Sidelined: The Frustrations of a Would-Be Writer

Meeting new people is a stressful situation for me, because it always involves the following conversation—

New Person: “So, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m… still in school.”
New Person: “But… aren’t you twenty-five?”
Me: “Yes. Yes I am. I’m in graduate school.”
New Person: “For what?”
Me: “Professional Writing.”
New Person: “Well, that’s cool. Is there any actual work in that?”
Me: “Not so far, no.”
New Person: “….. Um, well, are you seeing anyone?”
Me: “Can we please just talk about Doctor Who now?”

The problem with setting out to be a writer is that the average person does not consider it to be a solid, technical ability. Lawyers need not fear eternal joblessness, because only a finite number of people in the world have law degrees. A computer programmer will always have work, because the people who did not train as programmers have no earthly idea how to do that job. Plumbers have marketable skills, because people are afraid to tear their own pipes apart.

piece of piping

I MEAN WHAT EVEN IS THIS THING. I NEED GUIDANCE.

But writing is a different story. If I have learned one depressing truth during my three-year attempt to enter the workforce, it is this:

Pretty much everyone in the entire world thinks they can write. Whether they actually can or not.

Why sure, they think. I am a perfectly adequate writer! I write e-mails every day, after all. I fill out forms at the doctor’s office. I had that LiveJournal blog in high school. I’m practically an expert! Why should I pay someone minimum wage to do something as ludicrously simple as putting words together? I’ll just hire four more web designers instead. For $300 an hour.”

But as the Internet clearly demonstrates, the vast majority of people in the world are not writers. And judging by YouTube comments, Yahoo! Answers responses, and the enduring popularity of Twilight, many people in the English-speaking world cannot even tell the difference between effective communication and incomprehensible rambling.

As for those of us who can tell the difference, who possess the unique and special gift of clear and attractive prose—are we duly respected as artists and skilled technicians? Are we sought out for our ability to see what others can’t, and to create documents that don’t read like the distracted rantings of a Ritalin-addled grade-schooler?

Of course not. At best, we’re ignored completely. At worst, we’re condemned as uptight, insufferable “grammar Nazis” who probably just need to get laid.

a grammar Nazi

Seriously, do people just not realize how offensive that expression is?

This morning, I was offered a by-the-word contractor position at a web developing company, and  even though I’ll only be making $100 a week, if I’m lucky, it was the most exciting offer I’ve had in months (or, you know, the only offer I’ve had in months. But who’s counting). This was not the life I was promised when I graduated in 2009, starry-eyed and optimistic, certain that talent and a decent academic record would earn me a place in the world.

But by gum, I am not giving up. I am not becoming a receptionist, or a retail clerk, or—God forbid—a high school teacher. I feel like a writer down to the marrow of my bones, and I’m going to cling to that feeling until the world gives me my due.

Or until my parents cut me off. Whichever comes first.

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