Three years ago I wrote a post called “A Writer’s Greatest Challenge.” I’m posting an updated version of it today under the title “What to Do When Your Loved Ones Want You to Quit Your Dream.”
As we start into 2014, many of you have probably committed to making this year the year your writing career takes off, or you’ve decided to finally finish your novel, or maybe you’re taking the plunge to write your very first story.
Or maybe you’re trying to decide whether to give up on your writing and move on.
What anyone who’s been writing long enough will tell you is that, as writers, we all face questions (and criticism) from our friends and family because of our choice to write. And especially if we turn our writing into a career.
A lot has changed in the three years since I originally wrote this post. The people I care about most have come to see the value in what I do (or have at least accepted that I’m not going to quit), and I’ve seen my career flourish in ways I’d never have imagined.
But I’m posting this again because writing it all those years ago was what kept me from giving up. I’m hoping reading it now will keep some of you from giving up as well.
If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’re going to face isn’t writer’s block. It isn’t learning how to properly use a comma or write a lead or find your voice. It isn’t even getting an agent or making enough money to pay the bills.
If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’ll face comes when someone you love says one of the following things about your writing career:
“You need to start making better decisions.”
“It’s time you grew up and acted like a responsible adult.”
“You can still write as a hobby, but you need to get a real job.”
In her post “Are We Born to Create,” bestselling author Kristen Lamb wrote, “Many of us, when we tell our family that we want to be a writer, what they hear is akin to, ‘Blah, blah, throwing away college education blah blah cult blah Kool-Aid, blah blah writer.’”
And it hurts.
You want them to recognize how hard you work and how worthwhile your job is. More than that, you want them to be proud of you.
If they keep at it long enough or if you hear it from enough people, the pain crescendos to a level where you can’t ignore it anymore. You start to doubt yourself and the decisions you’ve made. You’re forced into doing one of two things. Either you build a protective wall around that part of your life, perhaps even your whole life, and you exclude them from it, or you give up the career you love for something more acceptable.
Neither is a good solution.
So next time you face these joy-stealing, dream-killing, confidence-shaking lies, here’s how to survive.
Remind Yourself that the World Needs Writers
When I was growing up, a lot of people pushed for me to become a veterinarian or a teacher, despite the fact that I faint at the sight of blood and don’t have the patience to deal with a roomful of children or teenagers (hey, at least I’m honest about my limitations). They told me (in not so many words) that becoming a writer was a waste of my potential. With my intelligence, I could do anything. Why would I throw away my future?
The world needs writers.
Without writers, we wouldn’t have classic literature or textbooks to study. We wouldn’t have the books, journal articles, and other written resources teachers use to learn their subjects and prepare their lesson plans.
Without writers, the millions of people whose favorite pastime is curling up with a book or magazine would have to fall back on watching TV or movies . . . except that without writers, we wouldn’t have TV shows or movies either.
Without writers, politicians would become a lot less eloquent. (You don’t really think they write their speeches themselves, do you?)
Without writers, both print and online newspapers would have no content.
Without writers, charities and non-profits wouldn’t be able to get their message out and bring in the funds they need to help people.
Without writers, we’d have to revert to preserving all the new advances in knowledge through oral traditions. Any student of history will tell you what a flawed method that is.
Ask for Clarification on What It Means to Have a Real Job
Some well-meaning relatives may go so far as to suggest you should have gotten a job at a fast food place long ago. I believe that all law-abiding work is honorable, but don’t understand why a minimum-wage job is a “real job” while writing isn’t. What does having a “real job” mean?
Does it mean helping people?
After publication of an article that Lisa Hall-Wilson and I co-wrote on pornography addiction, we received an email thanking us and telling us that we might have saved a marriage. It’s not the only thank you email I’ve received over the years. My words make a difference.
Does it mean fighting traffic?
Seems to me that telecommuting and home offices are a growing trend because people don’t want to fight traffic, burn increasingly expensive gas, and worry about bad weather.
Does it mean someone else needs to sign your paychecks?
Someone else does sign my checks. And I’ll let you in on a secret—those paychecks bring in more than I could ever make from a minimum-wage job.
Does it mean putting on a tie, or khakis and a polo shirt/blouse, or a uniform?
I could put those on to sit at home if I really wanted, though I’m not sure why I would when I can work in sweats.
Does it mean having the respect of clients and colleagues?
If you’re professional, you can build good relationships, a good reputation, and develop regular clients regardless of your job title.
Find Some Allies
This world will always have people who feel that they know better than you what you should do with your life. It’ll always have people who find it easy to judge you for your choices even though they’ve never been in your position. It’ll always have people who draw attention to your failures and weaknesses rather than your successes and strengths.
Find yourself some people who’ll call you out on evil rather than on personal preference, who have your back, and who will fight harder for you than you do for yourself. You need the support. Even Batman had Robin and Superman had Lois Lane.
Keep In Mind Who You Really Need to Please
When it comes right down to it, other people’s opinions don’t matter. You have to make your own decisions and follow your own conscience. You are accountable only to God.
So have a good cry and some chocolate. Realize that it’s always going to sting. And then pick yourself up off the floor, sit your bottom back down in your computer chair, and meet that deadline . . . and the one after that . . . and the one after that . . .
Are you following your dream or did you give it up because your friends or family didn’t approve? Are you a writer who’s faced some of these criticisms? How did you handle it?
I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Dialogue.
I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.
Image Credit: Sigurd Decroos (via sxc.hu)