Strangers Are Writers

Posted on 30 September 2011

A few days ago, I sat next to a young woman on the bus. She had green-streaked hair and was busy texting. I took out my book (a friend lent me Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand ages ago, and I finally pulled it from my to-read stack) and she almost immediately asked what I was reading.

I’ve been riding the bus to work for four years now. I can’t even imagine how many books I’ve been through in that time, and I’ve read parts of almost all of them on the bus. In all that time, this girl was only the second person to ask me what I was reading. (The first was a very nice man who said he noticed my reading habit and wanted to get into a discussion about Anais Nin, which would have been all fine and good, but maybe not at 6:30am when I had been awake for all of 10 minutes.)

Anyway, I gave her a very brief plot synopses. She nodded earnestly and then asked: “But is it well written?”

Something about the way she asked, and the way she looked at me, tipped me off that she, too, might be a writer. So I asked her. She immediately became a bit flustered and admitted that yes, she did write. She didn’t seem too keen on discussing writing any further, which I understand, as I’ve practically made it my mission to not talk about my writing with perfect strangers. I didn’t press the issue. I also didn’t tell her that I write.

I’m notoriously bad at guessing people’s ages, but I suppose she could have been a college student. I wonder if writing is like a hobby for her, or if she’s rather serious about it. If she has aspirations and dreams. I’m wondering if one day she will somehow find this blog post and recognize herself. If so, I wonder if she’ll find it strange that I wrote about her or if she will completely, entirely understand.

Do you talk to strangers?

Photo: Dani Hydes


15 responses to Strangers Are Writers

  • margosita says:

    I hate talking to strangers about writing. Even very well meaning, not-really-strangers (like family friends, co-workers, freinds-of-friends). Although one huge benefit of finishing my MFA program is that I do reference myself as a writer without complete embarrassment, I still haven’t managed to master the conversation. The “what do you write?” conversation. The “where can I read your writing?” conversation. Basically any conversation that comes after “yes, I write”.

    I don’t have green in my hair, but yes, I’m that girl on the bus.

  • Paul Lamb says:

    I almost never talk to anyone about my writing (except for this online stuff, and I’m not altogether sure the rest of you aren’t just sophisticated software talking back to me). Too much advice, as Margosita says.

    That Pettigrew book sounds a little like The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

  • Averil Dean says:

    I respond to strangers, but never about writing. Which was why I was so mortified to find myself outed by my husband . . . at work . . . who told everyone that I write erotica.

    I’m still trying to recover.

    • Just having your husband blab to everyone that you’re a writer could be bad enough; the erotica part will probably drive people nuts with curiosity. But keep in mind he likely only said something because he was proud of you. I have a writing friend whose husband has occasionally bragged about her writing to his colleagues, and now she has to field questions from them about how it’s going, when she’ll be published, etc. And of course they don’t understand that it can be perfectly normal to work on a book for five years.

  • It’s funny; even though I understand that writers often dread discussing their writing with strangers, I was so quick to ask her if she writes. I must have thought she could potentially be a kindred spirit and thought it would be okay. But at least I backed off right away and didn’t press the issue. The people I’m much more wary of are those who jump at the chance to talk a stranger’s ear off about the plot of the novel they haven’t written yet but which will surely be a bestseller once they find the time to write it.

  • lisahgolden says:

    I do talk to strangers, but I try to steer clear of the subject of writing. It’s too awkward.

    I hope you enjoy the book. I read it last year.

    • Teri says:

      I’m with Lisa. I talk to everyone (well, almost) but never about writing. Though I did have a strange encounter last week — more on that later. But yes, I talk. It used to embarrass my kids: “You don’t have to talk to everybody!!” they’d say. Now, they’re the talkers. Funny how that works. ;-)

  • lisahgolden says:

    That last sentence sounded weird. I loved the book, but I don’t want to pressure you.

  • Downith says:

    Sometimes when we’re out walking as a family, we pass other walkers. My husband and I will say Good morning or hello or lovely day. Invariably one of the kids will say “Who was that?” and then we get into a convoluted discussion about talking to strangers and not talking to strangers . . .

    but never about writing!

  • When I see a stranger with a book, I almost always ask about what they’re reading. For some reason, I’m also OK with talking about being a writer. Although I’d probably be better with it if I could say I’ve written the Great American Novel.

    But DON’T ask me what my book’s about. I hate thinking about that in my own head, let alone talk about it with a stranger.

  • Lyra says:

    I love talking about reading, writing all of it. But I’m with Sherry, don’t ask me what the book’s about. That’s where the line is drawn.

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