Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prejudices and Perceptions

Interesting fact about people--we are incredibly judgmental.  Studies have shown we respond better to people we find more attractive (and they're even likely to get paid a little more than unattractive people) and we like to be around happier people more than unhappy people.  That's true even of babies.  People have a visceral response to a smiling, pleasant baby.  A baby that's not necessarily unpleasant, but may be fussy or at least "not smiley" will not get as much attention.  In that same vein, every job interview advice column ever will tell you to dress your best (even if it means over dressing) because we judge people based on their appearances and first impressions are hard to over come.  For example, when I met my wife's family for the first time, if I'd had a giant blood stain on my shirt, they might have thought of me as a somewhat careless, forgetful person.

We all make judgments like that.  Our perceptions alter how we see the world.  That guy driving the Prius with all the bumper stickers on the back saying things like "Mother Earth is sick, let's make her better!" and "Meat is murder" you may think, "hippy" or "crazy activist" or perhaps "Dad back when he gave a crap."
Oh, sure!  Support our corporate masters!  Make me get a job to buy a car!  Jerk!

Or maybe you see the guy with the loud, rumbling truck pouring black smoke into the air with a rebel flag sticker, an NRA sticker, and another sticker announcing they are in fact a country boy.  Depending on your prejudice, you may think "redneck," "uneducated hillbilly," "guy who knows how to have a good time," or perhaps "Uncle Walter."
The reason I bring all of this up is because Chuck Wendig, profanity spewing writerly advice extraordinaire, wrote an article about what it's like to a writer.  We're not well respected by "pen-muggles" as he called them--or non-writers.  He goes on to ensure us that we are in fact doing work and to please not interrupt our writing time because it's not a hobby it's a career aspiration.

I have to admit, despite being a writer and understanding how hard it is for people to understand, I still catch myself thinking stupid things that I know better than to think.  For example, anyone who frequents my or Brooke Johnson's blog knows that we are very good friends.  She is fortunate enough to have married someone who completely supports her in every way, and since he has a job, she can stay home and write all day.  Despite knowing that in order to succeed at writing you have to treat it like a job, I still caught myself getting annoyed if we couldn't hang out during the week because she was busy working on her novel.

"God!  What is her problem?  Can't we just hang out for a couple of hours and then she can go back to writing?  What the frak?  We just moved up here, you'd think she'd try to help us make the transition a little easier.  It's not like she doesn't have the rest of the week to write."

While some of that may be true, it just goes to show that the idea of the traditional job is a solidly ingrained one in our society.  If someone makes a living by doing things like writing, video game testing, blogging, drawing comics, acting, gold weaving, dwarf wrestling, or bigfoot hunting, we tend to respect them less than someone who gets up and goes to work in a cubicle from 9 to 5.  It's unfair, and I did my best to correct my thinking when I thought this way.
Perhaps bigfoot hunting should be the most respected of all.

Even the most well-meaning people can be dismissive or disrespectful of your passion.  For example, if you  mention to someone that you're working on a novel, they could get that blank "deer-in-the-headlights" look, like you just confessed that you're a Nalbroggian Alien Overlord spy here to help in human-kind's subversion.  Maybe they think if they make you mad you'll make them die some horrible, bloody, painful way in their next work?  Or maybe they'll just try to hide a snicker because, honestly, who isn't working on a book these days?  Sometimes, you'll admit that you're a writer in hushed tones, like you're confessing some sort of perverse fetish.

I've had experiences like what Wendig writes about.  I've had well-meaning friends and family sort of roll their eyes at my dreams, or stare blankly when I try to explain what I'm doing, or walk off mid-sentence when I'm excitedly describing a new idea.  (You can deal with these people by simply keeping a length of rope on you. If they walk off, simply bind them like a calf at a rodeo and drag them back into position and finish your story*.)

The people I've described above are not nearly as bad as the dismissal from other writers however.  I mean, how many people who write science fiction are afraid to admit it because they know that their literary writerly friends will simply scoff at those of use lesser beings who choose to roll in the muck of genre-fiction!
Eghad!  Is fiction!  Help!  Police!  Deviants!

Or, even worse, when you're dismissed by other writers because you have a day job.  I cannot count the number of times I've had writerly friends almost blatantly disrespect me because I have a dayjob.  I like my dayjob, I work hard at my dayjob, but I also have dreams and passions.  Just because I've gotten used to thinks like air-conditioning, food, and regular showers doesn't mean that I'm not passionate about my writing.  True, I have less time to work on it, but I'm also married and trying to help support my wife as she finishes college.  I've got other obligations and usurping all responsibility because I want to write is irresponsible and stupid.
At least I'm staying true to my craft!!

If you're a writer, what experiences have you had when you tell people that you write?  Have they generally been positive or negative?  Any writerly friends?  Anybody with a dayjob?  Share your stories in the comments!

*Some people might call this "kidnapping."  Some people need to get their opinions straight on what is and is not acceptable behavior.  I'm not a frickin' mind reader.  Geez.


  1. and you always make me feel so guilty when i have to turn you guys away. :(

  2. It's why I don't say anything to you. I realize why you're doing it. I may not be happy, but I understand. :D And besides, you try to make it up to us. Because you're awesome.

  3. I have a day job, and yet I take my writing very seriously. I'll flat out tell people that I work two full-time jobs. That usually gets their attention. :)

  4. That's a good way to put it, Jami! I'll have to remember next time I get a naysayer.

  5. i AM awesome. thanks for noticing ;)


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