To Tell or Not to Tell

When I first joined RWA, I read time and again: when people ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. Own it and be proud of yourself. I do and I am. It’s a lot easier when I can follow up with “and my first book will be on the shelves in August 2013,” but I’ve become very comfortable talking with others about my writing. Readers and non-readers.

But I recently ran into a situation that made me think twice.

From the time I started writing, I’ve had to work up the courage to tell people I was an author. I still vividly remember the nervous churning in my stomach when I told my husband I wanted to write my first book. I’m a lucky woman. He was supportive of me as so many people have been along the way. Being outed as a romance writer at a church women’s retreat broke me of a lot of worry, since having 40 people take turns asking, “What do you write?” creates a bit of a thick skin.

But I’ve now found myself actively deciding to keep my authordom a secret. Only in one place – my new day job. I work in an office with six women, but only 2 of them know I write. Why keep it a secret? An upper management boss who only proves more and more how much of a problem this would be with her. She’s extremely conservative and holds to an old-school level of professionalism. She finds something to criticize, no matter how small. That shirt’s a little too low in the front. Those shoes aren’t professional enough. That subject is too personal for the office. While I wouldn’t lie if asked directly, I’m not going out of my way to “share”.

As more time passes, I realize how much of my true self I’m hiding each day. I’m living a double life and not very happy about it. So much of myself is tied up in my writing. I find it very hard not to share my writing triumphs with my fellow workers. To not mention when my characters are giving me a hard time while everyone talks about their rough days. I even have to keep mum about my plans for the weekends, since “writing, writing, and more writing” might raise some eyebrows. But I draw the line at hiding my writing on my lunch break. I usually have a notebook or laptop and what I’m doing on my time is no one’s business – and no one has asked directly yet. Much to my surprise. That particular boss has caught me in the break room and asked questions about my laptop, but draws short of questioning what I’m actually working on.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll say when she asks. Not because I’m ashamed of my writing, or what I write, but because I don’t want to be hassled over something that’s none of her business.

So my question for all of you is: When do you tell? When do you not? Are there certain situations you avoid, or have you become comfortable enough to share indiscriminently?


I’ll check in on my lunch break and after work! Another thing I’m not allowed at this job is personal use of the internet, which I understand a lot more but is very hard when I’d like to be playing with all of you!!!  🙂


29 responses to “To Tell or Not to Tell”

  1. Dani, how fabulous that you can now say,”I’m a writer and my debut comes out in August” to anyone who asks, including that manager. You never know, she could turn out to be a reader and your biggest fan!

    Up until about 10 years ago, writing was a very private thing I did for my own enjoyment. I didn’t tell anyone for fear of ridicule. Gradually I started telling a few people what I do in my spare time, and I was surprised by how supportive and interested they were. A couple of colleagues have even told me they secretly love writing and they’re happy to find a kindred spirit. If I come across anyone who has a problem with me being a writer, then that’s *their* problem, not mine! 🙂

    • Dani Wade says:

      Thanks, Vanessa! I’ve been surprised by how supportive my extended family has been, so much so that I’m talking with a few other writers about a local book signing after my Harlequin releases. Terrifying!

  2. Tracy Brogan says:

    Funny you should mention this!! I can relate. I have a guest post over today that explains what *I* say when people ask about what I write. The most important thing to me is that I’m not writing about sex, I’m writing about love. No one should have a problem with that 🙂

  3. Vivi Andrews says:

    I was very selective about who I told I was writing until my first book was out and I was quitting my day job to write full time. When it was my only job rather than my closely held hobby, I had to get comfortable talking about it in a hurry because it was going to come up a LOT. It seems naturally to share now, but every now and then I miss having a less curiosity-inspiring profession (I’m not a fan of being the center of attention).

  4. Living in the South, I relate very much to this. My husband and I recently decided I would not publish under my own name, not because I’m not proud of what I do, but because we didn’t want people giving my kids a hard time about it. Living in a very conservative community, I knew I could take the heat if someone discovered my pen name, went to my website, and read that I’d written a menage, but having them hassle my kids about their “sinner” mom? Um, no.

