Thursday, May 6, 2010

To tell or not to tell? Er, what was the question?

Yesterday, I got my hair trimmed.

I went to the same hairdresser who gave me the purple stripe ten weeks ago to commemorate my three-book deal.

She’s trimmed my hair every ten weeks for the last decade, which means we have one of those relationships that falls somewhere between “friend” and “I’m embarrassed to admit I still don’t remember your husband’s name.”

After the preliminary chit-chat about my hair, we settled in for the usual questioning that occurs between two people who see each other five times a year.

“So where can I buy your books now?” she asked, scissors neatly snipping my split-ends.

“Well, you’ll be able to buy them anywhere,” I replied. “Barnes & Noble, or probably most of the indy bookstores in town, but not until August 2011.”

She frowned at me in the mirror. “But you got a book deal, right?”

“Right.”

“And I can’t get the books until this summer?”

“Er, next summer, actually,” I admitted, keeping one eye on the scissors poised dangerously above my left ear. “August 2011. It’s a pretty slow process.”

As she continued to snip, I explained once more how everything in publishing moves at the speed of a slug on Valium.

The thing is, she knows this. She’s watched me struggle for eight years, so she’s aware that the path between “I wrote a book!” and “I have a book deal!” can be a long and treacherous one.

But I don’t blame her a bit for not remembering the details or for not being an expert on publishing. Hell, sometimes I wish I could forget.

And sometimes, I wish I’d never told her I’m a writer. Not until the day I was able to walk in and announce, “I have a book deal, I must have a purple stripe!”

I know I’ve said we’re ALL real authors – everyone who’s ever attempted to craft a book. And while I believe that with every fiber of my being, deciding whether to tell anyone is another matter.

Do you tell your close friends and family? I think so – you’re going to need their support.

But what about the casual acquaintances you see a few times a year? Your mechanic? Your babysitter? Your hairdresser?

I don’t know about you, but I spend a long time in that chair every ten weeks, and discussing how to get cat puke out of carpet can only carry the conversation so far.

Writing is such an all-consuming process that it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to tell everyone who asks what you’re doing.

But it can feel like a little twist of the knife each time you encounter a well-meaning acquaintance you haven’t seen for months, and you’re forced to rehash your rejections. “Nope, not yet," you’ll say with forced cheer. “I know we had great feedback from that editor last fall, but it just didn’t happen.”

Deciding what to tell and to whom you tell it is a choice each writer must make at some point. As someone who’s been down that road, I can only say that I wish I’d spared myself some awkward cocktail party conversations.

How about you? Who knows you’re a writer? Who doesn’t? Do you exercise caution when details with people who wield sharp objects for a living, or is your hairdresser on a first name basis with your main character?

29 comments :

Bill Cameron said...

It took me about 25 years to get from my first query letter (for a manuscript I've long since lost) to my first book deal. After that long, the cat was pretty much out of the bag.

Linda G. said...

I've probably told a few too many people. Wish I hadn't, but I couldn't resist the temptation to let them know that, no, I don't just sit around on my tush all day.

Not that most of them think writing is any better... *sigh*

LR said...

I wouldn't advise telling anyone but your spouse/partner and other writers. Sometimes family and friends can get weird if you tell them you're writing.
There might also be latent envy because everyone wants to write a novel but only few start taking the actual steps.

Karla Nellenbach said...

At first I exercised caution, but that went right out the window the moment I got my first full request. Maybe it was the personalized note and how excited the agent seemed...only to have that agent close her doors a few months later with another personalized note expressing her regret that things could have been different. Since then i tell people that I'm a writer dammit, and then quickly duck out of the way if they're wielding sharp instruments :)

Sharon Axline said...

Actually more people on twitter know that I'm trying to be a writer then folks in my none-cyber life. I'm always afraid to call myself a "writer", because I'm worried people will actually say that with air quotes as they're talking about me. "You know that geek by the window, the one who's always snorting and laughing about a certain blog? Yeah that one...well you know she is a 'Writer'" Snicker, snort. "Yeah right"

Cynthia Reese said...

I ran into this when I was adopting, too (and that was before I started stalking editors -- er, pursuing publication). People would keep asking me when we would get our baby, and not know what to say (or say the exact WRONG thing) when we told them it was a year-plus wait. That stretched over an 18-month period, so I got pretty sick of explaining things.

I transferred that to my stalk--, er, pursuit of publication. My immediate family knew, but non-writing friends? Nope. All I can say is thank God for the eHarl forums, because they kept me sane.

Patrick Alan said...

SHHH!! I haven't told my wife!!!!

Matthew Rush said...

