I don't know what other 'writers' do, and I'm not much caring, either way, but I just don't have the urge. In fact, if I were being honest, I would have to say I don't actually introduce myself as anything, outside saying, "Hey, I'm Ben," and the shake of the hand, the hug, the little wave, whatever. Everyone's different with that first moment. But you know how it is, you meet someone for the first time, and eventually, in the attempt to find a flow for the new conversation, you'll ask them what they do (or they'll ask you). In response, they will say something like, "I'm a dental surgeon," and then they'll ask me and I'll say, "Student, teacher," and then they'll ask about the details. If they've got enough interest they'll ask me if I write, followed by if I've been published, and when I say yeah, they say, "That's great," which is far more preferable than what happens if I say, "I'm a writer."
Conversation Example, 1: I'm a Writer (Please Don't Laugh at Me).
So, what do you do, Ben?
I'm a writer.
What books have you written?
Uh. I've got a novel coming out this year.
What's it called?
Black Sheep. It's a dystopian novel, kinda following in the Orwell, Huxley, Burgess kind of path.
Neat. When will it come out? I'll look for it in a book store.
Uh. Well. It's being published by an American publisher, so you won't, um, like, be able to find it here.
Well, America. That's good. You get much money?
You don't really do it for money, y'know?
No. There's no money in fiction. Especially short fiction. I publish a bit of short fiction as well. There's no money in that.
How much do you get paid?
Depends. Professional rates are round 5 cents a word. Most places in Australia can't afford that so...
So, not much money?
No. Every now and then maybe a few hundred bucks.
What do you do to get by then?
I teach creative writing.
It's just, really, an awkward, painful conversation. I've seen it done by other 'writers' and at the end, it's impossible to stop yourself from thinking, "Well, obviously you're not a writer, are you?" and you spend the rest of the night making sarcastic comments with your friends. Perhaps you even begin introducing yourself as a writer, just for fun. It's pretty easy, actually, to make fun of writers. If you haven't done it yet, I suggest you try. It's just as easy to make fun of painters, musicians, and film makers if their conversation goes anything like that. That, of course, doesn't mean that there aren't people out there who can and do call themselves a writer without looking like a complete and utter wanker, like so:
Conversation Example, 2: Pretend I'm Sean Williams (ladnews)
So, Sean, what do you do?
I'm a writer.
Got a book out?
Got about five.
Sean's got more than five, but you get my point.
Anyhow, this is, really, a long, round about way into me writing about my night last night, where I ended up in Bondi and a 30th. I'm not happy with the fact that everyone round me is turning thirty, for a number of reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of the fact that I need health insurance by the end of the year. Anyhow, at one stage during this night, which was otherwise fine and lovely, I was introduced to a pair of librarians and as writer. I had been told it was going to happen earlier and for about an hour and a half I managed to avoid this by sliding round them, done only because I wanted to avoid the awkward conversation that would follow, but also because I was told that they love Australian authors of short fiction and know everyone.
Yeah. Well, come on. We all know how that's going to go. The speculative fiction scene here is an inwarding turning creature that, for the majority of its time, serves only the existing audience it has. The chances of meeting a complete stranger (even a pair of librarians) who know anything about it is pretty slim. And when you have a perfectly lovely girl who thinks that you being a writer is just excellent and that should be told first, in fact, that you should be introduced this way, well, you just know it's going to go badly.
And so it did.
Real Conversation: Pick the Moment Her Face Shows Dismissal.
You're a writer, cool. What's the title of your books?
Well, I have a book coming out this year--
You publish short stories? My sister told me you write them.
Any books? Tell me a book?
Um. Well. Ah. I was in a collection called Forever Shores--
Never heard of it.
Yeah. Uh. Right. Recently had a story in the Year's Best Australian--
The Year's Best Australian Short Fiction? That's gre--
Science Fiction and Fantasy--
Did you say fantasy?
The really funny thing about this is even though only she was speaking, but he and she had faces that crumpled in disinterest at the word fantasy. If she had bothered to ask me what kind of fantasy I wrote, I would have made sure to tell her that it was full of unicorns and girls who needed rescuing and bondage, lots of bondage, don't you know, but, well, of course she didn't. We went our different ways pretty quickly after that, though, strangely, she came back at one stage during the night and asked me if I wrote using a thesauras.