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Why has no one thought to write about Africa before?

There’s a certain romance to being a writer that’s set apart from all other professions, including the myriad of various artistic ventures one can pursue. There are many stereotypes of writers, from the intellectual brooding in the corner with a cigarette, typewriter and cup of coffee to the idealist sitting in the attic loft in front of a huge bay window with sunlight pouring in over a leather-bound journal and pen.

Despite that these are clearly a bit behind the times, the image perseveres. Inherently, it seems that one thinks of authors as lonely types, lost completely in their own worlds. Okay, well, this must be true on occasion, otherwise no one would get anything done, and yes, there are those writers that are recluses just as there are in any other profession, but surely there are some that interact with the rest of the world! Ideas have to come from somewhere and it’s on those excursions to the outdoors, to social functions and trips to the grocery store where writers come against the questions and scrutinizing eye of the rest of the population.

And then come the questions.

“Really? You’re a writer? What have you written—anything I would have heard of?”

“Can I read some of what you’re working on sometime?”

“Once I wrote an article for the school paper, you know. Everyone was talking about it.”

“Can you read something of mine?”

“It can’t be that hard, can it?”

And my new favorite, due entirely to this post on The Hairpin yesterday, “Oh I have a great idea for a book—want to hear it?”

The real-life conversations the author of this post has endured are listed therein and are worth a look. What has been the most harrowing or frustrating question or response posed to you after someone learns you fashion yourself a writer? Have you been privy to any “amazing” book ideas yourself?

9 Responses to Why has no one thought to write about Africa before?

  1. I do get the “I’m a writer too” thing a lot, usually in the “I’ve always thought of writing a book” version. I find I don’t mind this at all anymore. It makes me feel proud that I’m finally, FINALLY not the person who’s just thinking of writing a book someday. Publication is another story, but taking the step to write them at least, that feels so good.

  2. I walk into the office and sit behind my desk with a cup of coffee the size of my head. Slowly, the caffeine helps ease my eyes open. Then, some co-worker comes in and starts ranting about some stupid thing I’m not awake enough yet to understand.

    Co-Worker: Are you okay? You look awful.

    Me: I was up until 1 a.m. writing.

    CW: Writing what?

    Me: A novel.

    CW: Oh, you’re a writer?

    Me: Yeah

    CW: I thought about doing that once, but I couldn’t find a typist.

  3. I get it once in a while, but usually not from random strangers, just friends who are also creative types or people at conventions and similar events. So far it’s mostly been people who actually are working on their stories instead of just thinking about them, to my relief. We’ll see how that changes in the future.

  4. Lisa Marie says:

    I think that Paul Bowles covered Northern Africa like no one possibly ever will again — it’s beautiful, dangerous, desolate country. I suppose that I could write about what it’s like to ride a camel across the Sahara at sunset while the evening call to prayer filters up to me from the valleys below, but I doubt that would resonate with the rest of the population. I want to make a connection with readers and write about the things they care about and issues they relate to. Those seemingly small but important things.

    I really don’t enjoy telling people that I’m a writer, because they automatically assume that I make my money writing fiction. I don’t. I’m a freelance feature writer/journalist; however, I’ll also do anything that generates income. I’ve “stooped” to copywriting before, which is about as exciting as data entry. So I must qualify my response by saying, “I am a *paid* writer.” Alternately, sometimes I tell them I’m a contracted writer.

  5. Jenni Wiltz says:

    I did write about Africa! I wrote a short story based on a trip to Kenya I took while working with a USAID-sponsored program. My creative writing professor told me it was beautiful and to aim high when sending it out. He said it read exactly like Paul Bowles. (I had no idea who he was, a mistake I have since corrected.) Fingers crossed that it appears in a literary journal in the near future!

  6. Donn says:

    I think it’s kind of flattering. A pain in the arse sure, but beats telling people you’re a plumber, or a receptionist, or an accountant.

    I once worked with a girl who insisted on answering “And what do you do?” with “I’m an opera singer”. Sure, she worked 9-5 in the same office as I did, but given the option between admitting that or repeating the same clichéd questions that singers get…well she knew which direction she preferred to take conversation.

  7. Teri Carter says:

    1. Hey, maybe you could write my story! I’ve had a crazy interesting life. No. Really. I have!

    2. Maybe you’ll be the next Danielle Steele! (John Grisham, JK Rowling, etc…)

    3. I’ve always wanted to write a book, I just can’t find the time.

    4. That’s so funny! I wrote the first 10 pages to my mother’s life story this weekend! Maybe you could read it and tell me what you think.

    5. (3 voice mails left in one day, by an old friend who does not read, ever) Call me back! I have a great idea for a story you MUST WRITE. (she calls a 4th time and I answer) Why haven’t you called me back?! I was thinking about BEDS, and how so much of our life happens in a BED, birth-death-sex-illness-marriage-loneliness. You should write this!

    6. They used to call my mom Martini Marge. You should write her life story.

    7. (a friend heard I’d published a short story, asked that I send it to her, then replied) This isn’t short! It’s 20 pages long!

  8. My fav is when people ask if I’m published yet. And then tell me how easy it is to get published, citing the Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling examples. I smile and say but those are the Marilyn Monroe and Oprah success stories.

    I’ve also encountered the I’m going to write a book as soon as I have time people.

  9. Kenya says:

    Well I was born in Kenya, Africa and I started writing about it since I know of its past, present and prospective future since I just returned with my Mom and saw the progess we are making thus far. I have also visited and plan on incorporating Tanzania, South Africa and I am particularly interested in North Africa especially Morocco and Egypt. However given the recent events it has taken a backseat since traveling for research might be an issue. In addition I got distracted and in the interim of distraction I completed another book instead and I am almost done with another one in conjunction. So perhaps in the near future and if the universe is kind, the request to write about Africa with a raw and in depth perspective and experience will be granted. 😀

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