You know what the worst part of being a stay-at-home writer is? People assuming that you have no job at all.

Picture this: my husband and I are at a family gathering. One of his cousins approaches. "So when are you going to write something new?" he demands.

I explain that I am hard at work on my second book (which is true, by the way), and that it's going to be published in the spring of 2003 (also true. May, we think).

"Yeah," says the unsatisfied cousin, "but when are you going to write something I can read???"

I take a deep calming breath and explain that because I'm on leave from my day job as a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, it might be a while before I write something he can read.

"On leave?" he repeats. "You know, when you're on leave from a job, you're on leave from a paycheck!"

Right. Thanks. Because I never would have figured that out on my own.

"Okay, you got me," I say. "I'm actually lying on the couch all day, eating bon bons, polishing my ring and watching "The Price is Right."" (Not true. I have actually not succumbed to the lure of daytime programming, although Bob Barker is mightily tempting).

And the weird thing is, he isn't the only one to assume that even though I say I'm writing, I'm actually just playing some extended version of hooky, sitting on my laurels, getting pedicures and taking in matinees.

Take my Nanna. I told her the "if you're on leave from a job, you're on leave from a paycheck" story, hoping, for some unknown reason, that she'd rise to my defense and say, "Well, of course you're working!" Instead, she sighed and said, "Well, you know, a year is a long time to be on leave from a job." Argh!

I think the trouble is that, for most people, writing really doesn't look like work. You sit there. You think about things. You consult other books. You type. It's all very internal, and very quiet, and sometimes it involves spending an hour or two reading other people's stuff, and occasionally it involves a walk, or a nap, and from the outside, to the untrained eye, it looks a lot like you're just hanging out, or daydreaming, or...taking a nap. But it is work, and it's lonely sometimes, which is hard to remedy. When you take your laptop to the neighborhood coffee shop you can't help but feeling like a wretched poseur because the very act of taking a laptop to a coffee shop is completely redolent of conspicuous artiness and flat-out fakery. Real writers don't write in coffee shops. Would-be poets and frustrated undergrads write in coffee shops (exclusively about themselves, I think). Real writers write at home. Sans latte.

So needless to say I am quite desperate to finish up the draft of this book and stick some chapters on the web just so everyone can see what I've been doing, or will at least be convinced that I've been doing something.

Jen