I can hardly believe that we’re at the end of our eight week series. So much has happened! Two months ago, Lies I Told was on deck, and we were still battling sub-zero temperatures here in New York. Now Lies I Told is out to glowing reviews and Spring seems to have sprung at last.
And hopefully, you guys have eight more weeks ofinsight into writing and publishing.
Last week we talked about how to juggle your social life, school, and other activities with writing. You can find links to previous weeks in that post.
The subject of this week’s post — Rowing Your Own Boat — could easily be written for writers of any age. That’s because writers of all ages sometimes have trouble getting support from the people closest to them — especially before they’re published. I think it’s because A) it’s such a solitary pursuit (how can they be sure we’re really writing as opposed to, say, painting our toenails? Or writing love letters to Channing Tatum?), and B) it’s has the kind of stars-in-your-eyes connotation of wanting to be a movie star or a ballerina. Is it possible? Yes. But the truth is, most of us won’t be a movie star or a ballerina.
So when we tell people we’re writers or say we’re “working on my next book”, it can seem a little… quaint, especially to those not initiated in the passion-filled, emotionally draining practice of bringing to life a whole new world, complete with people and everything.
If you’re a young person, this is probably exacerbated by the fact that you’re, well… YOUNG. I mean, you probably did want to be a ballerina or a princess or a firefighter or an astronaut not that long ago, right? And none of THOSE things worked out (this isn’t me talking – it’s your naysayer, whomever he or she may be). Why should this be any different?
I have four kids ages 15 to 22. They’ve had lots of interests and passions over the years, and many of them have gone by the wayside. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s going to stick, and I’ve had to remind myself more than once that whether it “sticks” or not, it’s still my job to BELIEVE. As a freelance editor, I’ve also been in the position of reading work that runs the gamut from the barely readable to the extremely promising. In all of those cases, it’s been my job to be encouraging of someone’s dream while being tactfully truthful about how much work they may still have to do, even while acknowledging that some of those writers aren’t going to make it.
And I’ve had my share of naysayers, too. When I left my job as a Director of Marketing for a technology consulting firm to move to a tiny, rural town, hoping to find a better, simpler, more fulfilling life, one of my bosses at the time asked, “What will you do?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll write a book.” He laughed and said, “About what?” The disbelief was loud and clear in his voice (I should have said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe about that time I helped grow a company from $200k to $15 million in four years… 😉 ). For years while I worked to get published after our move, I would sheepishly tell people who asked that I was a writer, and that I was working on my first, second, third, fourth, or fifth book. But before I was published, people’s eyes kind of glazed over with suspicion.”Hmm-mmm, SURE you are,” they seemed to be thinking. My husband (who is my ex-husband now) listened with barely passing interest when I spoke about my work and never read a single thing I wrote, even when I asked if he’d be willing to do so.
But doubters have always made me work harder. My competitive spirit is motivated by people who think I can’t do something, and to tell the truth, my “I’ll show them” mentality was at least partially responsible for my stubborn determination to keep going. At the same time, I understand how demoralizing it can be to row your boat alone, especially when you’re surrounded by people who only feed your self-doubt.
I wish I could give you a magic potion to make them believe, but we can’t make people believe in us or make them approve of how we spend our time or make them excited about our dreams. Basically, we have NO CONTROL over them.
What you DO have control over is YOU. You can choose to let these people slow you down, doubt yourself, even derail your dream completely. Or you can choose to WORK. Because that’s what it’s going to take. And if somewhere along the way you find that it’s not worth it or that you aren’t having fun anymore, by all means feel free to reconsider. I used to belong to an online writer’s group, and one time someone posted the question, “How do I know when it’s time to give up?” In response someone else wrote, “Go ahead and quit – if you can.” That really stuck with me. We’re not ALL meant to be writers, even if we love reading, even if we enjoy writing the occasional story or poem. I couldn’t have quit writing if I tried. It was literally saving my life in the depths of depression, and it was the thing I most enjoyed doing in my “down” time. I figured if I was going to write no matter what, I might as well keep trying to get my work out there. If writing is a compulsion for you, if it’s something you MUST do, if it’s something you would do for free your whole life through because you love it THAT MUCH, then what else are you going to do with your time that is as meaningful? And if it’s a compulsion, if you MUST do it, does it really matter what anyone else thinks?
All of which is not to say that it’s not disappointing when you don’t get support from friends and family. You’re allowed to be disappointed. It’s how you deal with that disappointment that will define you as a writer. Will you give up? Or will you work to be better? Will you keep trying? Will you keep your head down and keep doing what you must?
While I can’t solve this problem for you, I can give you some tips for dealing with it;
1. Write down the reason you love writing and place it somewhere you’ll see it whenever you have doubts. Whether your note to self reads “I write because I must” or “I write to tell the stories in my head” or “I write because I want to see my name on a book store shelf”, your note will likely remind you how SEPARATE your reasons for writing are from the people around you. When you write because you must, does it change anything that your best friend doesn’t believe you can do it (although I’d counter this might not be the best best friend you can find)? When you write because you have to tell the stories in your head, does it matter that your parents think writing won’t lead to a stable career? When you write because you want to see your name on a book store shelf, does it matter that your sister thinks writing is a waste of time? Your note will remind you that it’s not about them anyway.
2. Read as much as you can. Watch movies. Play great video games. Do anything that inspires you with great story.
3. Seek out support where you can find it. There are lots of wonderful online writing groups, and simply connecting with other writers has a way of keeping up your morale and reminding you that you belong to a timeless, far-flung tribe of storytellers. If you’ve found the right group of people, they will lift you up and give you feedback and cheer you on. If they don’t do these things, find another group. And remember not to give out sensitive personal information online.
4. Start a review blog. Reviewing books online is a great way to stay active in the conversation about books, reading, and writing, and it will also connect you to a larger group of people who are interested in the very same things. If you’re following my other advice, you’re reading regularly anyway. The time you spend writing out a quick review for the books you read may be worth the camaraderie you find in the book blog community.
5. Keep your head down and focus on craft. From the cliques that naturally form in any group (online or otherwise) to buzz about current trends in the marketplace, it’s easy to get distracted by internet noise. But just remember; none of this counts as actual writing, and none of it will make you BETTER. And that’s our goal, right? Because that’s the best shot you have at being published. So when you’re tempted to get involved in drama in your writers group or tempted to be downtrodden by someone’s dire predictions about the publishing marketplace or tempted to change what you’re writing to follow an up and coming trend, remember to keep your eye on the ball. Craft is the ball. Focus on getting BETTER, and everything else will follow.
That concludes our eight week Young Writer’s Series. I’ve had so much fun sharing this information with you, and I hope it’s been helpful. I’ll post a list of all eight topics with links so you can go back and read if you’re just joining us.
Writing has been the one constant in my life. It has seen me through depression and divorce and new beginnings and self doubt. Whatever happens in the “real” world, it is a comfort to know there are infinite worlds into which I can escape. When people talk about retirement, I can only blink. Retirement? From WRITING? What else would I do? What else would I WANT to do? No, I’ll be writing until the day I die. If you feel this way too, you’re probably a writer, and that is something you can carry with you wherever you go, whatever the circumstances of your life.
And the best part of all is that your journey is just beginning.
Make the most of it.