Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Support and Honesty

If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to surround yourself with people who support your work. This means re-training those around you. You are a writer – you are put on this planet to change people’s perceptions of the world via storytelling. You are not on this planet to fetch and carry and cater to them.

People have to learn that writing is not like folding laundry; they can’t interrupt you when you’re writing. You can lose your best idea, and it will never come back if someone interrupts you at the wrong time. I have a sign that I put outside the front door:

Writer at Work
Is this a mortal emergency?
Because if it’s not and
you interrupt me,
I’m going to be rude.

When I’m writing, I turn off the phone and I don’t answer the door. Period.

I make sure I get up every hour and half or so for a break, and then I check messages, in case there is an emergency. But I do not allow the interruptions.

I realize it’s different when you have kids; however, kids don’t have to be entertained 24/7, nor does a parent have to drop everything to assuage a child’s whim. Kids need structure and discipline. It doesn’t do permanent damage if the kid doesn’t get what the kid wants instantly. Plus, it teaches the child to respect the parent’s time. Absolutely build playtime with the kids into the day – that’s of primary importance. But, when the kid takes a nap, or has quiet time with a book – that’s your time to write. You can teach your children to look forward and to share your writing time – they can sit in the room and read, or paint or draw while you write. Yes, you’ll have one ear and one eye on them, as a parent does; but you’re spending quiet time together, and it’s something both of you can cherish. Make the time a positive thing, so your child doesn’t see your writing as competition.

I’ve done that with my godchildren – they could read or write or paint while I wrote. Video games, personal stereos turned up loud enough for me to hear, and television were absolutely forbidden. And then we went out and did something fun. One of my god-daughters is now the editor of her high school’s literary magazines.

And there will be other people in your life that need to be removed. People who make fun of your writing or tell you what to write or that you shouldn’t write – limit your time with them or cut them off completely. If you can’t eliminate someone from your life who’s negative, simply refuse to discuss your writing with them. “That topic is not open for discussion” and change the subject.

You can only be victimized by jealous people if you allow it. Firm, calm boundaries solve a lot of problems.

At the same time, you don’t want to surround yourself with “yes-people”. You need honest feedback. All writers have habits they fall into, patterns that don’t work that they repeat, typos, tired sentence structure, places where they miss the boat. After awhile, you stop seeing your work and you see it as you think it is. That’s when you need a support group of people who can tell you, honestly and, most importantly, constructively, where you’ve gone off the rails.

I like to have both writers and non-writers in that group. The non-writers are avid readers. They may not have an English degree, or write more than the annual Christmas letter. But, because they read so much, they have an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. And my close writer friends know my bad habits and love me anyway, but catch me out.

If writing is your path, something else has to go. You can’t be all things to all people and do everything the school, church, neighbors and family demand and still be a writer. Remember: writers are still writing, even if it looks like they’re staring at a wall.

People your life with those who are excited about your journey. It’s like running a marathon – you need people to cheer you, to hand you water and towels, to provide band-aids, and to guide you back when you take a wrong turn.

You don’t need people who tell you that you can’t do it.


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