Oh, You’re A Writer? What Do You Write?

Shani Silver
5 min readSep 15, 2021

The social stress of being unable to explain what you do in a sentence.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Knots form in my stomach when I meet new people. I don’t have social anxiety, just a complicated career. A career that’s independent, creative, and often inexplicable within the span of time a new acquaintance is willing to devote themselves to hearing about it. Jobs are the “thing” about us, aren’t they? If we all end up in a true crime documentary someday, our professions will be listed right underneath our age and relation to the deceased. What do I do for a living? How much time have you got? Are you free for lunch? Most people can say “lawyer” or “marketing director” by the time they’re finished shaking hands. And while I can certainly say “writer” fast enough, the term leaves too much open for ambiguity, and imparts too much underserved stress upon the nervous system of a woman who loves her career but can’t quickly tell you why.

Most of the time, it’s no more than annoying.

“Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?”

God, here we go. What do I tell you? The truth? Because you won’t really be able to tuck yourself into it without further explanation, which is not part of the social contract we’ve just agreed to. Do I slough off the question entirely, suggesting I write “a bit of everything” and let your imagination have some fun with that over your draft IPA? I never know what to say in these moments, because I can’t say what I do in a concise, graspable way that abides by societal norms and present-day attention spans. So I get anxiety, and they get watery information.

“Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?”

Do you ever wonder what they’re expecting to hear? Dog obituaries, Brenda, what do you think I write? It’s an almost condescending question, like they don’t fully believe me and I have to prove to them that I earn enough money to pay rent. The prevalence of this question coming out of basic mouths tells me that writers on the whole come in too many different varieties, much like Pringles. I’ve never told someone I was a writer and had that be the end of the answer they’re widening their eyes to hear.

I write essays on Medium. That’s one stream of income. Most of the time I try to veer toward humor because it pleases me, but…

Shani Silver

Author, podcaster. shanisilver@gmail