Writer vs. Designer

I was at a party, a friend’s wedding, and a friend’s husband who I haven’t seen for a while and I were chatting, and of course the question was asked: how was work going? Because work is always going, in some form or another; either well or poorly or as a search-for. A lot of people, judging from articles on the internet, hate “how’s work going” as a conversation starter, and I tend to avoid it myself, but only because I am terrible at small talk and the phrase “what’s keeping you interested these days” accomplishes the same aim but is far more open-ended and allows people to talk about what is actually interesting to them, in a way that work is not.

But it was me that was on the receiving end of “how’s work going these days” and it caused a mild stampede in my brain. Is he asking how the writing is going or the graphic design? Does he know that I am trying to write full-time?  I haven’t sold anything but I do make the odd bits of money designing–which one counts? Time ticked down and I panicked and talked about design work, because I didn’t want to open that can of worms at the party. I felt badly, afterward, as if I had lied through my teeth.

That would make the decision “what do I call myself these days” easier, but it isn’t. There is an unspoken rule, I have found, that defines the answers of “how is work going”: it only counts activities that make money. You’ll notice this yourself with people who skirt around the question. The hedging. The sidling, if the person in question is not full-time employed. I do it myself, because my writing doesn’t pay any bills yet, and for that fact I have (wince) once described myself as an intern. Because I work. I work very hard. But nothing monetary has come of it, yet, which makes me feel like apologizing whenever I describe it as my job. As though I am faking.

Once or twice I over the past year I tried introducing myself as an author/writer/novelist but each time I had to skitter backwards in defense because the questioner would follow-up with something along the lines of “Where can I buy your books?”. Then I have to sheepishly explain: nowhere.

I can’t stand the crestfallen expression on their faces.


So I decided I won’t introduce myself as a novelist until I have something sold. Perhaps that’s unfairly capitalist of me, but it’s the line that I’ve unconsciously drawn for myself. In the meantime, I suppose, I’ll keep calling myself a graphic designer, with a heavy sigh and an asterisk of disclaimer. As a designer, at least, I can just say I am “between projects” which is easier to understand at parties. But when the odd soul does ask “what’s keeping you busy/interested these days” I’ll give them the longer version.

Both sides are true. One is just more truer than the other.

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