James Dickey used to claim
that he told strangers who happened to be seat-mates on airplanes that he was hosiery salesman.
He used to tell them that he was a writer, but they often responded:
"Oh yeah? I'm a businessman myself, but I'm also a writer. I write orders."
My experience on airplanes has been that people next to you who strike up a conversation are usually so bored that you can tell them anything: I'm a convicted sex offender, drug dealer, lobbyist for the Tobacco Consortium, etc., and they'll listen further.
When my wife tells them ( truly) that she is flying to Ireland to do research on holy wells, the conversation often ends.
If I tell them I'm writing a science-fiction novel about time travel and the War in Vietnam ( which I am, a bit peripherally), that usually has the same effect.
Tell them you're a poet and they'll get up and go to the restroom.