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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Kit needs a secret identity

I'm considering ways to get out introducing myself as a writer. It gets the most disconcerting reactions:

- People speculate about my bank balance and ask me how I'm going to cope financially, which is none of their business.

- People enthuse about how disciplined I must be, which makes me feel guilty, and also makes writing sound much less fun.

- People try to inform me as to the publishing industry, about which they almost always know less than they think.

- People tell me what a difficult life it must be, which is kind of discouraging.

- People tell me I must be amazingly talented, which is kind of embarassing.

- Failing all that, it's a total conversation-killer, because writing provides nothing in the way of office politics, and if you talk about its difficulties, you sound ungrateful, and if you talk about the fun stuff, you sound either feckless or smug.

Hence, I think I need a mild-mannered alter ego. I want to start introducing myself as somebody whose profession is likely to start no conversational hares running at all. Something inconspicuous, like a paralegal, or really abstruse, like a circuit board designer; something that either provokes no interest or sounds bewilderingly difficult to understand.

What would you suggest? What's the secret-identity job least likely to start a conversation? All suggestions gratefully received. The cloak and mask are optional.

You could use the infamous line: "I could tell you what I do for a living, but then I'd have to kill you." Not only does the cliche invoke groans, but it also gives you the excuse to be holding deadly weapons all through the conversation to discourage further probing.

Either that or you could be a grocery clerk. I've never really heard anyone expounding on the grocery clerk industry.
Hi Kit, one friend of mine when she wanted to have a secret-identity job used to say she was a "body-double" but of course could not reveal who she doubled for and for what films because she had to sign confidentiality clauses... but that way you could talk about films rather than writing!
I'm afraid that every profession gets weird comments, though. Ours are just part of the package. I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why anyone would not want to be known as a writer, since that's what everyone aspires to be. Aren't something like 80% of adults writing books, or want to? (And the other 20% want to write screenplays? Or maybe it's the reverse...)

I'm guessing that literary agents are really the ones who need to go under cover. I can see the party chat now. "You're a literary agent? Would you have a look at my novel? Right now?" Talk about a conversation killer.
bran fan, editors also have to go under cover. I was an editor at a newspaper, mind you, and I still had people begging me to do unpaid proofreading or even ghost writing.

But even that is better than a friend of mine who is a doctor and often has people undressing in front of her at parties (she's an obstetric surgeon, so you can imagine the sorts of things people want to have her check out).

The problem with going undercover is that somebody is bound to discover your true identity and assume you have to work as a grocery clerk because you don't make enough money writing and there you are back at square one, only with a lot of condescending talk guaranteed.
I had a similar problem when I worked for the police. People assumed I was actually a police woman and asked me if I'd ever been assaulted/had assaulted anyone and if I had access to people's criminal records etc. Or they just looked guilty and stopped talking to me.

I ended up just saying "I'm in admin," so people just assumed I spent my days photocopying.

Tell people you're an accountant. Then when they ask you about your job you can start waffling about numbers and they'll stop listening.
I wouldn't recommend pretending to be a paralegal, because then people ask you what kind of law and then what kind of lawyers you're working with.
I hate it when I tell people what I do (grad student, biomedical science) and where I do it (famous place) and then they say, "oooh, you must be smart!"

Sometimes I respond, "No, if I were smart I'd have a real job where I make lots of money, work reasonable hours, and don't question my sanity or self-worth every week."
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