    Sometimes, as much as you are proud of what you have accomplished, being wise is better than being defiant. I too would not lie outright, and some of the people around me know I write romance (though not that it has explicit sex in it, and they do not know my pen name), but I also believe in not making trouble for oneself. Authors can and have been fired from jobs when supervisors found out what exactly they wrote (I’m thinking now of an author I edited who wrote m/m and faced this exact situation). As frustrating as it is, I take it situation by situation and don’t make brash statements if the backlash (should there be one) isn’t something I or my family can handle.

    • Dani Wade says:

      This is pretty much how I take it, Ella! Situation by situation. It’s working for now, because my world is pretty small. 🙂 One day that may change, but for now…

  5. My pen name and my legal name are the same. So everyone knows: family, friends, co-workers, faith community. In 2000, I moved from a full-time to a part-time job within the same company, and they all knew why.

    The hardest part was the “Are you published yet?” questions. I wrote for 12 years before I sold. I got really good at saying “I’m a slow-learner” or “publishing is an unpredictable blood sport.”

    I write YA, and there is no explicit sex in them. If a story ever takes me down a more sensual path, I’m not sure what I’ll do 🙂 Might have to tell my mother that the author of THAT BOOK is a different Elizabeth Langston 🙂

  6. Like Elizabeth, my pen name and real name are the same – but I write with my middle name, which few people know about, so it would be harder to find me unless they specifically ask who I write as.

    For years, when I first started writing, only my close family knew about it. At the time, I didn’t believe it would lead anywhere, and writing was just for my own sanity anyway. It wasn’t until recently, after I’d had a couple books released, that I started slowly telling friends and acquaintances about it. Mainly, it was because they were also my kids’ classmates’ parents, and I was worried what they’d think of me, that it would impact my kids, etc. But my kids were starting to ask more and more and so I told them I write stories about love and danger, and overcoming that danger (I write RS). I have had nothing but support from the parents I’ve told, though I still don’t broadcast it. My daughter’s teacher even asked if I would come and speak to the class on organizing fiction writing – it was a blast to brainstorm a story with the kids!

    Oh, and funny story this week – my husband and I share a dropbox account…and our computers show in the corner when we update a file. Apparently, he was using his computer to teach his college-level class while I was home, updating my writing file and names like “Vicious Circle” and “Deadly Bonds” were flashing on the screen to his class. He explained that his wife writes RS, so don’t worry, and they laughed. Got a great response. 🙂

    • Dani Wade says:

      That’s too funny! I bet his students thought so too!

      I’d always planned to keep my writing a secret at the kids’ schools, but by the time I sold my first book, my daughter was old enough I could let her have some say in the decision. Last year was the first year she attended our local readers’ luncheon too. That was cool!

  7. Jenn! says:

    I’ve always been a take or leave kind of girl. If you can’t handle who I am, then I haven’t the time or inclination to pander to you. Period. That’s been my attitude long before I became a writer.

    I write under my real name, too. My children’s teachers, friends, parents, they all know what I do. Most like to give me a good tongue-in-cheek ribbing, which we all enjoy. I do live in the South, grew up as a native Texan, with many conservative folks, just like Ella, but I’ve only run into a couple of people who look down their nose at me. Everyone else thinks being not just an author, but a romance author, is pretty cool.

    Hang tough, Dani.


    • Dani Wade says:

      I can totally see that about you, Jenn! Unfortunately, I’m of the more timid variety. It’s taken almost 40 years to shed debilitating shyness and self-consciousness, especially if the risk is being made miserable on a daily basis over something that has absolutely nothing to do with my job or my ability to work. Maybe in another 40 I won’t care anymore. 🙂

      I don’t have this same problem away from work. At that point, if people don’t like what I do, they’re free to avoid me.

  8. I’ve come to the point where I wait for people to ask, “What do you do for a living?” Recently I’ve begun answering with, “I’m a novelist,” mostly because being an author can mean anything from writing fiction to how-to books.

