Conversations I used to have when I taught high school English often went something like this:
Me: “I’ve been working so hard on this project that I haven’t had time to write my lesson plans for next week.”
My friend: “Just wing it. All you guys do is read, right?”
Me: gives friend the side-eye and suffers a mental picture of stuffing said friend’s mouth with multiple copies of Proust or Dante. I resist the urge and simply reply, “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.”
I continue to be surprised when I trip over someone who thinks this way about “English.” What surprises me even more is that so many people lump everything: reading, analyzing literature, and writing, under the same dismissive heading.
The kicker is, an awful lot of people think the same way about writing. For some unfathomable reason, the tendency of non-writers is to reduce the hours of painstaking plot construction, character development, conflict building and resolution, sub-plot tuning, editing, and research to just “writing.” And they think it’s EASY.
Given my (admittedly type A, slightly insane) work ethic when it comes to both teaching and writing, you might think I would get a bit tetchy about such a description. But I don’t. I just smile and turn my attention to more winnable fights. Because the truth is, they honestly don’t understand. And I shouldn’t expect them to.
Most people who have not nurtured an idea into a fully realized story have no way of conceptualizing the amount of work involved. It isn’t that they aren’t empathetic or that they don’t believe you about the months of eye strain and paper cuts that went into the research. They may even murmur in honest sympathy when you describe the back burning necessity of multiple, not to say interminable, revisions or the searing frustration of working a less than fulfilling day job to fund your writing career. They simply have no frame of reference.
And that’s ok. I don’t understand how mathematicians get such a charge out of all that number stuff. I just accept that they do. Their fire doesn’t use the same fuel as mine, but it still burns. And hey, if they don’t understand the same about me in reverse, that’s ok too. After all, it’s not like they’re writers or anything.
What frustrates you about the non-writer’s reaction to your craft?