the edits on the first novel in that contract I mentioned, I have to finish the last ~30k of another novel and get it subbed, revise another novella once I get it back from beta and sub it, and do a critique for the winner of a charity auction. And I might (don't ask) need to write the first three chapters of a new novel.... by April 1.

    Yeah, pretty sure I'm employed. (I will also be dead by the end of the month, please send hot EMTs with a vodka and caffeine IV)

    ***On a side note, an author friend of mine recently got denied a home loan because she's "unemployed." She's a NYT bestseller, but that doesn't matter. Turns out you have to have 3 YEARS of income for them to consider you self-employed for loan purposes. It's ridiculous.

  8. It's a crazy business we've jumped into.

    I don't know if it's just because I love being a writer so much that I don't even see those narrowing eyes or because I've been in the restaurant business for so long that saying ANYTHING besides being a server gives me a rush but I don't get much condescension.

    What I do get are those looks that say, 'Oh, you're one of those' when I tell people I write urban fantasy (usually at a table when someone says surely I'm not JUST a server), to which I respond, "Hellz yeah. Couldn't love it more."

    Usually though, there's someone in the group that will say, "Oh, my husband would LOVE that!" Or a son or a nephew. Either way, I've waited my whole life to be able to say I write for a living never gets old. :)

    Authors are a special breed. *raising glass* To my peers!


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