Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's a wild ride

A student who works for a corporation wrote to me, and said she was hurt by what a friend said to her. She had shared with the friend that she hoped to be a published author someday.

Rather than sharing her dreams, the friend said she just didn't like to work hard.

This devastated my student, who has worked fulltime for years and years.

She asked me to talk about this on the blog.

All I can say is, so many non-writers just do not get it. I might expand that to say that people who are not in the arts don't get that while your particular art may have its wonderfully fun side, it's still work.

Hours upon hours go into practicing an instrument before you can play a song well. Artists put so many hours into art class before creating a beautiful painting.

And you spend so many years writing, taking writing classes, reading, studying craft and writing lots of crap, before a gem of a piece emerges, before your story or book or screenplay takes form and becomes something someone--an agent, an editor--wants to buy and publish.

Non-writers just do not understand.

In Pen on Fire, I talk about keeping quiet about what you're working on because you let the air out of it. The energy for the project dissipates.

I would broaden this to say, don't discuss your writing aspirations with your friends, especially if they're co-workers who feel stuck in their jobs and do not see a way out. They will want you to remain stuck as well, and the thought of you leaving, of you making something of your life that's more than they will ever see in their own lives, will fill them with dread and fear, and they will hurt you.

Share your writing dreams with other writers or artists, people who understand what it's like to ram your head against a wall--until it falls. And it will fall, if you ram it long enough.

Take heart. It's all about growing a thick skin. And it's about having empathy for people who have no dreams, or whose dreams have failed, but protecting your own dreams and doing everything you can do to make your dreams come true.

Have empathy, but protect yourself. What's that old, old saying: Don't cast your pearls before swine....

Your writing self is a delicate, beautiful part of yourself. Don't squander it. It takes so many hours of work and sacrifice to create works of art. The world needs art. Your sacrifice will pay off.

The creative life is a wild ride. Enjoy it (when you can).

Interesting talk on this Ash Wednesday.


Amy said...

Thank you for these kind, supportive and encouraging words, Barbara. They mean much coming from a successful author and teacher. I've had a few, small works published and still don't tell many people outside my inner circle that I write. I have close acquaintances who have no idea. I won't tell the world I write until I get my book published--a tangible piece of evidence the outside world can understand. Until then, I keep this dream to myself.

Jennie Brown Hakim said...

It still amazes me, even though it shouldn't, that some people don't consider artistic work *real* work...they are the ones who never actually attempted it.

Bittersweet Sage said...

Hi Barbara,

I agree that it is important to only share one's aspirations with people who will truly care. That being said, I believe that once you have identified people who are supportive, it is imperative that you do share your dreams and ambitions with them. Writing is such a solitary activity, and it is so revitalizing to have the support of friends.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I meant that sharing dreams with people, friends or not, who feel stuck in their lives may not be the best idea in the world.

Mary Castillo said...

Hi Barbara:

Your student is very lucky to have such a wise teacher. I experienced the same thing when my writing career took off but mostly from some of my writing friends. I knew it was demon jealousy that possessed them to say things like, "Who here is trying not to hate Mary?" or, "Wow, if you could sell *that* book than I can sell mine!"

I'm a big fan of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and his teaching that many of us live in a walking dream was very helpful in dealing with negativity. But more so, it's a lesson of what not to do and what not to say when your friends are successful.

Mary C.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me, Mary...when I was just starting to take writing seriously in college, I had a very good friend who tried to discourage me. I write about this in Pen on Fire. He'd had a hard time with art in NY and decided to go into teaching. We were driving down some dark Vermont road and he said, What makes you think you can make it as a writer? It's a hard life. And I said, Someone has to make it so why not me? No one is born published.

I think friends who've been discouraged can't help but spread the negativity, but that's the last thing we need as writers!

Chuck Dilmore said...

Thank you, Barbara!
Always comforting to sense that the feelings and the challenges are shared - and worth it!


Kimberly said...

We had just moved to another city when I started to write. Your post made me think about what might have happened had I started writing in the city we'd left behind. I doubt I would have had support. Any negative comments from my friends might have even crushed me.

I think you're right. It's probably best to write in secret, at least around non-artist types.

When I moved here, I had trouble fitting in and making friends. Some writers I'd met said, "Don't worry. You're friends are going to be writers."

Although I count a few civilians as friends, all of my good friends have passion for life and what they do. And they were correct. Most of my friends are writers.