So, tonight I’m at this cocktail party, and I make the mistake of telling someone in the room that I’m a writer. A word of advice, free of charge, from me to you — never do this. Never. Do. This. If you are a writer in a room of non-writers and someone inquires as to what you do with your time, I urge you, I implore you: lie. Tell them you’re a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker; tell them you make small hats of out expensive cheese; tell them you yodel on the professional circuit.
I’ve heard so many terrible pitches for novels over the years, you guys. I have never asked for them; they just happen to me. “I heard you’re a writer,” someone will say, or, sometimes, “Hey, are you writing something right now?” and then, unbidden, the bad ideas will come forth. Perfect strangers! With no prompting! Sharing their thoughts with me whether I want them or not. There are reoccurring themes, of course — “You should write about my life, I’m the most interesting person I know,” is a perennial favorite — and obviously, some are worse than others. I once spent a good half an hour listening to a strange man in a Starbucks explain to me the entire plot of a novel he was writing, trying to figure out how to tell him tactfully that he was, for all intents and purposes, describing Moby Dick.
(“But it’s about a blue whale,” the guy said, bewildered, when I did eventually try to tell him. “Blue whales and white whales are totally different whales!” In fairness to him, that part was not actually wrong.)