Monday, September 30, 2019

Writing Naysayers: A Guide for the Perplexed

“How’s your writing going?” Depending on the speaker, it’s either a stock small
talk question or a pot shot. 

It’s the 900 lb elephant in the room we in the writing community don’t discuss:
The family/spouse friends who Just Don’t Get It - and in some cases will actively work
to sabotage your writing. 

Not only do I have two kids in a space (software applications development) where most
of my female coworkers have Margaret Sanger bobbleheads on their desks, but now I think I
can write books too?
I want this sign for my writing alcove. 

It’s made for some teary, angry conversations over the years.

Kelly wants to write books because...  
I’m selfish. 
I’m ungrateful for my education and career. 
I think I’m too good for a traditional job. 
I don’t love my kids enough if I need something besides them to feel fulfilled. 

Kelly should stop writing because… 
Middle Grade is not a real genre because kids change so much from eight to twelve.

There is “too much competition” and I can’t possibly be a good enough writer if I got
a job doing something else.

I’m invading the space of stay at home moms (let’s ignore that I was one when I started

My book probably sucks if the first draft wasn’t a bestseller already.*  

My health insurance covers (albeit very poorly) counseling for these alleged delusions.

For some time, I internalized all this somewhat. I caved to the pressure and tried to please
the friends and family speaking. 

Spoiler alert: It didn’t help my writing. 

There truly is something about being hit by a truck and having many of the people around
you concerned about how much work you’re missing instead of your
physical and mental well-being, to make you question your choices up to this point. 

In fact, some were absolutely furious with me - how dare I put my health before my job? I've
lost friends and many family relationships over that choice; yet I'm likely still alive as a result
of it.

Given the new backdrop, their objections seemed less about doubting I’d succeed in a highly
competitive field, and more about “How dare you pursue success and happiness on your
own terms”?

It’s probably a hybrid, to be honest. Personally, I can’t emotionally afford to put myself into
haters’ heads. Your mileage may vary; I’m in INFJ and we’re weird.

Obviously, I strongly recommend you do everything in your power to avoid getting hit by a

Thanks to I suspect this is the root of naysayers' beef. Not just in writing.

But looking back, here’s how I would have managed the message and consequently, others’

Remember writing/getting published is a non-linear process.
It’s not an industry most people understand, which makes “SMART” goals… impossible.
Nobody outside the factory wants to see or hear how the sausage is made.

Don’t promise overnight success. To anyone.
While there are exceptions, there is a 99% chance that your first several years of writing,
your book will suck. You’re still finding your voice, learning the craft. According to my mentor
Joyce Sweeney (who’s helped 60+ writers become authors, hopefully most of them less
angsty than I) you can be looking at ten years to see your book published.

Go to as many SCBWI meetings as you can.
Whether you’re into mirror neurons, karma, or “You are the Average of the Five People
You Spend The Most Time With”, you need your squad of nerdy, eccentric writer friends
who understand the process. Get a mentor, get a critique group, get on writing Twitter.
These may be the only people who get it. 

Don’t engage with those calling writing “your little hobby.”
The stereotype of a writer is a mashup of Guy in Your MFA and some talentless but loaded
social media influencer. Ten bucks says nobody would be saying that if you were taking steps
toward more boring career goals, say, studying for your CPA or something. 
Visualize throat-punching them, exhale, and move on. 

Remember most people hate their jobs.
85 percent if Gallup is to be believed. Their crabs-in-the-bucket failure to look for
professional fulfillment for themselves, is their problem. 

Trust your gut and know your own value.
Writing is a landscape where perseverance is the most important skill, and you have to be
in it for the long game. If you stick with it, you’re probably writing because you have to just
as much as you have to breathe. Honor it. 

Last but not least: Don’t quit your day job.
Just don’t get caught up in its tunnel vision if writing is what you really want.  Protect your
writing time. Invest your extra cash, into developing your craft and into a nest egg for if/when
you do start writing full time. Hire an IP attorney (contact your state Bar Association; this is
out of my league) to look over current and future employment agreements no matter what
you do for a living right now. 

I will say people can come around. Since getting a substantial scholarship to a Highlights
Foundation workshop and getting selected as a Cybils panelist, I’ve heard less skepticism.
Either I've worn people down, or they're getting that somebody has to succeed, even in
the face of stiff competition.

But don’t wait for feathers in your cap to pursue your dreams. Boo to the haters. You’re
worth it. The world needs your words. 

How do you combat the naysayers? 


*Fine, my first draft really bit. But fast forward a few years and a few revisions, and I’m
knee-deep in an R&R, so… there! 

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