What a great story, I can totally relate ... well except for the part about you having an agent, and a book deal. But anyway, I try not to tell anyone about being a writer except for other writers. With people who don't write it always sparks an awkward conversation, they pretend to care, I pretend I want them to ...

Now you've just made me realize having an agent or even a deal is not the time to start telling everyone either. Sure, market yourself, but telling a casual acquaintance that your book will be for sale in a YEAR OR MORE is not something they are likely to remember.

Thanks for sharing Tawna!

Candyland said...

I've learned more lately to zip it. It's not worth it until something huge happens.

mtgoldeneagle said...

I love the easy, girls in armchair snuggling a glass of wine way that you right. Makes me feel like I'm doing just that with you.

As for your question, I'm still trying to finish editing the manuscript I completed in November so I kinda keep that close to the vest.

But, when I do land my first book deal, I'll probably have my Jeep spray-painted purple!

danicaavet said...

Well, I didn't tell anyone for a while. Then I went to a conference where I had 2 requests for fulls and suddenly everyone in my family knew. Mostly because I told my mother. That's fine, I don't mind, but I was trying to keep it within the family. Then my brother had dinner with a friend who I'm not terribly close to and told him. It's gotten out of hand now, with uncles asking me if I heard anything about my sex book, friends asking me if I used them for characters, and my stylist (whom my sister told) asking me if she can do my hair for my photo shoot.

There are no secrets in my life anymore. C'est la vie!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Most people in my life don't know I want to be a writer; only about three close friends know that I have a blog. I guess it's like you said, about how people have all these expectations about writers, and I don't like having to answer to them.

Jamie D. said...

I made the mistake of telling family, my boss and a few off-screen friends...and after months of "When are you going to be published?" and "When can I read one of your books?" I stopped talking about it. Not worth the frustration for me having to explain it a million times over. Well, and my brother-in-law always telling me I should "do this" and "add that" to whatever I was working on, and my mother's constant "I should write a book someday." She doesn't approve of my choice to write steamy romance either. *shrug*

Now I just pretend I never said anything, and I assume they've all forgotten I write, for the most part (except my parents, who follow me on twitter). I don't go out of my way to hide it, but I try to avoid the subject. I figure I'll start talking about it again a few months before my book is scheduled to hit the shelves... ;-)

Jade said...

I'm still in the closest. Family and a few close friends know but I don't tell anyone else. I just can't be bothered explaining it to the rest of the people in my life.

Also, I think it might be fun to stroll into work one day and say, "So, I signed a book deal yesterday..."

Indigo said...

Last July I decided to stake my claim as a writer in blog format. I made my previous blog private (shut it down, closed the door, saynaro...). I needed some way to keep myself accountable. So far it's worked.

Otherwise I don't tell people I'm an aspiring writer, *rolls eyes* my husband does.

He tells anyone and everyone who will listen. It drives me batty. I get it he's trying to be supportive, but he's not the one whose under the gun to produce something. I'm pretty sure he has no clue just how slow this business is from start to finish. (Hugs)Indigo

Margaret said...

I don't know. I've always been a writer and the people in my life knew about it from family to friends and coworkers, but I didn't start telling chance acquaintances until after I had stories in a couple anthologies. Yes, I get the "what have you sold lately" and have to say, "nothing for a bit," but overall they're supportive, so it doesn't bug me. Whether I sell or not, I'm still a writer.

Cheers,
Margaret

Christi Goddard said...

I'm pretty much always writing, so it gives it away. I have notebooks I carry around and post-it-note stacks for when I don't have a lot of time. But if I'm in public waiting for something (doctor, dentist, grocery line) I've got something I'm scribbling on. My parents take me to Renfaires some weekends and I sit at a picnic table and write under a tree all day. It's actually quite relaxing. Then again, I'm weird.

Claire Dawn said...

As a black person in Japan, I have people run up to me on the road, "Oooo, your hair is soooo cool. Can I touch it?" Clearly noone here knows what to do with it, so I do my own hair.

Everybody knows I'm a writer. I used to do performance poetry at home, so it was kinda easy to say, "Okay, now I'm going to try and get published." I don't think I could avoid telling people, because writing is a huge part of my life. 90% of the blogs I read are about writing. MY blog is about writing (and 80's tv and Japan). And half the time my facebook statuses are about writing.

Also, as foreigners in Japan, we get together fairly often, as compared to average adults. There are gatherings of some sort 2 or 3 times a week and pretty much every holiday. I can't go to all of them because of my writing.

But, as you said the major disadvantage is the cluelessness of non-writers.

