Write It Sideways

How to Fight Forces that Oppose Your Writing

Not long ago, I received a letter from a reader who wondered if I had any words of wisdom to offer.

He was about to make a career move based on what other people (friends, family, colleagues) expected of him, rather than because he wanted to.

In reality, he had an insatiable urge to write. The job in question would ultimately hold him back from fulfilling that desire. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to tell his family he wanted to be a writer.

In an ideal world, the people who matter most to you would be unconditionally supportive and encouraging of your writing.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the kind of world we live in. People are skeptics by nature. We have difficulty thinking outside the box.

I could jump on the artist bandwagon and start spouting reasons why you shouldn’t care what others think or say. I could tell you to follow your dreams, no matter what.

But I’m not going to.

I may be a dreamer, but most of me is firmly rooted in reality. I, too, can be skeptical. However, I won’t tell you to give up either. What I propose is a middle-ground, in which you and your opposing forces can live together in harmony.

First, let’s look at some of the forces you’ll find opposing you on your writing journey:

Family

Family is an integral part of your existence. You might have parents or siblings that are either completely opposed to your writing, or simply not supportive in any way.

From your childhood, they mentally planned your life for you. They probably have dreams of their own, in which you land a wildly successful career.

Now, you tell them you’d rather write.

Their gut reaction? How are you going to support yourself? Most writers (unless you make it big) earn very little money–not even enough to pay the bills. Older generations tend to think life is more about hard work and steady income than personal satisfaction.

Could they have a point?

Friends

Some of your friends may share the same interests and hobbies as you, and these are the ones who are most likely to encourage you as a writer.

But what about the others? They might be more interested in sports. Or knitting. Maybe cooking, sky-diving, or carpentry.

Many of your friends (including colleagues and casual acquaintances) probably don’t appear to be supportive because they simply couldn’t care less about writing in general.

Don’t take it personally.

Have you stopped to consider you might be boring them with your incessant chatter about the beauty of the written word, and all they can think is, “I’d rather be fishing”?

Be honest: how interested are you in your friends’ non-writing hobbies?

Partner

I am blessed to have a husband who not only supports my writing, but actively contributes to helping me reach my goals (in spite of the fact that he personally cares very little about reading and writing).

However, I’m aware many writers are not so lucky.

A partner’s opposition can stem from financial concerns, being unable to recognize its importance to you, or even jealousy of your time that writing might take away from them.

If your partner doesn’t want you to write, they most likely have reasons which are quite understandable to them.

Have you stopped to consider their concerns?

How to Fight (or Make Peace with) Opposition

Now, notice I haven’t told you to run at your opposition, brandish your writing sword, and tell everyone to back off.

That won’t get you very far.

Rather, here are five practical ways in which you can make peace with opposition, while fighting for your right to be true to yourself:

1. Ask for support. Have you been explicit with your family, friends, or partner, about what it means to you to have their support? If you haven’t already done this, there’s a good chance they truly don’t recognize how important it is to you. You may even be imagining opposition where there isn’t any. Calmly explain to them the reasons you want to write, and let them know you’d like their support.

2. Revise your expectations. As I mentioned with friends, you may be (wrongly) expecting everyone you meet to pander to your writing whims. Most people just don’t care–not because they want to discourage you, but because it doesn’t affect their own lives in any significant way. Stop and ask yourself if you truly need someone’s approval to continue your writing.

3. Don’t quit your day job. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your writing is: if you can’t support yourself solely on writing income, keep your day job. Letting others know you’re not going to quit will reassure them you’ve got your head on straight. The only exception is if you are able to live comfortably off your partner’s income and they are happy for you to write full-time. Of course, you could work part-time or pursue a job in a writing-related field—perhaps a newspaper or magazine.

4. Prove yourself. Just telling people you want to be a writer won’t be terribly convincing. You need to prove yourself and your commitment. Which scenario is more likely to convince your partner you want to be a writer: (a) seeing you lounge in front of the TV every night, or (b) seeing you trade the evening tube for writing in your notebook and reading books? If you haven’t actually written anything yet, now isn’t the time to start asking for support. The support will come more naturally when others see your determination to succeed.

5. Have a contingency plan. Don’t tell people you’re going to be a published writer no matter what stands in your way. A combative attitude like that will only make others want to prove you wrong. Instead, acknowledge the risks you must take, but also acknowledge your chances of success. Tell people you have a plan for your writing, but mention that if it doesn’t work out professionally, you’ll continue writing as a hobby.

For all of you struggling with this issue, understand that every successful (and unsuccessful) writer has probably been through the same thing.

Stop thinking of the problem as being other people’s opposition, and start thinking of the ways you can effectively deal with your own needs for validation.

Then get out there and write.