A poll: how do you remain true?

Hello, dear readers. A knotty problem today, waiting for your thoughts.

A blog I follow has a post about a problem that many writers I know (and many more that I’ve only read about in biographies) seem to run into (in Western cultures particularly – some day we’ll have to talk about why there’s so much variation in attitude between cultures). The author describes the problem like this:

You see, friends, my immediate family simply doesn’t understand me.  They don’t know why I like to do what I do.  They don’t have any interest in things that I love.  They just barely fall short of making fun of me for doing what I am so passionate about..It’s all about being true to oneself, isn’t it?  Rarely an easy thing to do, but made even more difficult when those immediately around you will not lovingly accept it.

The trope of the Misunderstood Writer has a long and venerable history. But behind the trope is a truth that many writers live and struggle with every day. It’s a little annoying when The distrest poetyou’re confronted by a relative stranger at a party or a school meeting who comes out with:  “You’re a writer. How do you pay the bills?” or “I don’t remember hearing your name – are you any good?” But it’s just plain hard when this vibe comes from someone you care  about, or love and trust, or someone to whom you’ve devoted your own life.

I want to dispel a potential misunderstanding here: the author of the blog, Cooper Robbins*, is not a whiny wanna-be (“If I only had a supportive family, I’d be a best-seller, but no, I’m so beat by the end of the day I’d rather watch re-runs”); this is an author whose creative life includes a novel, a screenplay, and a fair amount of “&c,” on top of maintaining a home and taking care of young ones. Her post (and this post) aren’t about people who want to be writers but don’t write…this is about how we as writers keep writing in the face of resistance from those whose opinions we most value.

Nerr0795 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library

Camouflage, demonstrated by the Graceful Kelp Crab

Robbins does this in part by developing and participating in supportive writing communities – in a way, that’s what her blog is about.  Some people (and I include myself here) have a sort of damn-the-torpedoes approach, which generally involves shutting certain people out of the creative part of one’s life. Other people hermit (to hermit: to isolate one’s self, creating a shell, and then decorating it with camouflaging materials, such as PTA meetings or banker’s three-piece suits, as needed).

So here’s my question. What do you do? What advice would you give to Cooper Robbins about how to cope with being surrounded by people who are either baffled  or skeptics? NOTE: The poll should let you vote for as many choices as you want – if it doesn’t let you, tell me and I’ll go give it a strong talking to 🙂 [IOB: ina]

*unsurprisingly, this is a nom de plume – sometimes everyone needs a place to vent.  I happen to have a venting blog too, and no, I don’t link it to my name and, no, I haven’t and won’t link it to this blog. Which probably says something, don’t you think?


23 thoughts on “A poll: how do you remain true?

  1. I wanted to vote for two things, because I really believe being part of a supportive writing community is very important. Also, for some families, as with mine, it depends on your actually being published and them seeing the book! No one will make fun of you if you are confident about your writing and show it to your family. I got my brother even to read my YA book!! You have to believe in yourself of no one else will.

    • Hi Barbara! It should let you vote for two or more if you like. And yes, I think it makes it easier when they see Things In Print. It’s concrete that way. BTW, I’ve recommended your YA book to a couple of tweens I know – it seemed to really help them to see an issue they’re facing in a book.

  2. I was between the first and last option. My main support for my writing life is … well, me. I believe in what I’m doing, whether anybody else does or not. But at the same time the writing communities to which I belong, both in person and online, are an invaluable refuge from a world that often seems unappreciative of writing!

  3. I have spent most of my working life, working in libraries. So I have talked to many new writers & writer “wanna-be’s” A library is a good place to visit. Library workers are book lovers & encouraging of anyone’s attempts to write. Also notices of reading and meetings of writeers’ groups are posted at libraries.

