And what do YOU do???

Reader Logoby Shanta Everington

It's that dreaded party scenario. You're standing in a crowded room trying to exude warmth and charm while feeling like a total lemon and when you finally talk to someone, they just have to ask, 'And what do you do?'

When you tell them you're a writer, the first question out of their mouths is often, quite reasonably, 'What do you write?' If you are Ruth Rendell, the answer is pretty straight forward. If, like me, you're a struggling, jobbing writer, your answer may well take a good five minutes or more to explain and by then you notice their eyes have glazed over or they've wandered off to get another drink.

I'd love to be able to deliver an eloquent reply such as 'I write crime/romance/literary/chicklit (insert genre of choice) novels' but for many of us erm, optimistically phrased 'emerging writers', the truth is often a little more complicated (and a little less glamourous).

My very first published piece was a single poem in 2004. 'I'm a poet!' I cried in delight at seeing my name in print. In 2007, my debut novel, 'Marilyn and Me', came out with indie Cinnamon Press, to whom I am forever grateful. 'I'm a novelist... who dabbles in poetry!' I declared.

Since then, I have been published in a range of forms and genres: a young adult novel, short fiction, more poetry, articles, interviews, even maths textbooks, a counselling training pack, charity booklets and my first parenting guide is published this month.

But there seems to be a hierarchy of answers to the question, 'What do you write?', or rather, 'What have you had published?' A novel, especially one of the literary variety, generally attracts the highest admiration. A poetry collection is also considered a notable achievement. You are allowed to call yourself an author if one of these applies.

Answers of 'short stories' or 'articles' can often be met with, 'Do they pay?' A reply of 'books' of any description, 'Will I find it in Waterstones?' Neither question is entirely conducive to maintaining the fledgling author's self-esteem. 'I think my local store might have a copy,' (this after what feels like several decades of cajoling/whining/begging the store manager to support local authors) doesn't generally sound that impressive.

Much as I love to write for writing sake and the love of the craft, of course I'm very happy to receive the odd commission here and there, that commitment from a publisher that they will take the book on before you have gone through the lengthy process of writing it. And yes payment helps!

My first commission was for a series of maths textbooks, which have probably paid more than any of my other writing to date. But frankly, I found them so boring to write, it just wasn't worth the misery. But parenting is something I could quite happily talk about all day long. It is, after all, along with writing, my main obsession and a central part of my life and identity. Although don't get me started on people's responses when your answer to the dreaded question, 'And what do you do?' is, 'I'm a mother'...

'The Terrible Twos: A Parent's Guide' by Shanta Everington is out now by Need2Know Books.

An interview with Kate Gibbard, Need2Know Books Imprint Manager, is featured on Shanta's blog at

Photo credit: X-ray delta one


Michael J. Kannengieser said...

You hit this one over the outfield fence with regards to people's reactions to learning someone is a writer. Speaking for myself, I can relate to fumbling for the perfect definition of what I do.

However, I'll take explaining editing and writing to puzzled party-goers over what I used to experience in my former profession when others discovered I was a police officer – or even what I do in my new career.

Nowadays, I tell folks I am a writer because if let on that I work full-time in the Information Technology field, everybody wants me to fix their computers—for free.

I went from having to listen to guests complain about traffic tickets to having to diagnose home networking issues from someone with three or four cocktails in them.

The saving grace about citing writing credits to the unimpressed is that it is the rare freeloader who asks a writer to actually write something for them. Thanks for a terrific article.

Megan said...

He he, this all rings frighteningly true Shanta. Next time I might tell people I'm a zoo keeper

Stella said...

I say that I'm a professional husband hunter. It never fails to produce amusing results. Besides, then when I eventually say I'm a writer, somehow that seems like a much more productive profession. Apparently it's all a matter of perspective.

Jane Turley said...

I tell people I'm self employed; the thought of small talk about receipts and how to claim a work-wear allowance usually stops them dead in their tracks. However, if they persist, I say I "chat" to people in a professional capacity. I then put on my Bluetooth and go into the corner of the room. Works a treat:))

S D Everington said...

Thanks guys! Michael, can you fix my computer please? Megan, now as an animal loving vegetarian, I really can't condone zoos... Stella, hands off my man! And Jane, I really do need some advice on income tax! Glad you liked the piece. :)