Big damn pet peeve: “But you’re a writer!”

If you’re friends with someone who works in IT, or anyone who is really good with computers you’ve probably seen the “No, I will not fix your computer” tee shirt. I submit that there should be a similar tee shirt for writers. I don’t know how exactly I’d word it, but the gist would be the same.

I know what some of you are thinking: “You don’t know which words you’re going to put on your snarky tee-shirts for writers? But you’re a writer. You’re comfortable putting words together!”

This is a blog post about that. And by “that,” I mean the phrase “but you’re a writer.”

When I was a kid, from the age of about 8 or 9 to the age of about 20, my parents used to ask that I give them a poem as an anniversary gift each year. This was something I did happily the first year (Yay, I didn’t have to buy a present!) and started protesting around the age of 13, when I had exhausted the roses-are-red-violets-are-blue possibilities and was beginning to fear that my three-stanza, rhyming creations were repeating themselves.

“But you’re a writer,” my mother said. The implication was that it ought to be easy for me to produce one poem about love a year. And maybe it should have been, but the assignment always gave me trouble. If I was going to write one poem a year to celebrate my parents’ holy matrimony, I wanted it to be good, not forced. But it was inevitably strained. (It probably didn’t help that I always remembered my parents’ anniversary about 12 hours before it was time to present them with a card.)

That was probably the first time I heard it.

“But you’re a writer” has been tossed at me at various points in life since. When I was stuck on my college essay. When I blank out while trying to write condolences in a sympathy card. Anytime I have to put together a cover letter. I try not to kvetch about writing queries (which always baffle me) because I always hear “but you’re a writer.”

Sometimes I get the phrase’s shorter and more proactive cousin, “You’re a writer,” which means I should locate a pen, because I’m about to be assigned something. The chore could be anything, from writing out a birthday card to filling out someone’s personal ad on to tutoring my neighbor’s little kid in sentence diagramming which, by the way, I don’t actually understand. (Flu. Fourth grade. Missed the whole unit. Came back to find the board covered in sentence-sized hieroglyphics. Decided not to ask.)

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy writing and I like editing. And if people ask me for help with a writing problem –  if they ask me to look at something they wrote and give my opinion – I don’t mind at all. Actually, I love it. My ego is totally flattered that anyone would want my opinion.

But what does irritate me is when people try to use my supposedly fancy writing skills for something they would rather not do (eBay item descriptions, an angry email to a family member, whatever) or when they assume that writing is easy for me. It’s not. Most writers I know agonize over almost everything they write. It takes me hours to write a cover letter. That’s why I dread doing it.

For that matter, all writing is not equal to me. I like to write novels, short stories and blog posts. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to query, or to write your personal ad for you. Actually, since I’m a creative fiction writer, I am the very last person you want writing your description on You’ve been warned.

6 thoughts on “Big damn pet peeve: “But you’re a writer!”

  1. St. John’s did love its sentence diagramming. I was a pro, but I probably couldn’t recreate it now for the life of me.

    On a slightly related topic, one of the best/worst phrases I’ve gotten has been, “Will you put me in your novel?” because usually the answer is that I’m already thinking of a way to relate one or two key personality traits in a fictional setting… and it’s probably not one of the more flattering ones. So all I can say is a cryptic, “We’ll see!” and hope they don’t recognize some part of themselves in the future….

    • Was it Mrs. Addona who taught you diagramming?

      That’s funny – has anyone recognized themselves yet?

      I used to get “will you put me in your novel,” but now, if anyone asks at all, what I get are worried, oblique questions designed to see if I have actually have put a person in my novel.

      • I think it was, but I remember doing diagramming with Sr. Rita Collins, so… I think that had to be well into 8th grade.

        No, thankfully, I think everything is… sufficiently diluted so that I’m the only one who might notice it. Hopefully.

  2. Pingback: In defense of Amanda Palmer. « The Garret

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