Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whither Wordsmithing? ...

This question has been running through my head: What do I do?

Everyone always asks. You know the exchange:

"Hi, I'm Beth."

"Hi, Beth. Nice to meet you. What do you do?"

What do I do?

Professionally? What do I get paid to do? I get paid to edit. Well, I also get paid to write. But I get paid more to edit than I get paid to write.

Does that make me an editor or a writer? Both? Most people don't tick off two titles.

"Hi, Beth. Nice to meet you. What do you do?"

"I'm a writer and editor"? "I'm an editor and writer"?

Which gets top billing? The thing that pays me more or thing thing I love to do?

I think it's a weird question. Why do we ask? To discover whether we have something in common with someone? To size up whether we find them interesting?

It's not just small talk. If we were looking for small talk, we could talk about the weather.

I much prefer to tell people I'm a writer. But the answer to the follow-on question – "What do you write?" – suddenly makes me feel like a fraud. I write this blog, sure. I write another blog for money. I have a screenplay in process that's been in process for years. I've tried writing a novel, but I don't think I have a novelist's voice. Is a writer a writer even if they're not writing? Is writing a part of your soul or an active pursuit?

I edit everything I see, whether or not people want it. I edit signs. I edit menus. I edit words that flash across my TV. I find mistakes in manuscripts and books. I edit editors.

My friend Jeannie once told me to tell people that I'm a singer. I do sing. Telling people I'm a singer would not be a lie. But people expect "I'm a singer" to mean "I get paid to sing" or "I have an album" or "I perform for audiences."

I could also tell people that I'm a baker. People occasionally pay me to bake.

I am all these things: writer, editor, singer, baker.

So what do you do? Who are you?


Blogger elizabeth said...

people seem to like things very simple - wrap up who we are into nice little understandable packages. somehow the work we do is supposed to define us. I wonder if anyone is really happy with the label they end up handing out. honestly, I know my work doesn't define me. I'm an engineer, fiber by degree, but I work with diesel engines where I'm at now. no one really understands what fiber engineering is so I usually just default to mechanical engineer, people seem to understand that. but it doesn't begin to explain who I am and ends up feeling like a lie.
(wasn't this a discussion on a recent episode of House? and that final episode - could you just..? OMG. love that show)

12:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Good point, Elizabeth. People do like to understand things in as simple of terms as possible.

Very few people have a cool answer. My brother has one of the few I can think of: toy designer.

And House! OMG, that two-part season finale is the stuff Emmys are made of. I want to eat Hugh Laurie with a spoon.

12:03 PM  
Blogger jeff said...

Hey Beth,
I envy you for being a multi-talented woman with so many possibilities of "what you do." I've always been unable to come up with anything I could remotely do besides what I do do (writing). Bake. Sing. Write. Edit.And if someone asks, tell them, "What do I do? I certainly do."

2:13 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

It is an odd question. And it's odd that we ask kids "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I think it might be more important to ask kids "Who do you want to be when you grow up?" and adults "Who are you?" I think "who" says more about people than "what."

At any rate, what do I do? Who I am? Well, I am a writer, although I don't do that for a living. )-:

4:56 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

I work in telecommunications but writing has become my passion.

7:22 PM  

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