What Writers Do (and Don’t Do)

I was talking with a friend the other day, one who knew I worked as a writer, and it came out in conversation that she just assumed I wrote everything by hand. Being a writer, this of course baffled me, but I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about writers in general, but especially about people who make a living from it. So, for those of you who aren’t writers, here’s a little primer for you…

Pictured: Not my day.

(Note: I’m not talking about people who write books in their spare time, though I’m sure a lot of this could be applied to them, too. I’m talking about people who went through the hiring process, work full time, and get paid a living wage for writing. Yes, we exist.)

We don’t write everything by hand. We usually type, though if we need to look at something from a different perspective, we’ll write it out longhand.

We do carry notebooks and post-it notes around and fill them with half-formed ideas and snippets of things we’re working on.

We don’t have an easier job, just by virtue of being a writer. Just because you can form words into sentences doesn’t mean you can do what I do.

We don’t sit around all day waiting for inspiration. Deadlines are deadlines, and if your boss wants copy by Thursday, then you churn out copy by Thursday, inspiration be damned.

We do take our work home with us. Because we don’t have time to sit around and wait for inspiration, writers are essentially forced to re-wire their brains to be able to be inspired by anything. As a side effect of this, we can never turn it off. And if you notice something off hours that will make work the next day easier, you’re going to take note of it.

We don’t just put words into sentences. There’s both a science and an art to writing. We need to be aware of what our words are saying, how changing the order makes them say something else, why one synonym is better than another (and whether linguistically it will bring up different sound connotations), how the words flow together, and of course, all the rules of grammar and spelling and punctuation.

We do talk to ourselves. Checking writing involves reading it aloud. And sometimes words just won’t go together properly until they’re let out into the world.

We do generally have a wider knowledge base than you do, if not deeper. Writers don’t really have the ability to fake it, so we need to know everything about everything about what we’re writing, as well as what all the words mean and how to mimic tones of other writers or subjects we’re writing about. Because of that, we have a wide (if sometimes shallow) knowledge base and can communicate about a vast array of topics.

We don’t generally want unsolicited feedback from people who aren’t writers. No, that doesn’t sound better. Yes, I did mean that when I wrote it. No, that doesn’t make much sense, and it’s also not grammatically correct, and that one part doesn’t actually even make sense as part of the English language.

We don’t care as much about grammar as you think we do. Words are hard. And we text in run-on sentences just like everyone else.

We do judge people for spelling and grammar mistakes and trite, overused phrases, but it’s just a passing thing and doesn’t usually affect how we see the offender — if it’s not a regular thing. And as long as the offender isn’t pretending to be dropping some hard truths or telling people how to write.

We do have weird senses of humor. Having a wide grasp of the English language and a soul-crushingly wide knowledge base does that.

We don’t usually jive with the artist mindset. In order to write for a living, we can’t get attached. We have to separate ourselves. We have to be people first and writers second. Which is a crazy hard dichotomy when you write in your free time, too.

So that’s the writer life. Or, at least, some of it. Do you agree? Disagree? Have anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

For more of Kristen’s ramblings and rants about the life of the writer, click here.