Writers have enough difficulty without people calling them amateurs… and it’s just as bad to force a career discussion.
“Writing is a really nice hobby.”
That’s the demoralizing meta-statement of a lot of conversations when you first start writing. When I finished my first novel, I’d mention it to people, and they’d often tell me I shouldn’t plan to be a full-time writer. That is a big thing to say, considering it’s not the point of the conversation. I usually got this line from English majors:
“I tried to get published, too, and it’s so hard. Like, you have no idea how hard it is. Eventually, I had to drop out, because it’s just impossible, you know?”
And then they’d look to me like, “I’m really talking about you. You don’t have an English degree.” And they’re right–publishing is hard, and I don’t have an English degree. Very astute.
Can you imagine if, the first time you enrolled in flight school, someone came to you and said, “God, I tried to be an astronaut, once.” You’d think they’d taken leave of their senses. The discussion of top-of-your-class, full-time flight income is out of the question at that point, and you’re really doing it because you’ve always wanted to try flying.
If a kid brought you a drawing of a house and said they wanted to be an architect, you wouldn’t tell them “architecture is a good side job.” No one ever met a person who loved biology and medicine and said, “Sure, but don’t quit your day job. I mean, doctors? That’s nuts.”
Women hear the poisonous side of this more than men.
(In a random sample of my writer friends with no control group and no formal data gathered, this has borne out.)
What I mean to say is that I know several people, including agented authors, who haven’t told their partners/spouses, colleagues or friends that they write. They’ve passed one of the toughest writing bars in the world, but they’re quiet about it. When I ask why, the response is always the same: “People will think I’m wasting time, when I should be focused on family, work, housekeeping, etc.” This has been particularly true in the case of some homemakers I’ve met.
The subtext here is that if a woman tries to write, she will damage more important lives around her.
Because of my family situation, someone took to a small harassment campaign on my podcast several years ago. So, full disclosure, I’ve been told that I’ll be a failure as well. For most of my life, however, people haven’t questioned my intentions much. For men, it seems that the cultural narrative is “chase your dreams and monetize them,” but for women, it’s “build a life with a man.” Both statements are silly: you shouldn’t have to be a wife/spouse/partner/mother, and not all dreams are for money… but this narrative is omnipresent and poisonous.
People may have considered me to be stupid or shortsighted for trying to write, but they didn’t directly attempt to stop me. Almost no one told me I’d harm someone for trying. My female friends, on the other hand, have hit this wall time and again in many creative endeavors.
And I’m proud to say that many of them have heroically blasted through it.
Maybe someone’s career plans have nothing to do with the quality of their work.
When we read a short story by Ray Bradbury, do we ask ourselves, “What was his five-year income goal when he wrote this?” I don’t know about you, but that has never come up in any literary criticism class I ever took.
So what if someone does or doesn’t want to spend the rest of their life writing books? Is it really our place to jump in and try to steer them onto the path we prefer? By the way, this behavior isn’t limited to writing.
So to recap: Being called a hobbyist is demoralizing because people don’t think you can hack it. And right as you’re getting started…you’re not a pro. You don’t need someone shitting on you to know that. But forcing a career discussion is just as bad, because it’s someone trying to take unsolicited charge of your hopes and dreams.
My advice to friends and families of those cursed with the affliction to write? Just stick to talking about the work.
Image: dice another day, by Flickr user topher76, used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.