So what do you do?

It’s a common ice breaker question but one that I have always found hard to answer. You would think it would be simple.

For one thing, I still struggle with wanting to answer “I’m a stay at home mom,” because a huge part of me still identifies with that, despite the fact that I make a decent income doing something that has nothing to do with being a mother.

For another, most people just assume I’m in education, because there is some unwritten law that a man in education would be forced to marry another educator. So they will say things like, “What do you teach?” rather than ask me what I do for a living. It is a strange phenomenon that has me biting my tongue on a regular basis so I don’t reply, “Erotic Dancing, obviously.”

I actually do so many things, and I don’t work for any one company, so for a long time I tried to answer the question by explaining everything I do. For example:

Person: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I interview doctors and write websites and I do research and I write radio and television sometimes, oh and I write for some magazines and I really prefer blog writing so I do a lot of that, but I used to work at an advertising agency, so I did media buys and we produced, and of course helped launch events and did brand imaging. Oh, but then I had 3 kids and I stayed at home for 9 years. Well, I’m still at home. I work from home. I work in marketing. I don’t do sales. Um. How about a joke?”

By that time the person has correctly deduced that I’m a tiny bit verbose.

I finally figured out that it’s easiest to answer very simply: “I’m a writer.” But even this seems to stump people. What do you write? they ask. Well, I write words. All kinds of words. Words for video scripts, words for websites, words for articles you read online or in a newspaper or magazine. “Well, sure, but everyone writes. How is that a job?” Well, I put the words together in a way that seems more pleasing to the average reader, at least that’s what all my clients say. “Oh! You’re a consultant?” nooooooo

Inevitably, when I tell someone I’m a writer they immediately hold up something very graphic and say, ” so you design things like this?” Nope. I wish. “You’re in marketing–so you sell things?” Nada. “You make websites? Can you make me one?” Wouldn’t have the first clue. “You want to be a novelist?” Not really. And even if I did, that’s not what I do for a living.

Today I went to check the mail and I was unreasonably excited to see an unexpected package. Inside was a very thoughtful gift from my friend and colleague Jason. He had made up business cards for all of us who partner with RootedELM, but he had also included personal business cards for me. On the back they have little catch phrases, such as “less is more,” and “writing is an artform.” On the front they simply say, “Christina Noll: Creative Writer and Editor.”


And that got me thinking: after 16+ years of working in this business, a few of them full time for other businesses, a few of them part time, many of them only half-ass because I was focused more full time on the kids, and now these last two+ years  of earning a very decent living for myself freelancing—I am finally doing what I always wanted to do, which is JUST the writing part.

I get up in the morning and I learn everything I can about a designated subject. Sometimes the subject is flowers, sometimes it’s neurosurgery, sometimes it’s a historic riverboat, sometimes it’s a little girl in Indiana who spent her 16th birthday in the oncology ward of a hospital fighting off an infection as a side effect to the chemo. After I learn everything I can about the subject, I turn it around and around in my brain and then it comes pouring back out through my fingertips, hopefully in a way that is more engaging and more understandable to the reader. Then I give my words to the person who requested them, and they pay me.

Usually all of this takes place in the span of only a few hours, so then I knock off and head to the pool (if it’s warm) or I break out a book and kick back on the couch. Uh, I mean I clean my house–yeah, that’s what I meant to say there.

John put it best the other day, when another well-meaning acquaintance seemed overly confused by my state of employment. Later he said to me, and I’m paraphrasing, because it makes people paranoid when you record them: “Every time you google something, every time you open up a magazine, every time you see a billboard on your drive home, someone put those words together on purpose. I don’t think people understand that.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter if no one ever understands. In the meantime, there are many perks to being “a writer,” aside from working in my pajamas.  I get to learn a little something about almost every topic in the universe, and I get to work with genius designers, strategists, marketers, publishers, web developers, executives, surgeons, business owners and many more. On a really good day I get to work with an inspiring young man from Florida who lost his leg and his football scholarship, but still has plenty of upbeat attitude to go around.

So I apologize for all the times in the past when I may have rambled on and on about what I do, without actually making it clear what I do exactly. You would think, as a writer, I would have thought of this sooner: it just makes more sense if I write it down.

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One response to “So what do you do?

  1. Nicole Maxwell

    “What do you teach?” – I get that question all the time too!!