Must Be Nice.

Yesterday at a social gathering, a few people near me were discussing their similar careers and companies. After several minutes of this, one of them — someone I don’t know well but see a few times a month — turned to me and said, “Well, what do you do?”

I have grown to hate this question, and that’s really sad, because I love what I do with every fibre of my being. But experience has taught me that 75% of the time, the response to my answer is not something I’m good at dealing with.

I told this person I’m a part-time freelance writer/editor, and write novels from home, his response was the perennial favourite,

“It must be nice.”

In case you’re thinking he said this in a wistful manner, let me gently nudge you more toward sarcastic with a hint of judgment and a dash of superiority, as he looked around at the other two he’d been chatting with.

It must be nice? What must be nice? That I don’t work a 9-5 job with a respectable paycheck, therefore I live on some kind of perma-holiday?

What I wish people who don’t write or create art knew about those that do is its often thankless. We do it because there’s an overpowering desire in our heart — not for money, or prestige, and certainly not fame — and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad. Or as my friend and critique partner Megan Peterson recently put it, it would poison our whole being.

“It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.

Let me be the billionth writer to say, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On top of this, his comment was, in a word, degrading. But I suppose if I stepped back from the situation I could say the question reflects on him more than it does on me, or any of us who choose to pursue something that garners very little acclaim or money or, in most circles, respect. For reasons like this — as if we twiddle our thumbs and play Candy Crush (I don’t even know what that is) all day.

Not as if I work my butt off, taking online classes, studying craft books or published novels daily, working with critique partners through their own manuscripts, researching, enrolling in bootcamps and shelling out bucks to get professional feedback as often as means allow.

Not as if I get my heart ripped out after putting it on the page and then having to light it on fire and start over again on a regular basis.

Not as if I get next to no recognition for pursuing this dream that I love and believe will matter someday, and maybe inspire one other person to dream and write and create worlds that they love as well.

It makes me wonder, what’s harder? Working in a field that will always need employees, is guaranteed a nice paycheque, holidays, and a retirement plan? Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day, with no one overseeing your work or making sure you’re DOING the work (or making sure you’re taking breaks for your physical and mental health), with no accolades, no guaranteed paycheque, no water-cooler socialisation, very little respect, endless assumptions and suspicions about how you spend your time and your “REAL” motivation, cyclical self-doubt, the desire to change one little word or one entire character from the moment you wake up until you finally fall asleep at night (usually quite late) — all with the hope that one day that lump will become a shining work of art that you’re proud of, grateful to have been able to construct, and hopeful will inspire others, whether through the imagination, the entertainment, or simply the craft used to cobble it all together. Hopeful that the work will someday make it all up to the family and friends who were your moral support from day one.

The answer? I don’t think one is harder than the other. I think people are best suited to one or the other. I’ve been on the 9-5 desk job side of things, with the decent, reliable paycheque and the retirement options and the healthcare package. I know that that is bloody hard work, and most times, work that you don’t actually care about but need to do in order to live.

On the flip-side, another person at this gathering who I know even less well and see maybe twice a year not only remembered that I’m a writer, but asked me how it was going, and encouraged me with supportive comments about my current (positive) set of circumstances. I wanted to hug her. These sorts of responses are few and far between, but I’m beginning to learn not to expect them. And again, that’s sad. But that’s life. What matters is I believe in what I’m doing. I am confident in what I do. I just wish I could come up with a better response in the midst of conversation to people who say, “It must be nice.”

. . . But then, that’s why I’m a writer. Because I can’t come up with this stuff on the spur of the moment as the words are falling from someone else’s lips. They form in my head and are put down on a screen, and edited, and critiqued, and polished, and torn apart, and edited again, instead of coming out of my mouth and lingering on the air, unable to be taken back or fixed.

If that’s my choice, I’ll take it.

And I suppose the best response to this comment is it’s more than nice (and since I’m a writer, I don’t use words like “nice”, right? *grin*). I am grateful to be able to spend the majority of my time doing a job that I LOVE, and will never grow tired of. A job that challenges me every day, and when I face a hint of sarcasm or judgement, it only works to remind me that despite what anyone else thinks, I’m not going to give up.

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17 thoughts on “Must Be Nice.