"Oh, you have a finished first draft. You could so upload that on Kindle. YOu'll be a bestseller by summer."

Sigh.

Purple Cow said...

I'm a purple cow and I don't have a book deal!

India Drummond said...

Like you, I've told people and then wished I hadn't. They just don't get what the big deal is, and figure you must secretly suck if you can't even manage to get a book in the bookshops.

And it's awkward to explain!

Patrick Alan said...

I'm frightened by the purple cow.

Southpaw said...

Three people - that's it.

Tawna Fenske said...

Sorry for jumping in late with responses...I'm on the road right now, but loving all the wonderful comments!

Bill, you're right - I suppose it would be tough to keep a secret for 25 years!

Linda G, you don't just sit around on your tush all day? Crap, I thought that's what Michelle wanted us to do.

LR, good point about many people wanting to write a novel. It's true that many people want to do it, but few actually make the attempt.

Karla, that's the hardest part, isn't it? Telling people when you THINK something good is about to happen, and then having to relive your disappointment every time you encounter someone who assumed you'd have that deal by now.

Sharon, that's the great thing about these online communities, isn't it? The chance to interact with other writers who can all say "been there, done that, bought the t-shirt."

Cynthia, I'll echo your sentiments about the eHarlequin boards, mostly because that's where I met you! :)

Patrick, don't worry, your wife thinks you're nuts whether you're a writer or not.

Matthew, the good thing about having 16 months until my release date is that I get a chance to make friends and introduce people to the sort of writing I like. My hope is that they'll stick around and eventually buy my books, but even if they don't, I'm having a great time connecting with people.

Candyland, it's hard to find the balance betwen zipping it entirely, and telling enough people to give yourself a support system when you fall and a cheering section for your small victories.

mtgoldeneagle, thank you! You can come cozy up and drink wine with me anytime. Drive that purple jeep over here.

danicaavet, the nice thing though is that you've got people cheering you on as you go. That's a pretty good thing!

Neurotic Workaholic, so you've got a secret blog? That's kind of fun :)

Jamie D, you just made me a little nervous about the idea of my parents following me on Twitter. They do read my blog, but I'm pretty sure they don't get the whole Twitter thing (thankfully!)

Jade, LOL, I love the "in the closet" analogy!

Indigo, I totally get your frustration, but it is nice he's so proud of you. I remember how delighted I was when I found out my husband had been bragging about his author wife at work :)

Margaret, love your attitude! Amen to that.

Christi, you mean you can't convince them you're just a terrorist who's plotting a hostile takeover? That might be preferable to allowing them to think you're a writer.

Claire Dawn, your cultural experiences sound fascinating. Hey, you should write a book and upload it to Kindle and be a bestseller by summer :)

Purple Cow, moo!

Patrick, what, you have livestock issues now too? Isn't it enough that you're threatened by the giant screw from Monday's blog post?

Southpaw, I'm curious who the three are!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Sorry for the delayed responses.

Tawna

Lani Woodland said...

I tried not to tell to many people that I was trying to get my book published. I didn't really want to explain my long list of rejections. My husband was so proud of me that he told everyone. So it turned out anyone we both new (and some people I didn't) knew I was writing a book.

christinerice said...

Less than a handful of people know about my trials to get published. My husband told a few of his friends early on, but I'd guess they've put it out of mind by now. I just didn't want to have to keep rehashing my status every time I saw someone who knew what I'd been up to.

christinerice said...

Well, I guess I should say, I wasn't counting Twitter or my blog readers in that number above. That just feels more anonymous to me. :)

Delia said...

Most of my friends and family know that I write because I've always written. But the way they see it, I'm a SAHM and writing's my hobby. None of them really think I'm serious about it and I don't bother to correct them. It's just easier. I probably won't bother to correct them unless/until I can show up with a book in my hand that has my name on it.

Of course, then they'll probably ask if I self-published...

Sydnee said...

My mom, dad, and grandmother know I'm a writer because I've asked them to print manuscripts at their jobs (free paper and ink!) a couple times, but everyone else I stay mum around. No one but another writer understands how tough publishing is, and after the seventh time it gets really irritating explaining it.

Tawna Fenske said...

Lani, oh well, at least you have a built-in cheering section and a proud husband. Those are good things to have!

Christinerice, there were times I thought about having cards printed up to explain my current status just so I didn't have to keep rehashing it. I never did it because I figured it would be rude, but it was tempting.

Delia, the word "hobby" grates on a lot of writers, me included. Someday you'll be able to wave your book in their faces & say, "how do you like my hobby now?!"

Sydnee, crap, thank you for reminding me I'm completely out of paper :)

Tawna