“You just don’t look like a writer.”
July 2, 2010
I stopped by the local bookstore over the weekend to speak with a friend and ask a favor—Would it be possible to schedule a book signing sometime in the next few months? We chatted a bit about the particulars and then he excused himself to fetch the store manager, leaving me alone at the front with a young lady working one of the cash registers.
“So you wrote a book?” she asked me.
“I did,” I said.
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about a man whose job is cut right at Christmastime.”
She turned up her nose. “That doesn’t sound very uplifting.”
“Oh, it is,” I told her. “He might lose what means much, but he finds what means more.”
“So, it’s like a real book.”
“Sure is, pages and everything.”
The cashier muttered a “Huh” and left our conversation at that, turning to adjust her bookstore smock and straighten the stickpin near her collar. Life Is Short, Read Much! it said. My friend still wasn’t back with the manager, so I passed the next few minutes perusing the new releases on the table beside me.
“You just don’t look like a writer,” girl offered, eyeing me from my boots to my hat.
“I don’t?” I asked her.
“No, not really.”
“What’s a writer look like?”
“Well,” she said, “like…not you.”
“Ah,” I answered, nodding as if her definition had cleared that up just fine.
“We had a writer in here last month,” she said. “You could tell. She has glasses and short hair and was dressed all in black. And she used big words. Really big words. I couldn’t understand much of what she said.”
“My hair’s short and I my hat’s black,” I tried. But that wasn’t enough.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “You look just fine. For a regular guy, anyway. But even if you dressed like a writer, you wouldn’t act like one.”
“How’s a writer supposed to act?”
“I want to be a writer one day,” she said. “But I don’t think I can ever act like one. I’m not that smart.”
I was about to say something, but just then my friend returned with the manager in tow. We worked out a tentative date and time, and he even offered free coffee for the occasion. Who says writing doesn’t have its own perks?
The cashier was gone when we were finished, her shift over for the day. That was a shame. I wouldn’t have minded spending a few more minutes with her, if only to explain why what she said was simply not so.
Because she was wrong, you know. Wrong about most everything she had said. I consider myself a guy who writes rather than a writer who’s a guy, for one. Big difference there. It means that if the bottom ever falls out or the well ever runs dry, I’ll still be me.
But more than that, she was wrong about how a writer is supposed to dress or act or talk. Very wrong.
There’s a grave misperception that writing must incorporate some sort of rules of eligibility.
You must have a college degree, some say. Or you have to be smart. You have to display a melancholic disposition or be a tortured soul. You have to be this old or this young.
Not so, I say.
True: not everyone can be a writer.
Also true: a writer can be anyone.
And that’s something important to keep in mind the next time someone says you can’t.
In the Heart of the Dark Wood
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