    • That’s a great idea. I’ve been looking for a real-time writer’s group; I should check the local library tomorrow. Thanks, Marian 🙂

  4. I have had the opposite ‘problem’ – ever since I was a child my mother was convinced I was a genius and expected great things of me and never imagined Ii could fail at anything. Which put a huge burden on me and means I have a fear of failure that has to be conquered before I get anything done. It has also made me wary of praise – which is a shame as I feel uncomfortable praising others and accepting praise.

    I sometimes think indifference can be more helpful as it teaches you to stand on your own two feet and work for your own reasons rather than to fulfil others’ expectations. But then I wouldn’t know – I never had the chance to find out.

    But I’m not complaining – it is nice to have supportive relatives and part of me hopes maybe they are a teeny bit right and my stuff is ok. But mostly I get on with things and try not to fear making a fool of myself or letting people down. It has taken decades to get to that point though. I manage with poetry because I can get it done quickly while the ‘confident’ mood is fleetingly upon me. My novel writing is more tortuous and is taking decades to finish because it needs consistent confidence to keep it up and I’m not there yet.

    • Michele, that’s a really interesting point. My spouse has something like the same issue – lots of expectations – and while it felt like support in some ways, it took him a long time to not feel like a failure for not fulfilling the expectations of prodigy-hood. I think you’re right that some middle road is the way to go – my kid’s school spends a lot of time dealing with teaching kids that “mistakes are learning moments, not disasters.” I could probably learn from them. thanks for such an interesting comment.

  5. I do sometimes get in response to my announcing that I’ve had writing accepted, “Does it pay??” It makes me sad because it isn’t about the money. But I do live in the real world and I hope to increase the amount that I’ve already made from my writing. That is why a writing community is so invaluable. I do tend to be a hermit, also. Though I enjoy socializing, I often prefer to be home playing with words; that doesn’t really have to do with avoiding negativity though. In the end, I am not doing this for attention. I write because I can’t not write. In one of my bios, I wrote that I get a little cranky when I’m deprived – and that is so true. The older I get, the stronger the need to write.

    • “I write because I can’t not write.” That’s IT isn’t it? That’s why people who do this with words do it, and why other people (who might be motivated by love, or money, or what have you) sometimes ask questions like “does it pay?”

      Thank you, Linda, that’s a real insight.

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  7. cannabis, absolut, dancing, sunshine, water, friends…consider your family the muck you must emerge from….conserve your energy for your passion…do not worry….love….YOU CANNOT HELP BUT BE TRUE

  8. My family was never supportive of my writing: 1) My mom and sister and all the rest of my relatives don’t speak or read English well enough to appreciate it. 2)Neither of them ever read fantasy – the genre I write in. 3) My son and daughter look at my writing as a whim. “Let mom indulge herself” kind of attitude. Neither wants to read what I write, although they don’t interfere and don’t mock (thanks for that). I might sound bitter but I’m not. I accept it and keep on writing. After all, I do it mostly for myself, my self-expression, right?

  9. Ladies, I have to admit to a bit of all those categories. I’ve always been the lonely writer that none believed in. I am one who can’t not write. I try to keep up with supportive creative groups, but sometimes am stretched too thin. I write, not for money, but because words must flow from me.

    Yet, at the same time, I must also produce physical objects of creativity. There is also a need within to be able to touch and see a tangible representation of my creative abilities. I’m fortunate in so many ways. We have several writing groups right here in the valley and a prominent writer’s conference each year. I have many creative people around me, each an artist in one form or another. At this moment I’m more immersed in the creative world and the acceptance of my membership in it that ever before in my life.

    I’ve found what I’ve needed to prosper, finally, and wish that all could do as well. It no longer matters that few in my family understand my motivations or activities. That’s the real blessing.

    I’m glad you bought this out, Ina and Andrea. Thank you. Please forgive this long response. I got on a roll.

    • Claudsy, no need to apologize -everyone has had a lot to say which leads me to believe that the questions of support, isolation and balance are things a lot lot of us are grappling with. Thank you for bringing your open and hbonest perspecive to the discussion.

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