Sunday, May 25, 2014

When Your Family Won't Support Your Writing

Over the years since I published my first book, I've dealt with a lot of challenges. I never dreamed, when I first typed "The End," that the hardest obstacle to overcome would be my own family.

Here's a composite list of my supposed writerly crimes. They include the collected complaints of siblings, husbands, parents, children, extended relatives, and more:

I do nothing all day. I do not have a "real" job, prompting comments like: "If I had nothing to do all day, I'd get so much more done than just making things up..." I will never be JK Rowling. I won't schedule lunches for one whole day out of the week, because I'm writing. My head's not in the game. I live in a fantasy world. I'm moody, brooding, and sometimes downright depressed. At other times, I'm euphoric, babbling on about imaginary people and isn't it wonderful that they did x. There's no point reading my published novels- they're not the right genre, or they might be too personal, or yes, dear, I'll get to them someday. I wear yoga pants for days in a row, my hair perpetually thrown up in a clip. If I have a deadline, nothing else exists but that deadline. I read too much. I don't have "normal" hobbies like tennis or gardening. I don't watch tv, go to movies, or keep up with current events. I spend too much time in front of the computer, which would be best used, at times, as a projectile.

I mean wow.

I can't, and won't, pin this on just one person. I also know I'm not alone in being on the receiving end of these kinds of sentiments, if not the comments themselves. Each one of them hurt, and each one of them made me want to stuff my head under my pillow and cry. Then two thoughts occurred to me.

Maybe there's a tiny bit of truth in there. Maybe.
And screw them.

First off, I had to pick apart what seemed like a tangled ball of petty, jealous ranting. I love my family, and staunchly believe most families are made up of people who do love and want the best for each other. So what's behind the stunning lack of support, if not outright sabotage? I set out to analyze their comments, turning them over to find the grain of truth. Best done in pieces, and at the end of it, I realized:

1. Writers really are moody. We have the reputation of being self-absorbed, tormented alcoholics who must torture ourselves in the name of our muse. And while this certainly fits some of us, the most stable among us have almost certainly had the occasional bout of staring at nothing for an uncomfortable period of time. Can we blame the people who love us if, "But I just figured out the Syncline Corporation was behind it all!" is not a valid excuse? (In fact, it's probably more alarming than the staring.)

2. Yoga pants and hair clips? Guilty as charged. (Hey, at least I've graduated from my pajamas.) And even though this same outfit is the default uniform for any work-from-home person, it would not kill me to spruce up the word-slinging duds a bit.

3. I never will be JK Rowling, and I have nothing but pity in my soul for anyone who defines success this way. Instead, I do have a string of smaller milestones that are nonetheless important to me, that keep me going when things get hard. Once, success was typing, "The End." Then it was selling 1k copies. Then 50k. Then 100k. Being a bestseller? Check. Making more than my day job? Check. Having a great publisher? Yup. The bar keeps adjusting as I grow as a writer, and that's more important than achieving financial success. It's a radically different way of looking at life that has been hard won, but something I wouldn't trade, even to be JK.

4.  Writing takes up resources. Time, money you could be making at a day or second job, head space. It's only natural that sometimes, family members get resentful when things seem out of whack. Opting out of a lunch date one- or several- days a week seems reasonable, but repeated isolation is death to any relationship. Not to mention how bad it is for our own heads. Checking in to make sure things stay balanced- money, time, attention, housework- is just Happy Family 101.

Most of the rest of it can go under the "I don't give a damn" category. Don't want to read my books? That's cool. Plenty of other people have, including some amazing beta readers and fans who have become friends and cheerleaders. Too much time on the internet? Well, see, there's this amazing, supportive community of readers and writers out there who get this whole word-slinging deal, and support it, and me, whole-heartedly. I'd be lost without them. A lot of tv is overrated; I kill cacti, so forget about gardening; if something important happens, I'll hear about it from my family, friend, or garbage man.

That about covers the important parts. The rest? That brings me back to my second point.

Screw them. Keep writing anyway.

20 comments:

  1. It's been very eye-opening for me to see who's been supportive (and who hasn't). Sadly, most aren't who I'd think, which makes me feel bad in a few different ways. But at the end of the day, it's their issue, not mine, and I've got writing to do.

    Screw them indeed.

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    1. Well said, Jen. It sure is one way to figure out who your allies are.

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  2. Vickie I can so relate. I had a shitty childhood and books/writing were my only escape mechanism. As I said in the group my mother once caught me writing and called it "stupid" and "a complete waste of time." Growing up with a controlling mother I learned to shut down my creative side & hide it from the world.
    It was only after a head injury several years ago I found the courage to take it up again. I am incredibly lucky to have a highly supportive husband and MIL. My parents never supported what I wanted to do and expected me to fit a mold of what my mother wanted. They disowned me years ago for being "a disappointment" and I have no idea if they even know I have written a book.

    I can only second your last line. Screw them. Keep writing anyway.

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    1. Books were my "gateway drug" growing up too, AW. Still are! :D My mother used to read my diary and censor (or "help") some of the things I wrote. I had hang ups about it for a long time, but as you say, there were some really wonderful people out there who made all the difference. And I'm so glad you didn't let anyone stop you forever!

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  3. This makes me feel so incredibly lucky to have such a (mostly) supporting family! Being as insecure as I am, I do not know if I would have still have continued to write if my parents and siblings were telling me, "It's not a real job." or, "You'll never be as good as JK Rowling." (it's not like I strive to be her anyway).

    I have hit some snags along the way however, and found some people I never thought would be so unsupportive but have been able to get back o the horse and say, "Screw them. Keep writing anyway."

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    1. It's been a shock to me too, discovering that some people I thought would be there for me weren't. Others were, just not in the ways I expected. I've tried to be understanding of what legitimate issues they might have with me, though, and sometimes that helps. Other times? Not so much.

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  4. Great post.
    Thankfully, I have not had to really deal with much of this, but I have had to deal with enough of it to empathize. Keep writing and doing what you need to do. Writing is a job, it's just different from the standard 9-5 job.

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    1. Thanks, Ian! It *is* a job, and support from coworkers helps! :)

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  5. I've been lucky. My husband is very supportive. My kids are old enough, they are off doing their own things. The dog, however, thinks he's terribly neglected. :)

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