Doing the Thing! without support, permission, or approval

Do the thingLast night, I had what turned into a really cool conversation on Twitter that stemmed out of @WomenWriters asking about writers had support from their families.

My initial response was pretty harsh. Who needs support? Do men ask these questions about whether they have family support for their creative work? As women we have got to stop asking for permission.

But @WomenWriters was asking a value neutral question. Just a what is your situation like? and I jumped into this place of “Sometimes, as authors, and as female authors, we can internalize these questions in ways that are harmful to us and our work.” Which is true, but is a difficult nuance to get across on Twitter.

A long time ago, I dated a man with whom I had a lot of arguments about my writing, which at the time was mostly creative non-fiction, personal essay, and poetry (which is also work I still do). Some of this was because I wrote about him and our relationship to each other and our social community, which was complex and at times toxic. Some of this was just because my mode of public existence was so different from his.

I always told him I wanted his respect for my work. He would counter that it wasn’t fair of me to ask for his admiration. But by respect, I never meant admiration, more a benign sort of acceptance of its right to exist and my right to do it whatever he thought about it. I was asking for space and an acknowledgement of worth of the work to someone, if not to him.

While we were together, we never really came to a meeting of the minds on this issue. These many years later, we’re good, hard-won, and peculiar friends. The last time we saw each other, I actually spent a lot of time giving him my Do the Thing! speech. You can find 15 minutes a day to write your book if you want to do it enough. Fifteen minutes! It meant a lot to me to be able to say that to him and that he listened, although I don’t know if he’ll ever make the choices he’ll need to do write the book he wants to write. Because we’re close, I understand that (although it doesn’t mean I’m going to let him off the hook easily).

Choosing to write — or to follow any ambition — is hard. It’s personal. It’s scary. And it has repercussions we can anticipate and repercussions we can’t. In our own heads and in our relationships with others.

The most important thing I always want anyone to know about my writing career before they listen to anything resembling advice from me, is that there have been times (and by times I mean years) where I just stopped writing.

I didn’t write because I was afraid of disapproval. I didn’t write because I believed people when they told me no one would care about my stories or that no one would ever love me, fuck me, hire me, or talk to me again if I told my stories. I believed people when they said I didn’t have the right to speak. I believed them when they said that I simply created stories for attention and that attention was bad.  I believed people when they said that my words were a moral harm.

None of those things were true, although let’s be honest:  There have been times people have been hurt in response to my writing and in at least some of those cases the simple answer is that I fucked up.

So when the discussion out there is “Do your family and friends support your writing?” my first answer is always going to be Who cares? followed by a quick admonishment that you shouldn’t care either. Because — as we used to say back on The Well — you own your own words. You also own yourself.

This doesn’t mean don’t discuss your work with your family. This doesn’t mean don’t acknowledge or negotiate how your writing fits into or affects your relationships or other obligations. And it certainly doesn’t mean to be ungrateful if you do have support.

That my mother actually loved a musical about dominatrixes that I wrote the book for is one of the great achievements of my life. That my ex was proud of me for the essay I wrote about my misdeeds in the name of story in high school means something to me that I don’t care to articulate to anyone. And that my partner helps me with my novels as a first-reader even though they are not stylistically or in subject matter her first choice of reading material is an utter (very secular, because she has feelings about this) godsend.

But I value the support and encouragement I have because I have finally come to believe — after writing careers abandoned and more poor choices about myself and my words than it matters to describe — that permission and support just simply don’t matter.

I want you to have all of it in the world. But if you don’t, I don’t want you to let it stop you for a second. And I definitely want you to waste less time seeking it out from places you’re never going to get it from. You are beholden only to the integrity of your stories and to your integrity of self.

This doesn’t mean do whatever you want and damn the repercussions. But it does mean to stand up for your work and to fight for the space you need to create it.

Because when you realize you’re not doing anything wrong by having a story to tell, you will, among other things, be so much less likely to act the villain. You’ll treat yourself better; you’ll treat other people better; and you’ll probably get a lot more done too. For that it will be better, more honest work, even if it is fiction.

Need support? Or need a reminder that support can just go fuck right off? Either way, we’ve got you. Do the comments!

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