    Most of the time people are interested and frequently impressed. When the inevitable question, “What kind of books do you write?” comes along, I tell them ROMANTIC WOMEN’S FICTION. I say this because my books are fiction for women and are predominantly Romances. However many of the subplots in my novels also fall under the umbrella of Women’s Fiction.

    Of course, a few select people raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh, you mean like Fifty Shades of Grey?” My answer is, no. My hero and heroines make love.”

  9. Marion says:

    Hi Dani,
    I think that if I were you, considering the boss you have at your day job, the question I’d be asking myself is “how badly do I need the steady income from this day job?” because if you have the slightest inkling she will find a reason to fire you, I’d keep it quiet.

    Those who know you and love your work will not think any less of you for wanting to keep the mortgage paid on a regular basis.

  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is definitely a ticklish question in my life. I’m a teacher, and though I live in a pretty progressive place, I still feel nervous about having people knowing their kids’ teacher is also a romance novelist.

    The teens are so tech savvy, though, a couple have discovered my romance pen name (not sure how…I think it was a Friends of Friends on Facebook thing). I’ve managed to keep a lid on it, but….

    • Dani Wade says:

      Elisa, Teens are tricky, especially with my books! 🙂 My daughter wants to brag about me to all her middle school friends, but the books are far from age appropriate. I keep separate FB and email accounts, but there is some bleedover. My biggest thing is asking friends who want to be on my FB page to NOT comment about where I live. Most of them just subscribe.

  11. Shea Berkley says:

    I can honestly say, I don’t broadcast what I do, not because I’m not proud of it, but because there is so much people won’t understand, and I don’t want to bore them. Writing is a lonely activity and not particularly exciting, so I never feel the need to talk about it with non-writers. But if I’m asked outright what I do, I’ll tell them, and then quickly move the subject along.

    • Dani Wade says:

      Totally, Shea! Sometimes I forget that other people could care less about the rush of creativity, the angst of revisions, or the pride in completing a writing goal. I find it fascinating and could talk about it all day (much to the detriment of my poor husband’s ears).

  12. Dani Wade says:

    yeah, I’m not usually a hush hush kind of girl. My books are sexually explicit though and that’s my biggest worry in this instance. Parents at my kids’ schools know and I’ve told my teenage daughter to share however she feels comfortable. But to keep my pen name quiet until her friends are a little older. 🙂

    I totally wish I could quit my day job but we SO can’t afford to be without my income. Maybe 1 day that will change. Until then, I keep quiet because I don’t want to be hassled all day by someone with different ideas about proper behavior than mine. I behave professionally at work. What I do at other times is no ones business unless I choose to share (at least until I become a household name). 🙂

    Thanks for commenting! Great discussion.

  13. Rita Henuber says:

    At first I blurted it out. “I write romance.” The incredibly rude and snarky responses took me aback. You know the ones that accompanied a turned up nose and said “I don’t read THOSE kind of books.” Then I developed a few standard answers like, “I can tell.” And “Really? Why not?” Actually now when people ask I tell them that I write suspense/thriller with a strong heroine and a man who loves and supports her. The books have language, violence, and sex/love. I find it stunning that they have no objection to language and violence but freak out about the sex/love. Frankly I don’t worry about the ones who have a problem with it. In fact I felt sorry for them. I focus on all the people who enjoy it.

    • Dani Wade says:

      I find that odd, too, Rita! We run into that a lot around here — language and violence are fine, but heaven forbid a book should have sex in it! What’s up with that?

      And you can definitely tell when someone finds romance beneath them. I’ll have to remember that line!

  14. Gwyn says:

    I have to say, I wish I’d never said anything to anybody. It’s rather like being pregnant and overdue; everybody wants to know if the event has happened, and if not, why not? Annoying, at best.

    In your case, I think you’ve chosen the right road. Don’t buy trouble; it’s free and knows your address. That said, don’t go to great lengths to hide your alter-ego. It is part of the whole you, and while you don’t need to wear a placard, neither do you need to apologize for who you are. When the time comes, stand tall. Your accomplishment is your own. No piece of paper, be it BA or MBA, from any school can guarantee anyone will achieve what you’ve achieved.


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