  1. Oh my how I see this a lot in the caregiving community as well. Most of the veteran caregivers have to quit their jobs and stay home with their veterans. When confronted with that same question, they get that same response too. Yes, because caring for someone 24/7 is a vacation, right?! And then you have those others who say, “well you don’t look disabled” to someone who suffers from invisible wounds, yeah, that cuts their souls. People don’t think about what they say and how they say it. They are reactionary. It always hurts us, doesn’t it. They would never, Could never, understand what all is involved, physically nor emotionally, with those questions. Maybe one time, I think I might have to broach that question to them when someone says, “must be nice” or “you don’t look disabled.” That’d really embarrass them if they cared enough.
    Love you girl! Keep writing your words! They’re beautiful! Just like you!
    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    Caring for my Veteran

    1. Oh my GOSH!!! I mean, writing from home whether freelancing or novel writing *IS* a vacation compared to caring for someone, so for anyone to even *HINT* that to a person who spends their time loving and looking after their loved one is just plain IGNORANT. That makes me so angry!! You are amazing — keep it up!! xoxox <3

  2. I think this is a post all writers should read. As much as we dislike the people who don’t get it and feel offended by them, we need those people to remind us why we do this, and you’re right. You’re doing a job you LOVE, which is probably more than you can say for them. I once had a co-worker turn to me and say, “Oh, you’re not a writer. Writers are published. And why would you want to waste your time on that anyway? It’s stupid.” STUPID. NOT A WRITER. *sigh*. You had much more grace with your situation than I did.

    “…and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad.” Ain’t that the truth. Tried this in college. I went crazy after two weeks of not writing.

    Also, LOL: ““It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.” I’d say if only this were true, but I think everyone’s mss would be a mess if all we did was chug beers and eat biscuits lol.

  3. Well said and well written! You know I’ve always got your back because I know how hard and passionately you work when you create. Keep working, keep loving your job, keep creating. And don’t ever stop!

  4. I KNOW what you’re talking about! From the “must be nice” to “pour heart and soul” to being a don’t think on my feet person.

    I know what Jamie’s talking about, too. I’m a writer and a homemaker. It’s not a vacation. It’s a passion, a crazy overwhelming wonderful thankless passion.

    Dare to dream. Dare to write.

    1. Thank you for stopping by!

      I completely agree, and taking care of family/loved ones is NOT a vacation, you’re right. I think you described it perfectly: a crazy overwhelming wonderful thankless passion. I don’t have kids yet so it’s just my husband and I at the moment, but I know that would make it about twelve bazillion times more difficult… and would’ve made those kinds of words so much more bitter to swallow. I give major props to you and everyone who balances both jobs because they ARE jobs!

  5. Ugh. That’s so condescending. What’s sad is I know exactly what you’re talking about, even though I have a job outside of writing. When someone finds out I write, they give me what I can only describe as a “humoring me” response…this forced-enthusiasm to what they consider a glorified hobby…or worse, they just look confused, like they’re waiting for the punchline. Good for you for pushing through the judgment of non-writers and sticking with your true love! Someday when you look back upon your life, you’re going to see how much richer it was in that you were daring and pursued your passion.

    1. Waiting for the punchline — that’s exactly it. I know at the end of the day, when I put my head on the pillow I’m not thinking about what other people think about the choices I make for spending my time and energy. I’m thinking about how I can do better the next day. What’s frustrating is conversations like that make me feel like I need to prove myself, and to someone who says that kind of thing, I don’t think there’d be ANY kind of proving myself unless I gave him a NY Times bestseller list with my name on it… and I still think he’d say, “Very nice, and what do you do for work?” LOL.

  6. Once, I had someone in my school tell me, “why do you bother with writing? Doctors earn a lot more than writers.” I was younger and I felt really hurt, because he kmhad just summarized the novel (my first) which I put heart and soul into writing (and had also given him to beta read) , as a waste of time. But a part of me thought, “you wait until one day when I write a book that would call the shots.”

    It’s really sad though that our society is such a judgemental one. I don’t think anyone could escape being judged if they don’t fit the norm- be it the symettry of your face, or your weight, or your career, or whatever. People always try to fit other people into boxes so they could ignore them. It’s part of life. But thankfully, we are writers and know that every story has different points of view, which ultimately makes us more understanding and tolerant…and dare I say, sensitive to others who don’t think the way we do.

