How a Writer Can Respond With Considerably Less Terror When Asked “What do you do for a living?”

The inevitable question

You’re at a party or a gathering of some sort and you’re flexing your extrovert muscles. Small talk is the worst, but you know it’s necessary at times and can, on occasion, lead to some deeper conversation and perhaps a connection with a new friend.

Then, like a car careening around a corner at breakneck speed, it happens. The question that most writers and introverts dread more than dental work is thrust into the conversation and you’re faced with choosing one of a dozen practiced responses.

Even before you stumble through the best one you already know it’s going to sound lame.

I’m a writer?

Holy career gaffe, Batman— what have you done?

You’ve just opened the subterranean gates of terror and released the Cracken of all opportunistic follow-up questions.

Really? What have you written?

Anything I’ve read?

Do you have a book deal?

Who’s your publisher?

Did you put on fresh underwear today? 

Ok, maybe that last question is over the top personal but so are the others. Outing ourselves as writers invites all kinds of questions that we introverted creators would quite happily never choose to willingly address.

We write. We create. Leave us alone, but buy a book or something before you go. Thanks!

But there you are anyway. Fresh meat on the altar of interrogation with your conversational partner salivating as he awaits your response.

He sniffs the sweet aroma of the coming kill like a lioness hunting her prey. Soon, you both know, it will be over and you’ll feel worse about yourself than ever before…if you survive at all.

Wait, wait…wait… It doesn’t have to be this way

You don’t have to offer yourself as a sacrifice to the sadistic gods of small talk any longer. There are better ways to respond to this question of all questions that evokes considerably less agitation and reduces the intestinal rumbling that often accompanies just such a situation.

The problem for most writers is the term: writer

Saying you’re a writer is like saying you’re a human. There is so much more to being a writer -and a human for that matter- than simply labeling yourself as such.

You’re a male or female human with various roles. You’re a mother or father; You’re an introvert or you pretend not to be; You’re a compassionate person who is moved by the suffering of others.

See what I mean? You’ve created a framework around your humanity.

How to create a framework around your role as a writer

Let’s look at how to create this framework using the writer’s framework below:

  • Title
  • Genre & Specialty
  • Publisher
  • Relevant Role(s)

Lead with your title. It establishes a broad heading under which you will list the other aspects of what being a writer means in your case.

Mention your genre and your specialty. Your genre is one of the typical one we all know, poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Then drill down and call out your specialty. Your specialty could be historical or how-to non-fiction, biographical or mystery novels, romantic or modern poetry, etc.

Now specify where you publish. Almost everyone publishes on Amazon, Apple iBooks, or on their own website. Call it out and plant your flag.

Mention a relevant role that naturally accompanies your writing. You might offer coaching, consulting, or mentoring; If so, mention it.

Putting it all together

  1. You’re a writer, blogger, author, etc. (title)
  2. You write poetry, fiction, novels, non-fiction, whatever (genre& specialty)
  3. You publish your writing on a blog, on Amazon, or Apple iBooks, Medium, etc. (publisher)
  4. You do something else around your writing: coaching, teaching, mentoring, etc. (relevant roles)

I was at a brunch on Sunday with some new friends. Specifically, they are the family of my girlfriend’s brother. It was my first time I was being introduced to them and in talking with a nice fellow, Tom, the question invariably came up.

Here’s how I responded, more or less: 

I’m a writer. (pause for reaction). I write mainly non-fiction books and publish them on Amazon or sell them directly via my website, I offer coaching and I teach a subscription course for writers who want to make more money from their writing.”

Boom! Done!

In those few sentences, I hit all four elements in the writer’s framework and in so doing, answered questions before Tom formulated them in his head. In my book, Becoming Irresistible, I talk about ‘sacrificing objections on the altar of the sale.’ By this, I mean that if you can bring up the objections a reader might have to your offer -and fully answer them- before they think of them, the sale goes forward.

In conversing with Tom, I answered all the objections/follow-up questions he most like would’ve asked. The writer’s framework allowed me to hit all these points and eliminate a situation where I might’ve flubbed up my response and appeared uncertain or confused, neither of which appealed to me. 

Going forward, here’s what you need to do

Work through the writer’s framework and see how succinctly and naturally you can answer the question. Try out a few versions and if you’d like, drop it into a comment below. I’d love to hear from you and hear how the framework works for you! 

By Baz

writer | coach | practical buddhist

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