This happens to new writers way too often.
I was at a writing event the other night where my husband and I sat next to an older married couple, a husband and wife, that broke my heart. They’d driven a long way so she could find out if she’d won a writing award. And he was along for support. We like to take our advocates to events like these for moral support, but everything he said about writing tore her down.
He ate through a plate of fried chicken and between bites railed on about how writers don’t need credentials to be writers so anyone could say they’re a writer.
“Oh, I’m a painter!” he said around the mashed potatoes tumbling around inside his mouth. “I’ve never painted, but I never said I was any good!” Another forkful and “Oh, I’m a rock climber! I’m a rock climber! I’ve never climbed a mountain, but I still am one because I said so.”
Can you imagine having this kind of negativity in your ear while you’re trying to write? Writing is sensitive business. And nothing can tear us down faster than someone who’s supposed to support us shitting on our dreams instead.
I was feeling so much for his wife sitting beside him. She was quiet, her eyes darting around the table like a mouse hoping she could grab the cheese before the cat got its claw into her. Something hungry still behind her eyes gave me hope for her, but defeat loomed too like a shadow on her shoulder.
My heart went out to her. How hard she must have to work to protect her artist self from his close-minded views, I thought. The way he disfigured the positive message behind certain lessons for writers.
Because there was truth in his words, it might be easy for a new writer or an insecure writer to take the rest of that bile to heart. It’s true you don’t need credentials to be a writer. But we both know that just makes it harder sometimes to be taken seriously.
So allow me to remind you, in case you ever doubt, that you’re still a writer if you haven’t yet published. Or even if you don’t plan to publish. Because everyone starts somewhere.
The saddest part of the evening wasn’t this man’s vitriol. It wasn’t her dimming hope that she’d finally get some recognition for her quiet work. The saddest part was when she piped up with this…
He’d just unleashed his writer-bashing rock climber example, when she said that rock climbers don’t deserve respect nowadays because the handholds are worn into the stone and the path is already mapped out from previous climbers.
“I don’t know why they act like they do anything special,” she said. “They’re just following the road frequently traveled.”
I was floored.
I can imagine her applying that same closed thinking to her writing efforts: “Why should I write a story about a husband and wife / a father and son / estranged sisters when it’s been done before?”
Everything inside me wanted to scream, No! I felt like I needed to escape before this couple’s imprisoning life perspective oozed out over the table and smeared me like slime. But I was stuck at that table, forced to smile at this writer who sat right next to me yet was so far away.
After that I wasn’t sure which of them corrupted the other’s thinking. Or if it was how they were raised, and they just thought it was normal. But I’ll let you in on something.
My response to their outlook was visceral because I’ve been there. I’ve torn myself down so much I couldn’t face the page. And I was so worried that hearing those defeatist comments might turn me back into the self-doubting, negativity-spewing wannabe writer I used to be.
It felt safer to be angry with this poor couple than it was to pity them.
What changed me? How is it that I take myself seriously as a writer now?
A lot of things brought me here. This blog, for one thing, helps keep me on track. Because if I’m not pursuing writing hard and fast every week, what would I have to share with you?
Sheer determination has helped. I’ve never been one to back down from what I think is right or what I feel is a calling. And this is a calling, no doubt. It’s a calling for you, and it’s a calling for me. It brought you here and to other writing articles and books like a siren song. We would know each other anywhere.
But recently the biggest thing that’s helped me, and millions of other writers and artists, is working through The Artist’s Way (affiliate) by Julia Cameron.
If you haven’t worked through this phenomenal program for artists, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It will help you build a healthy buffer around your inner artist self, to protect it from unenlightened souls who spew defeatist vitriol. And it can help to heal the writer in you if that’s where most of the vitriol is coming from.
You deserve to pursue writing. You’ll recognize the call in the smallest glimmer of a story idea while you’re a work or in the dialogue snippet that springs to mind while you shower. And you owe it to yourself and your calling to find the way through.
Remember that, writer. And keep writing <3