    That said, keep at it and don’t let anyone’s opinions make you feel bad or less prouder of what you are doing. One day, you’ll definitely get there. With writing, there’s a chance of leaving a tangible legacy behind, which was my very first reason that made me love writing as a child. Many 9-to-5ers might be forgotten, alas many writers. But think of that slight chance of leaving a ding in the universe.
    That’s what keeps me going inspite of my novel going down in history as the longest to write!

    Hang in there with your head and chin held up high.

    1. Oh my gosh, why do you bother?? Maybe because it’s a passion flowing out of your heart that is one of the great joys in life — following your dreams and ambitions, no matter what else you spend your life doing!

      But yes, as I said in response to Jodi, I don’t let these things make me doubt myself when I’m lying in bed at night, but I do feel the need to prove myself. And then I have to step back, know I’m not alone (thanks to all you lovely people! 🙂 and realise that he’s not my target readership anyhow 😉

      Love you!! xxx

  7. Try telling people you are a “home maker”, stay-at-home mother, or god forbid…. housewife! You may as well just be saying “i’m a sat-at-home-no-good-lay-about, I am quite clearly very lazy, and I simply can’t be bothered to get a job!”….My job, my passion is my baby/toddler and he is bloody hard work! I don’t get paid or recognised for all the tireless effort I put in 24/7, everyday and night! Chy, your writing is your passion and baby. Cherish it, nurture it, feed it words and it will grow and become amazing, just like you are. Just like my amazing, stinky, sticky, dump bar’ish (Oh so very many stinky dumps!!), wonderful, (did I say amazing) nightmarish, screamy, beautiful, sweet, blue eyed baby/toddler boy has! And when I look at him, all I feel is pride, for I am happy in the knowledge that this little amazing monkey crawling all over me is “all my own work!” I did that! (And you have every right to feel the same!!) Muchos muchos love Chy, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…YOU ROCK (Don’t ever stop!) xxx

    1. ROFL!!!! Your name, hahahah!!! Oh my gosh, I will never forget that. Stannary = GOOD TIMES!

      I bet that homemaker and stay-at-home parent must receive such similar replies… or housewife! You’re so right. It seems like in the UK,these are looked down upon so much more than I’m used to, as if raising children to be loving, respectful, healthy, well-rounded people is something you can just do in your spare time. It’s full-time and MORE! That’s the hardest job of all, and for anyone to ever make you feel like you’re not working your buns off for the most important thing (family and raising children!) then they’re not worth listening to. You’re doing A-MAZING, I know it!!

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words! It’s so awesome to hear that other people in different — but similar, in some ways — situations understand this feeling. And I know if/when we have kids I’ll understand it even more! All your own work is RIGHT! Much love, thank you!! xxx

  8. Love that last paragraph! I’ve been lucky not to encounter this attitude, but I do frequently have to explain to people that just because I work from home means I’m working pretty much all the time, and can’t just drop everything and make last-minute plans without risking my inbox exploding while I’m gone. 😛 I definitely work longer hours between writing and freelance editing than I would if I worked a 9-5 job. If the choice is between a job that bores me to death and a lifetime of self-doubt, I’ll always pick writing first!

    1. That’s an excellent point that didn’t even occur to me when writing this — that working from home means we never switch off. I’m aware of that, for sure (and so is my husband, LOL), but it’s one more reason that makes this so not a perma-holiday. Longer hours than any on-site job I’ve ever had… and yes, there are so many pluses to working from home. Having your own space, not having to deal with moody co-workers. Just have to deal with my moody self 😉 (sometimes that can be MUCH worse though 😉

  9. I LOVE this post, Cheyenne. I think it’s one of the best-written posts about writing and the writing life I’ve ever read.

    “Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day.” This is exactly how it feels.

    I’m lucky in that my friends & people I know are either supportive or at the very least keep any negative opinions to themselves.

    1. Coming from you, that means a LOT. Thank you so much!

      It’s a huge blessing to be surrounded by people who support, encourage, and even understand how the writing life works (or sometimes, doesn’t). I usually only encounter these attitudes from people I don’t know very well, but it means I’m not likely to get to know them very well, either. If they think I’m some kind of slack-ass who relies on their partner for money (not the case, but then, it’s none of their business, is it?), then they’re not the sort of person I’m going to be spending time with. No time for the judgy-wudgies (Haha).

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