This is what I overheard in a café in town a while ago: “I find that writers aren’t very nice to work with. One or two are okay, but most of them…well, they very much like to keep to themselves, don’t they? And they don’t like the competition either. It would be nice to have a chat, you know, but most of them just won’t. You get the odd one who will say ‘Hi’, but that’s about it.”
Needless to say, my ears were flapping as I tried (surreptitiously) to hear every word and quickly write it down as I knew I would forget it, and at the same time I’m trying to look casual and eat a caramel-topped, cream-filled doughnut (definitely high on my mental list of priorities, I don’t get out much), and hoping they won’t turn round and see me writing down their every word. I decided Lady Number One must work in a theatre or something, and the café we were in was close to Quad in Derby, where they run both writing doobries and theatrical thingies. (Please pause here to marvel at my expert use of the English language.)
She went on to talk about how some of the actresses had been very moved by the speeches they had to deliver. Lady Number Two was her friend-from-another-workplace and just kept nodding and agreeing.
Now I freely admit that we are all entitled to our opinions…
I apologise on behalf of all writers everywhere if we aren’t as good at chatting as you would like us to be. It’s not always easy talking to someone you don’t really know too well. Just give us another chance…
Quite often it can be difficult to shut a writer up. Once you get them started, they can talk for hours – all that time spent alone with a journal or laptop means they rarely see actual humans, let alone enjoy conversation. But it’s also often said that a writer is busy with an internal life others are not privy to, working away at the coal-face of a tricky plot or puzzling over the intransigence of a character.
But maybe, like everyone else, sometimes writers are just rude. Or shy. Or nervous. Or feeling out of their depth. Or worried. Tired. Or maybe even wondering if their wife is having an affair, or if the kids are in trouble, or yes, about their work, if their plot is shallow or their characters wooden. Maybe they are looking at you and thinking, ‘Wow he/she would be the perfect victim in my next book’. Or an arch-villain.
Do we hear people complaining about dentists not being chatty enough? No. All too often, anecdotal evidence – and TV comedies – tell us that dentists love to talk and only ever require an answer if your mouth is full of putty, fingers, sharp objects, or that scary sucky gadget.
And no one complains that hairdressers don’t talk. Or lawyers. Or retail assistants. Or window cleaners. Usually lack of conversation is a bonus in everyday situations. So why do writers have to be so chatty?
Is it because we’re ‘wordsmiths’?
(I hate that word – so pretentious! Imagine me up all night, filing and drilling and smoothing then peering myopically through a loupe at my carefully crafted, gleaming word. Congratulations, it’s a pronoun!)
But I can’t deny that words are my – our – profession. Does that mean I have to share them constantly? Does a banker hand out free cash to all their friends and acquaintances? If only! Do my marketing and publishing contacts promise me freebies to help me sell my books? Nope! Again – if only!
No. We all inhabit our little solitary worlds. It’s not because I’m a writer that I’m rubbish at making conversation with a total stranger. It’s because I’m a human being. There are loads of things I’m rubbish at, making conversation is only one of them.