[Editor's Note: In honor of our 33 1/3 sale — buy two new (not used or sale) books from Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series, featuring critical writing on seminal albums, and get a third free — we're pleased to feature blog posts from some of the people behind the 33 1/3 series.]
Being a published writer who is not yet a household name brings its own unique set of pressures. One of the most tedious of these is being asked what you do at parties. If you can reply 'I'm John Grisham,' then all well and good. However, few of us can say this. In fact only John Grisham can say this and not be completely lying his tits off. If you're talking to someone who doesn't read an awful lot, the kind of person who says, for example, 'I only read biographies' then the conversation will contain several inevitable questions. Let's pick up the exchange from where he/she asks the fateful opener. 'Ah, I'm a writer,' you reply...
1) 'So, have you had anything published yet?'
No. I just go around saying 'I'm a writer' even though the closest I've come to book publication is when I walk by a branch of Barnes and Noble. Do people think you're a total maniac? The kind of person who goes around saying 'I'm an astronaut' because they caught the last fifteen minutes of The Right Stuff on cable the night before? If you say you're a writer and you haven't published a book — or had a movie made, or whatever — then either a) you're 18 years old. Or b) you are a total maniac. And, by the way, you're not allowed to call yourself a writer until that is how you earn your primary living. And by 'living' I mean an income capable of supporting a person living on more than rice crackers and rainwater. Who doesn't live with their parents. Also, don't get suckered into saying 'I'm a writer' then having to backtrack and shuffle when the next question is the invariable 'What else do you do?' Or 'Do you make enough money to live on from that?' Then you have spend a 'lively' five minutes making out that you stayed on at the Dairy Queen — or teaching Grad School, or working at the library — for the love. (Nothing wrong with working at the library mind you — Philip Larkin did it all his life.)
2) 'So, what's your book/film/quartet of poems about?'
Do not, under any circumstances, be drawn into a detailed plot summary. Unless you are Martin Amis/Martin Scorsese/the ghost of T.S. Eliot no one really cares. They're just saying it to have something to say. Personally I favour one of two responses to this question: 1) 'Oh a whole bunch of crap happens. Anyway...' and then changing the subject. Or, b) 'Oh, they live, they love, they learn. Normal human stuff. Anyway...' and then changing the subject.
Actually if you spend any time around writers, musicians, or whatever you'll notice that the last thing the really talented ones want to do is talk about is their work. Those of mediocre — or zero — talent will happily drone on in cerebellum-frying detail about the difficulty they're having with the protagonist's motivation/Act II climax/tricksy, multi-viewpoint flashback sequence. The good ones will try and change the subject immediately. Usually to either sex or sports. (That's when you know you're talking to a real writer: they don't want to discuss the merits of first-person via localised third-person narrator. They want to know who won the game and if you can help get them laid.)
3) 'So, where do you get your ideas from?'
AHHHAGGGHHH!!!! You know, I'm having an idea now right now. It involves removing your liver with a corkscrew and feeding it to you...